American bluster will make its mark on European soccer this afternoon as renowned basketball announcer and enthusiasm enthusiast Gus Johnson calls the Champions League match between Manchester United and Real Madrid. It’s the first step in a recently announced plan to groom Johnson to be the voice of the 2018 World Cup, a decision that has drawn praise and ire from soccer and non-soccer fans.
I’ve started to consider myself the former. Why? Not entirely sure, but it likely traces back to stumbling upon the Men in Blazers podcast. It’s smart and funny and magnificent, good enough to convince me to start paying attention to something rather than supplementing a preexisting interest. That seems pretty rare. Previously, I’d pay attention to the World Cup or the Olympics and that was about it. Now, I’m checking out parts of English Premier League matches once or twice a week.
I genuinely enjoy what I see for a variety of reasons that seem to evolve. For example, I’m pretty high on the season format at the moment. Basically, the EPL teams play outside of their league at times within their season. The best clubs are a part of the Champions League consisting of the best clubs from around Europe. That’s how Man U and Real Madrid wind up sharing the pitch. Meanwhile, there are in-season tournaments like the FA Cup, which is like the U.S. Open golf tournament meets the NCAA basketball tournament in that it’s sort of open to anybody – even amateur teams – and thrives on massive upsets.
Then there’s relegation, the practice of forcing the worst three teams to play in a lesser league the next season. What if the NBA and the NBA D-League lived by that? It would create all sorts of excitement and chaos and growing pains – and would be unequivocally awesome.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. (I’m also fascinated by the history, the community rivalries, the commercialization and the racism.) In fact, I’m so enamored with the league as a whole that I’m hesitant to take one team as my own. Maybe someday. The bottom line is that there’s a lot to like beyond what happens on the field or in the announcing booth. That is where this post started, right?
Personally, I prefer English announcers to American announcers not because of their native knowledge so much as their accents and turns of phrase. It’s the same reason I’m binge-watching Downton Abbey. I genuinely believe exposure to the English is good for my creativity.
That said, give Gus a chance. He’s likely to do his homework – most at that level do far more prep than the average fan realizes – and bring some excitement to the game, whether that’s necessary or not. He’s not going to ruin the game – no matter what the sect of unwelcoming soccer snobs will try to claim – just as he won’t save the sport. He doesn’t need to. It’s doing plenty well on its own.