Soccer: Your Guide to Fanhood

It seems that every day, soccer is becoming more and more of a “hipster” sport.  In recent times alone, LeBron James purchased a share of the European giants Liverpool, Amar’e Stoudemire was rocking a Man United hat in post-game interviews, and Steve Nash has tweeted his allegiance as a diehard Tottenham fan for some time now.  With every day that passes, Soccer is picking up more and more American fans, and rightfully so.  Soccer is so much more than a sport; it has stopped civil wars, and has unified countless people.  This article is solely about the English Premiere League (EPL), however.  By far the most popular league in the world, and the league that any young footballer wants to play in when growing up.  The sole purpose of this article is to guide you, the fan, to be able to pick an EPL team to follow.  I will try to do this in the most unbiased way possible, as I already am a diehard fan of one of these clubs.  If you check my twitter, you will find out very quickly who my favorite club is.

To me, I always compare picking an EPL team to the stock market.  You want to pick a team who’s not considered a top club, but has potential to climb the table.  With no connection to teams that are thousands of miles away, I understand the frustration with choosing a club to root for.  I will break down teams into 3 categories.  One being the “Undesirables”, which will be the teams that I would stay away from.  The 2nd category will be “Midtable” which will be clubs you can root for knowing they will always be a consistent club, but never with title dreams.  And finally the “Giants” which are the clubs that have most of the U.S support.  Clubs that will not only compete highly in the league, but also across Europe.

 

UNDESIRABLES

The title of these clubs is a bit harsh.  Everyone loves the underdog story, and a bunch of these clubs play very attractive and inspirational football.  The reason I would not pledge my allegiance to these clubs is solely on the fact you never know when they will get booted out of the Premiership (which can happen, 3 teams a year get relegated to a lower division).  I would absolutely suggest that you pick one of these teams as your “2nd club” which is mostly frowned upon because you only can have 1 club.  But everyone has that one smaller club they enjoy watching and hope they do well.

 

Wigan Athletic – Let me first off start by saying I absolutely love Wigan’s manager, Roberto Martinez.  If I could play for one Manager in the prem, he would be it.  Smart tactician, gets the most out of his players, and never plays scared against bigger opponents.  He kept a weak Wigan side up and avoided relegation in a tough EPL season last year.  But he alone is not enough to warrant your fan hood to this club.  Wigan will break your heart and not give you many highs, and more than likely, will be out of the premiership more often than not.

Main Rival: Aldershot Town (lower division team)

Best Player: Aurona Kone

 

Reading – Much like Wigan, I don’t see them staying up for very long.  They were promoted last year, and I see them going straight back down this year.  Don’t particularly play attractive soccer, so I would stay away from this club unless you want to be streaming Championship side games on your laptop in the near future.

Main Rival: Bolton Wanderers (lower division team)

Best Player: Adam Le Fondre

 

Southampton – Again, there is a trend here with the undesirables; they don’t have the talent nor money to be anything but feeder clubs.  While I think that fans should root for teams that will have highs and lows, there is no need to put yourself through the torment of supporting one of these clubs if you don’t have too.  Southampton though, has always produced great young talent.  Gareth Bale was a Southampton man before he became an absolute monster at Spurs.  They could potentially be in the Premiership for a couple of years, but don’t see them challenging for too much more than that.

Main Rival: Portsmouth (lower division team)

Best Player: Rickie Lambert

 

MIDTABLE

Midtables clubs are clubs that are just that, midtable.  These clubs are teams that will more likely than not be in the prem year in and year out.  They will even upset larger clubs like Man U and Chelsea from time to time.  Rooting for one of these teams you will get satisfaction that you don’t root for one of the giant clubs who don’t know heartbreak, but you’ll also have to accept that winning a title probably won’t happen in your lifetime.

 

