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September 13, 2014

The Europeanisation of US football

Guest contribution by Keith Rathbone, PhD candidate in French social and cultural history at Northwestern University. A previous contribution of Keith on players’ mobility was published by this blog in April.

Jürgen Klinsmann and Julian Green: American citizens communicating in German?

When Julian Green, the young Bayern Munich prospect, agreed to play internationally for the United States, knowledgeable American football fans cheered. Many others, however, raised concerns about his right to play for the United States. Although he was born in Tampa, and thus had American citizenship, he passed his whole childhood in Berlin with his German mother. The situation only got worse when Green spoke on television to ESPN to explain his decision. His imperfect English and stilted manner of speaking further alienated him in the minds of a vocal few that believed it would be a travesty for him to don the red, white, and blue jersey. Disquiet about his presence rose to such a level that Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, felt compelled to issue a statement regarding the background of the Team USA players. ‘I don’t agree with (the criticism),’ Gulati said, ‘nothing about that makes those players any less American. It would be pretty hard to convince me that they have less right to play for our country. It’s a globalized world.’

Gulati’s remarks were well founded in the history of the US Men’s National Team: Green is hardly the first European to play for the United States. A closer examination of when ‘Europeans’ played for the US illustrates the successive waves of immigration to American shores and reveals the important role of the coach in shaping the character of the team.

Immigrants from Europe have played a key role on American soccer teams from the beginnings of international competitions. In the 1930 World Cup, the US team called up a five of Scots, including Andrew Auld, Jim Brown, Jimmy Gallagher, Bart McGhee, and Alexander Wood.  Jimmy Gallagher did not even have American citizenship. One player also came from England, George Moorhouse, who later captained the 1934 US Team in Italy. At the 1950 World Cup, when the American team beat the English 1-0, the team included players from England, Germany, Belgium, Scotland, Poland, and the former Free State of Fiume. The team captain, Ed McIlvenny, hailed from Scotland and was not a US citizen at the time of the match with England, although he had declared his intention to become one.

Unfortunately for American football fans, the channel of European talent to American shores dried up after the end of Second World War. The start of the economic boom in Europe shrunk the number of young, immigrant football players. The multitude of Europeans had given way to rough, home grown journeymen such as Paul Caligiuri, John Kerr, and Bruce Murrey. The US Men’s National Team reached did not reach the World Cup again until 1994.

Throughout the 1990s, the United States haphazardly invited Europeans, usually sons of American servicemen. On a few occasions, these naturalisations ended in disaster. David Regis, a French player who had not participated in qualification became part of the team right before the 1998 World Cup. His presence arguably hurt Team USA as they started him in the place of the popular Jeff Agoos. Locker room chemistry suffered and the US finished in last place.

The latest World Cup, however, brought a more intelligent naturalisation and increased visibility of European-born players. German Jürgen Klinsmann, the first non-American U.S. Men’s National Team coach in recent years, quickly restored the European pipeline. He sought out players with connections, however tenuous, to the United States and encouraged them to play for their adoptive homeland. For Klinsmann these European players, principally German, brought a measure of class and experience. In the 2014 World Cup, the American side brought along John Brooks, Tim Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, and Julian Green, all German-American bi-nationals.

For decades, Europe principally benefited from the movement of football talent across the globe as talented players from the colonies immigrated back to the Metropole to find sporting glory. The growing number of European-born players on the American team heralds a new trend of football globalisation. Talent now drains from the centre of the football universe (Europe) into its peripheries (North America, Africa, and the Middle East). Team USA in particular looks poised to ‘steal’ even more skilled players such as Gedion Zelalem (Hertha Berlin) but it’s hardly the only country to benefit from this transmigration. Many African teams have been benefiting from it for more than a decade. It is hard to know what the long terms effects of this reverse migration might be but it is certain that right now the academies of Europe’s top clubs and the national technical centers are training the very players who are most likely to threaten and undermine European hegemony in the game.

Keith Rathbone
keithrathbone7[at]gmail.com

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September 7, 2014

Of ruthless panzers, fake luxury cars, and impotent eagles

1990 - The classical Panzer

Football has always been a major producer of stereotypes. The invention of ‘national playing styles’ at the beginning of 20th century drew, inevitably, massively on extra-sportive stereotypes accumulated over the centuries and safely stored in national narratives of perception and self-perception. The fact that for over a century, football discourse has been produced (and endlessly repeated) mainly within almost hermetically closed linguistic and cultural areas only contributed to consolidate stereotypical images and vocabulary, often against better knowledge.