QPR – I highly debated putting this team in the undesirables, but I just couldn’t do it.  You might look up the EPL table and call me crazy considering they are in dead last in the whole league, and you may be right.  But let me defend this selection before you get all up in arms.  QPR was able to stay up last year after a rough season, and lots of thrilling matches.  While QPR is struggling this year as well, they have so many things going for them that even if they do get relegated; I believe they will be right back up in no time.  For one, they have one of the best managers in England, in Harry Redknapp.  Redknapp was let go by Spurs last summer despite finishing 4th 2 seasons in a row (which is the goal for most clubs because it means Champions League qualification).  This was massively controversial because of the success he brought Spurs.  He then replaced Mark Hughes as QPR manager about midway through this season.  He alone would be enough for me to put confidence in this club.  But there’s more, unlike most smaller clubs, QPRs owners are willing to spend.  They want to compete and they will fork over any amount of money for players Redknapp wants.  This has been shown by signing Julio Cesar (one of the world’s top keepers), bringing in Loic Remy (not a superstar by any means, but a quality striker none the less), and even pursuing Dutch magician, Wesley Sneijder.  While they weren’t able to capture the stars signature, the fact they were even in the running is impressive.  So even with the great manager, and the owner’s willingness to spend, QPR has a great stadium in Loftus Road (one of my favorite pitches, also in London which is a big pro) and a flashy game changer player in Adel Taarabt.  Taarabt is one of those players you don’t hear a lot about because he is hit or miss with his games and plays for a smaller club, but YouTube his name and you’ll see the talent and flash he has right away.  For these reasons, I think QPR would be a great pick for any new fan.  This team has a lot of potential going forward, but they still can break your heart.

Main Rival:  Any London based team

Best Player: Adel Taarabt

 

Aston Villa – Oh has the mighty have fallen with this club.  A few years ago this team was fighting for a Champions League spot and had players like Stewart Downing, James Milner, and Ashley Young.  Now they have one of the youngest sides in the league.  While I wouldn’t recommend picking this club, I know a few Villa fans and they are as passionate as they come.  The future is unsure for them, they could just as easily be sent down this year as they could stay up.  But one pull that they have for an American fan is that they have 2 Americans in their squad.  One being keeper Brad Guzan, who consistently stands on his head and makes great save after great save.  He alone has numerously kept Villa in games with his heroics.  The other being Eric Lichaj.  Lichaj is an outside back who can’t seem to protect his spot in the lineup.  One week he will be the starting left back, the next he doesn’t even make the 18 for the game.  He is young however, just like the rest of the team.  If they can stay up, and buy some quality centerbacks in the summer window, this could be a team a fan could get behind and see some quality results in the years ahead.

Main Rival: Birmingham City (Lower division team)

Best Player: Christian Benteke

 

Sunderland – This is a midlevel team to a “T”.  This club is always right in the middle of the pack, has quality players, but just will never get over that hump and compete for trophies in Europe.  Sunderland is basically the club for players who could play for the likes of Man U and Man City, but would be players fighting for time to make the bench.  With players like Adam Johnson, Craig Gardner, and Seb Larsson on the squad, you will always see quality play from this side.  If you are a fan who doesn’t want to jump on a bandwagon of a team who people might question your fan hood, Sunderland may be a team for you.  They get fair results, never really in danger of being relegated, and play attractive attacking soccer most of the time.  They have underachieved so far this year though, I am a little surprised to see them sitting 15th in the league as of right now.  They have quality of a squad between 10-12 in the league.

Main Rival: Newcastle

Best Player: Stéphane Sessègnon

 

Norwich – Another club that I considered in the undesirables but just couldn’t do it.  Norwich is a small club that just seems to get results when they have no business in doing so.  While they don’t have any players that are going to blow you away when watching a game, they always seem to fight as a unit and grind out results.  And from time to time, they will play some beautiful soccer.  I would again not recommend this club for your allegiance because they could easily be sent down in the next few years, but there’s something about them that would give you a sense of pride in being a Norwich supporter.

Main Rival: Ipswich Town (Lower division team)

Best Player: Grant Holt

 

West Ham – Let me first start by saying this is a quality club to support.  Have great fans, solid history, and willingness to compete regardless of the opponent.  If someone asked you which club you supported and you responded “West Ham” you would have a lot of respect from the person who asked you that question.  They are nearly the perfect team to pick, because they are in the middle of the top teams and bottom teams.  They have players like Joe Cole, Diame, and Andy Carroll (on loan from Liverpool although) who all could play for bigger clubs.  If you picked this team, you could potentially see West Ham climb the table in the next few years and be a consistent top 8 team.

Main Rival: Any London based team

Best Player: Mohamed Diame

 

Stoke City – If you like scrappy and teams who play with heart, Stoke may be your pick.  Stoke is known as being the “anti-football”, and by that I mean they bunker down, counter attack, and grind results through great defense and frustrating opponents.  They are slowly becoming an Americanized squad with the recent signings of American internationals Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea.  American fans could get on board with them also because they play much like the USA international team played under Bob Bradley.  They know they don’t have the talent to just outplay you with precision passing and possession, so they do what they know. Defend like hell and punch you when you’re not expecting it.  As a fan of attractive soccer and passing, I’m not going to lie, when my team plays Stoke I get frustrated as hell.  But I see the appeal for new American fans.