But stereotypes can change, too, even if it takes time and repetitive counter-evidence. Some of the literature from social psychology draws a clear distinction between stereotype and prejudice, the difference being that the former may be weakened or even turned around and the latter is essentially immune to change.

[Read more]

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August 24, 2014

Shooting minus the war

Cartoon by Egon Kaiser, EZ, 1992

Nothing really spectacular to report from the first Bundesliga week-end of the new season. Yet there is always something re-assuring in the banality of this yearly kick-off ritual. Especially after a summer during which both the radio in the morning and television in the evening had hardly anything else to report on but war (Syria, Irak, Ukraine), civil war (Lybia, even Missouri), or commemorated war (70 years of D-Day, 100 years of World War One).

Here’s what I wrote two years ago on this very same blog:

End of August. Time to update one of my all-time favourite football cartoons. If I remember correctly, it dates from 1992, but it never seems to become obsolete. You just have to update the text of the first three panels of the strip with what you see in the television news, and you can be sure that the fourth one is as valid as ever. (Of course you can feel FREE to replace ‘Bundesliga’ by ‘PremierLeague’, ‘Süper Lig’, ‘Primera División’, ‘Ligue 1′, ‘Extraklasa’, ‘Superligaen’ or whatever else you fancy). The cartoon will work in all European languages, and it would do so even without any words.

Chances are I can publish the same post in 2015. And 2016. And 2017…

What the cartoon also stresses is the inadequacy of the eternal comparison between war and football. How often the famous punch line of George Orwell on ‘war minus the shooting’ is taken out of its very specific context and repeated in order to make the highly original point that football is nothing more than a re-enactment of war? Take Paul Auster, the renowned American author, who declared after watching the 1998 World Cup in France, that ‘Europeans had finally found a way of hating each other without tearing each other to pieces’. Oh, dear, how profound!

The Orwellian war metaphore, along with the comparison of football to the ‘opium of the people’ of Marxist leaning, are the favourite quotes of good-meaning left-wing intellectuals. In France, for instance, you can be sure both metaphores are reliably taken out of the cupboard each time an international tournament places football on top of the media agenda. In today’s interactive media world there is something Pavlovian about the comments and reactions you can receive whenever you express yourself publicly on international football, trying to provide socio-psychological explanations for what is happening without condemning the way people are ‘being manipulated into nationalist frenzy’. Writing my daily World Cup column for Le Monde, I received a fair share of this kind of criticism, most of which was based on the unshakeable belief that football lovers are by definition alienated and brainwashed dummies who are incapable of critical distance to whatever happens on a football pitch.

One week into the World Cup, I picked up one of these comments of the previous day, which had rightly pointed out a weakness in my choice of words, and asked the question whether one had to ‘have a bad conscience for simply loving this World Cup’. I tried to explain that a lot of football fans were undergoing a state of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in sympathising with Brazilian protests for better social policies and at the same time simply loving the great football that was being played, and that this was a quite a normal mental contradiction, it appeared I had made my coming out as a cynic.

Well, then, so be it. I can identify with the guy in our cartoon. And if you ask me, he does not need to have a bad conscience for longing for a weekly break among all the bad news. Imagine him being a fan of VfB Stuttgart, or Beşiktaş, or Valencia CF – doesn’t that fully disqualify him as a cynic? For him this game is not ‘war minus the shooting’, but ‘shooting minus the war’.

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July 2, 2014

Football: It’s Time to Check the Privilege!

Part 2 by Nina Szogs

FIFA, by refraining from punishing Mexican fans for using homophobic chants during the World Cup match against Cameroon – despite claiming to have a zero-tolerance policy, missed an important moment to take action against discrimination in football.

“Football fans against homophobia” (Source: http://fussballfansgegenhomophobie.blogsport.de/)

“Football fans against homophobia”

Discussing the lack of awareness

In 2006, Pilz et al., for the German Bundesliga, argued that whereas racism has to some extent become part of a critical discourse in football stadia, homophobic and also sexist chants are often perceived as a legitimate part of football fan culture. Today, during the World Cup, we can observe that homophobia, similar to racism and sexism, is still an immense problem on and off the pitch. Not only have Mexican fans been accused of homophobic chants, but also Russian and Croatian fans were seen displaying racist and homophobic banners. Missing the chance to publicly condemn these discriminating practices during an international tournament like the World Cup, and make people worldwide aware of them, is one of FIFA’s great failures. [Read more]

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June 30, 2014

Football: It’s Time to Check the Privilege!