Main Rival: West Brom

Best Player: Their Centerbacks (Huth and Shawcross)

 

Newcastle – If I wrote this article a year ago I probably would have them in the “giant” category.  Buy top quality players, have a great stadium, and were impressive a year ago.  But for some reason, this year has been very disappointing for the club.  I’m not entirely sure what has happened in the past year, but the results are not going the way that they should be for this club.  I often compare picking an EPL team to a stock market, in being that you want to pick a team whose stock is low, but could climb high in the near future. That you as a fan, were there in the lows and that makes you enjoy the highs that much more.  This team could be just that for you.  Currently, they sit 13th in the table.  I think they are in the 7-8 range in talent.  I expect next year that they will be more of the team we saw last year and it is not out of the question to see them maybe compete for Champions League if they can play to the level they are capable of.

Main Rival: Sunderland

Best Player: Hartem Ben Arfa

 

Fulham – This club already has a large number of American followers.  Up until recently, they were the team most Americans went to when making the move to England.  With the likes of Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Eddie Johnson playing for them in the past.  Most fans picked them because they were able to watch their beloved Americans play for the same club.  But recently, Fulham has parted ways with their American players and still competed fine without them.  Losing Dempsey to Spurs, and bringing in the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Fulham is still built to compete and consistently finish midtable.  I should also add that this London based club has the coolest stadium in all of England.  Nothing like playing at Craven Cottage.

Main Rival: Any London based team

Best Player: Dimitar Berbatov

 

Swansea – Honestly if I could recommend to any new fan who to root for, Swansea would be the first or second team I would say.  A small club who was recently promoted, and has done nothing but succeed while in the top division.  Swansea plays an attractive brand of football with young players who will probably move on to bigger clubs shortly (ie Joe Allen and Gylfi Siggurdson).  Being a fan of this team you will see great soccer, development of young players who will be household names in a few years, and have the pride that comes with rooting for a small club.  The only thing is, you won’t be seeing them in Champions League anytime soon due to them having to sell their best players to finance their team.  But they do have some draw for players to come play for them.  As much as they sell, they had arguably the best signing of last summer bringing in Michu.  Who has been a delight to watch for any soccer fan.  Also, Swansea is the only club in the EPL that is from Wales, could be a pro or con for you as a fan depending on how you look at it.

Main Rival: Cardiff City (lower level, Welsh side)

Best Player: Michu

 

West Brom – Basically reread what I wrote for Swansea and apply it to West Brom.  I think of these 2 clubs in the same sense.  Smaller clubs who compete with anyone, but will have to be feeder clubs to stick around.  Anyone who supports West Brom or Swansea is a knowledgeable soccer fan and is ok with me.

Main Rival: Aston Villa

Best Player:  Lukaku (on loan, however)

 

Everton – One player, two names, Tim Howard.  Most American fans root for this team solely because it is the home of the USA shot stopper Timmy Howard.  But along with Mr. Howard, this club has a lot to offer new fans.  In my opinion they have the best Left back in the EPL in Leighton Baines, and maybe the hottest midfield commodity in Marouane Fellaini.  This is also the club Landon Donovan served 2 stints on loan at while away from the Galaxy.  Everton is known for having great fans, and is a very family oriented and loyal club.  Most players say playing at Goodison is a treat and Everton is a special place to play.  I would recommend this club to new fans due to the support and the loyalty factor.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that they are consistently in the top half of the league.

Main Rival: Liverpool

Best Player: Marouane Fellaini

 

GIANTS

These are the clubs that are competing for not only Champions League, but also the League Title.  This is where the clubs of most American fans are going to be.  These are the clubs who have big budgets and can buy the best players in the world.  You will have a lot of highs if you chose one of these teams.

 

Liverpool – From my experience, this club probably has the most American fans of any EPL team.  I think this is a culmination of a few reasons.  First, Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, is one of a kind. In the past, most teams would just hope to come in and get a draw and leave. The fan support is as good as it gets, as they sing “You’ll never walk alone” before every game (YouTube it, it’s worth it).  They are one of England’s most prestigious clubs, as they have won 18 first division trophies.  Also, LeBron recently bought a portion of this club, and has attended a few of their games himself.  Over the past few years they declined slightly and are around the 6th position in the table.  They will always be a threat to compete though, and have one of my favorite players in Steven Gerrard.  Picking this team would result in you having a lot of other fans to converse with and you would be supporting one of the most prestigious clubs in the entire world.  The only downside, Luis Suarez.  Suarez is an infuriating talented player.  He is the Joakim Noah of the EPL, unless he’s on your team, you absolutely hate him.