Part 1 by Alexandra Schwell

Football’s Dark Side: Corruption, Homophobia, Violence and Racism in the Beautiful Game” – this is the title of a new book written by Ellis Cashmore and Jamie Cleland. The authors contend that “Football may yet be the last major sport to boast that it harbours no prejudices”. However, they say, it “stands to reason that in a sport played by about 200,000 professionals, only a few have declared themselves to be gay”. Hence they conclude: “It can be reasonably assumed that football is a prohibitive environment for gay people”.

To be clear, Cashmore and Cleland are not accusing football of being an extraordinary homophobic, racist, or violent sport when compared to other sports, such as boxing. If we share the view that the social forces and power that create the distribution of economic, cultural, and social capital, and thus opportunities within society, come to the fore and are negotiated in football, then we should take a look at how this wider society links to the activity around and on the football pitch.

Let us take a random, but rather recent, example: In November 2013 a teacher in Baden-Württemberg, Germany launched an online petition and attempted to obtain enough signatures to oppose the ministry of education’s 2015 state curriculum. The new and highly contested curriculum includes a controversial section, which requires that the schools are expected to advance their pupils’ understanding of “gender diversity” across all disciplines.

[Read more]

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June 26, 2014

The World Cup 2014 in Brazil: better organised than the Olympics in London 2012?

Yesterday, I was quoted in a number of French newspapers as saying that the World Cup 2014 has been, so far, better organised than the London Olympics 2012. It is my duty to report that this does not in any way whatsoever misrepresent my views.
I stand by what I said.

[Read more]

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June 23, 2014

Thank you, guys

Fifteen years ago I had the privilege of living one of those adventures that remain with you for life. Back then I was quite far away from the academic world, working as a reporter in a Spanish sports newspaper. One day may boss decided, who knows why, that I was the best person to travel to Nigeria to cover the 1999 FIFA Youth World Cup. Little I knew then that I was going to have the opportunity to report on the first major triumph of a group of players which, defeated, bowed out of the 2014 World Cup yesterday after cruising to a meaningless 3-0 win over Australia. Certainly, I would have never thought when writing up a report on the final 4-0 crushing of Japan in a humid evening in Lagos, that some of the names in my text would feature eleven years later in other journalists’ reports of a World Cup final. It is perhaps because of this personal link that I cannot help to feel for this group of players who, as I argued in a post in this blog, made so many of us happy.

Brazil 2014 is certainly the end of a glorious generation of Spanish footballers that came to dominate the game in a fashion I could never have imagined. Not even when I first met Xavi, Iker Casillas or Carlos Marchena in the Spanish hotel in Calabar, a small city neat the Niger River, where Spain played two group-stage games of the 1999 Youth World Cup. The story of that month-long competition was one of coming out of age for a group of players and quite a privilege for me. Given the informality of the tournament, players and journalists shared hotels and many of the difficult moments in Nigeria. We were even able to forge some friendships that were maintained over time. It is also perhaps because of that more personal element that I have really struggled to see Xavi suffering because of his lack of fitness and his patellar tendons over the last couple of seasons. It has also been difficult to see the state of Casillas in the World Cup. The great captain who took us to heaven was a caricature of what he used to be.

Be that as it may, in this very sad and disappointing moment I can only have a word of gratitude for those who made this possible. It is of course necessary to start with Luis Aragonés, the scorer of Atlético de Madrid infamous goal in the 1974 European Cup final. Luis was a particular character, but he needs to be credited with giving a complete turnaround to the way Spain used to play and to feel on a pitch. He relayed of course on a bright group of players, later evolved by Vicente del Bosque to the work of art of Puyol’s header over Germany in South Africa, Casillas save on Robben or the team demolition of Italy in Kiev in Euro 2012.

This Brazil World Cup was perhaps one too many for some players. It is the moment to evolve the team, but it is not the moment to throw an idea of playing football in the bin. Some would say that Brazil changed and it does not play the attacking football of the Pele years. True. But it would be a real pity not to try to persevere in the idea of Luis Aragonés and Del Bosque that made many of us dream. In the meantime, in the moment to hand in our trophy of world champions, it is also the moment to say thanks. Thank you, guys. It was a very enjoyable journey.

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June 22, 2014

Lost in France

This blog is on World Cup holiday, lost in France (still the world’s number one tourist destination).

It's never too late to learn French, is it?

Unfortunately, the French insist on speaking, writing and reading their own language. Which is why the blog has turned into “une chronique quotidienne de la Coupe du monde” on the website of Le Monde, the great French daily. For those who are willing and capable of reading French, here are the links to the first week’s columns:

*

A bientôt !

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June 5, 2014

For the people or against the people?

A post from pre-World Cup Rio by Gosia Kowalska.

Football club colours on the beach in Rio.

Not surprisingly, football is omnipresent in Rio de Janeiro. On the countless football pitches in Flamengo Park in front of the hotel where I stayed during the ‘2nd International Conference on Mega-events and the City‘, referees’ whistles are heard almost 24 hours a day – even at 3 am when the waiters finish their work and gather to play a match before sunrise. As in so many places in the world, cariocas get together to watch football in cafes, and kids wear shirts with the names of their, and their fathers’, favourite players, but club colours are also seen on the beach where the flags of Botafogo and Fluminese proudly flutter over the neighbouring kiosks with agua de coco and caipirinha.

The World Cup, however, seems to belong to a very different sphere. It has to do with pacification of favelas and displacement, as well as with citizens’ protests against the wealth distribution and arrogance of FIFA and the country’s elites. Each time I asked my hosts about the World Cup and the Olympic Games, they hardly ever talked football;  they would rather discuss the power of the Rede Globo and the possible future of the new potential born within Brazilian society in the mass protests before the upcoming mega-events. Therefore, one pays less attention to advertisements and construction sites than to the constant noise of helicopters patrolling the supposedly uneasy favelas. Even those visitors who are determined not to leave southern Rio must pass through the not-so-glamorous districts of the city when taking a shuttle to the international airport . A short glimpse into their streets is enough to give one a sense of the flipside of the development and splendor of Ciudad Maravillosa.

Rio and its ‘two footballs’ are symptomatic of the global tensions between the rich and the poor. Both the World Cup and the Games stimulated discussion on the future shape of Brazilian capitalism and democracy, but they can also be analysed dialectically, as mirroring the widening gap between the leisure world of the affluent and the basic needs and rights of those who cannot afford it. Is the World Cup going to be a big football fiesta or rather a chance to show the world that the city, as the organisers of the conference claimed, is ‘already at war’? Probably both, and this schizophrenic image of a locality is not confined to Brazilian cities.

‘Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people’, according to Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address. He did not know that at the very same time, in November 1863, on the other side of the Atlantic, some guys were busy drafting the rules of a new ball game in the Freemasons’ Tavern in London. One and a half century later, football and democracy meet at the world’s most important mega-event in Brazil. For the people or against the people?

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May 21, 2014

Nothing is irrational

On year ago, on 23 May 2013, French sociologist Michel Crozier died at age 90.

Was he known at all outside France? The fact that he has a short wikipedia entry in English seems to suggest that he was not completely unknown. Rather than an obituary, these lines are just a modest tribute. His death reminded me of just how much I owe my interest for sociology to him. Maybe it’s because when I started to read his books in the early 1990s, I wasn’t even thinking about engaging into an academic career, completing a PhD and doing serious research. I only wanted to better understand my intriguing host country.

Michel Crozier (1922-2013)

His 1995 book on ‘The helplessness of the elites when it comes to reform themselves’, whose main title was ‘La crise de l’intelligence’, opened my eyes on the French higher education system just as much as Pierre Bourdieu did. And at the same time it did not have this dogmatic ideological underpinning that characterised Bourdieu’s writing and contaminated so much of French sociology.

Crozier helped me understand from within quite some idiosyncrasies of French culture, especially the ubiquitous penetration of all spheres of society by ‘the State’. And although I had no grasp whatsoever on methodology at the time, I intuitively liked how he built bridges between sociology, politics and management.

My favourite quote by Michel Crozier? I actually have two of them.

The first one,

“I did not become a sociologist by passing state exams, but by doing sociology.”

sums up nicely what research is about: it’s not about making a career in academia in the first place, but to understand society better. Seing things this way not only makes you less prisoner of the absurdities of academic life, but also allows you to have a lot more fun.

The second one is a reply to critics who accused him of not dealing with emotions, desires and passions in his analysis:

‘Nothing is irrational. The understanding of the context allows us to understand the rationality of behaviour that seemed irrational before.’

I am not even certain I fully agree. The FREE project is a lot about emotions, desires and passions, isn’t it? On the other hand, it’s no doubt the context that may help to understand why certain emotions occur at certain moments.

Funny how sometimes you realise with a delay of twenty years the influence a person’s thoughts may have had on your own ideas. Better late than never.

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