Main Rival: Everton

Best Player: Steven Gerrard

Exciting Player: Luis Suarez

 

Arsenal – Along with Liverpool, probably the most liked club in the United States.  Has always been known for its passing and beautiful play (under Wenger at least).  Is routinely a lock for Champions League and can outplay any club in the world on any day.  With Arsene Wenger at the helm, he has made Arsenal a club that a lot of players would love to play for.  Recently however, the players who made Arsenal so great for so many years (Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie) have left for bigger clubs and Wenger has replaced them with younger inexperienced players.  This does not sit well with Arsenal supporters.  With this happening, many think Wenger is on his way out, and that Arsenal is not at the level it used to be.  While I think there is some truth in that, Arsenals history is too big to overlook and their commitment to great football is something every fan can enjoy.  If you like attractive soccer and want to watch how games should be played, Arsenal would be a great team to root for.

Main Rival: Tottenham Hotspur

Best Player:  Jack Wilshere

Exciting player: Theo Walcott

 

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) – One of many London based teams who have jumped from a midlevel team to a Giant in the past few years.  After finishing 4th the past 2 years and on pace to do it again this year, this club is on the rise.  But much like my stock market comparison, rooting for this one would be doing it on the wrong side.  Spurs fans have had a ton of heartbreak in the past, and now they are finally celebrating great performances.  Picking this team now would be hard due to the fact you missed the entire heart ache from the past.  With that said, if you want a trendy pick, Spurs are the way to go because while they are on the rise, they still find a way to let you down.  With young manager Andre Villas Boas leading a confident bunch, Tottenham might be the most entertaining club to watch in the entire league.  Spurs don’t have many USA fans due to they weren’t that relevant in the past, but now seem to be building support from everywhere.  Once star man Gareth Bale is gone however, it’s anyone’s guess where this club will go.

Main Rival: Arsenal

Best Player: Gareth Bale

Exciting player: Aaron Lennon

 

Chelsea – This team will always compete and be near the top of the table and have been for a while now.  The pros of this club are they attract young talent and don’t just buy players for the sake of it (ie Man City).  Bringing in youngsters like Eden Hazard and Oscar this past transfer window will give fans young talent to watch for years to come.  Mixed with these young players, they also have the legend Frank Lampard still roaming the midfield (although he might be gone in the near future).  So this team is a good pick for those fans who like to see young talent develop and grow while also having the big names like Lampard, Fernando Torres, and John Terry (pains me to include him in this) on the pitch.  One downside is that their owner, Roman Abramovich, is kind of a wild card.  He’s fired 2 managers, soon to be 3, in the past 2 seasons.  They won the Champions League last year with Roberto di Mateo, and after a somewhat poor start to the season, they sacked him, much to the chagrin of the fans.  You won’t get much respect pledging your fan hood to this team, as even in England their fans are looked at as bandwagon fans.

Main Rival: Tottenham/Arsenal

Best Player: Juan Mata

Exciting Player: Eden Hazard

 

Man City – The spending giants of the EPL.  Man City of the past 4 years is an entirely different club than the one of the past 40 years.  And if you’re going by my stock market idea, Man City would be the worst stock market pick of them all.  The best way to paint a picture of this team would be comparing them to the New York Mets, and then the Mets winning the lottery and buying every big name player they could find.  Having the history and heart ache for ages, Man City would have been a good pick about 6 years ago.  But today, they have bought countless players under the rich owners and manager Roberto Mancini.  With the likes of Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez, Kun Aguero, and arguably the best young keeper in the world in Joe Hart, Man City is a top club in Europe.  If you want to watch a bunch of dysfunctional players play together and still win regardless of team chemistry, this is absolutely your team.  The circus around them is like the New York Jets.

Main Rival: Man United

Best Player: Yaya Touré

Exciting Player: Kun Agüero

 

Man United – Unless you’re a Yankee fan and absolutely love being hated by everyone, don’t pick this team.  Easily the most hated club in England, with the whiniest manager in Sir Alex Ferguson.  They always are a top club and probably will win the league this year, barring something crazy.  Picking this team, you’re in for lots of happiness and very little heartache.  Not what I look for in a club, but I’m sure some of you fans like being the hated and being the hunted.  If that’s what you enjoy, Man United may be the side for you.

Main Rival: Man City

Best Player: Robin Van Persie

Exciting Player: Wayne Rooney

 

So after analyzing all 20 teams, here is my very vague description of each team and what they have to offer.  Feel free to tweet me @Schaeffer817 if you have any questions, or want more information.  Alongside the EPL, watch some MLS games and tune into any International USA games if you really want to watch the beautiful game.

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