Did y’all miss me? I know, I missed you too. Copa America was fun and the Euros was a great time had by all but if you need to check your pulse if by now you’re not itching for the start of 2016-17 edition of the greatest, bestest, fastest, most exciting and/or at least definitely richest jogo bonito league in the world.
But speaking of being a fan, and before we get to Barstool’s official preliminary tentative season preview (in the works as we speak), it is that time again when Americans everywhere open the closet door, peek their head out, and wonder to themselves if this is the year they come out to their parents as loving soccer.
To be clear, I’m not asking you to “please like my sport” and am not even here to convince you to love the beautiful game. It is a deeply personal choice. But you do have to ask yourself one question: do I want to be a worldly, interesting individual who breathes through my nose? Or would I prefer to be known as a simple-minded mouthbreather? Up to you.
If’n you do choose the path towards enlightenment then I have some good news… now comes the fun part! Picking a team – and not just any team, but YOUR team that you can get into, root for and care about because, unlike American sports where you are typically born (or sometimes accepted, in the case of college) into your various athletic affiliations, picking a European soccer “club” to “support” (as an uppity soccer bro might say) is a little more complicated. You are in luck, however, as your boy Samuel is here to lend you a hand.
Safe harbour statement #1: Yes, I ran something similar the last couple years but it has been updated accordingly…
Safe harbour statement #2: I encourage you to follow an MLS team as well, as the quality of soccer is legitimately improving every year, but you don’t need my help picking an MLS team as you have plenty of geographic and or matri/patrilineal landmarks to guide you.
Safe harbour statement #3: you also couldn’t go wrong going with a club in Spain or Italy or Germany… but, alas, I am only one man so for the purposes of keeping this to a reasonable length we are going to stick with…
PICKING AN EPL CLUB
First things first, you chose an interesting time to jump on board the EPL bandwagon. Last season was one of the craziest on record. It was not necessarily the most dramatic. In fact there was an incredible absence of drama with last few weeks being about as tame as any season I can recall. However, so many of the big clubs either disappointed a lot (eg, City, Everton) or a HELLUVA lot (eg, Chelsea) while itsy bitsy teeny weeny Leicester came out of nowhere to win the league, which gave hope to fans of damn near everybody… Hull City, West Brom, Burnley, Newcastle, shit even Liverpool – okay probably not those last two – but everybody else thinks they are a couple unsung diamonds in the rough away from rocketing them into contention for the league title THIS SEASON.
Unfortunately Leicester’s damn near wire-to-wire performance last season maaaaaaaaay have been an anomaly built on a conflagration of once-in-a-generation occurrences that may never come together again. But let’s pretend for a moment that that’s not the case and instead take a look at the 20 (or so) candidate clubs vying for your affection.
On the one hand, there are going to be clubs that very likely are going to lose a lot of games this season and whose primary “goal” is simply to avoid relegation and live to play another season in the financially bountiful environs of the Premier League. Apart from your team picking up and moving to a new city, there is likely few more painful feelings in all of sports than watching get relegated (aka cuntpunted) down to the Championship. So know going in that if you choose one of these clubs there is a legitimate chance that is what you are in for in May. On the other hand, Leicester. If you know somebody who picks one of these teams, the first thing you should do is express to them your respect for their willingness to take the road less travelled, then book them an appointment with a psychiatrist who has experience in dealing with “cutters” (aka self-harmers).
Based on last season’s unprecedented success of the Foxes, I’ll keep it to a bare minimum going into this season and include only HULL CITY and BURNLEY.
Dishonorable mentions: NEWCASTLE and ASTON VILLA… both long-time EPL stalwarts were relegated last season and thus forced to spend a minimum of one season in purgatory. They may be back soon, though whether they will have sorted themselves out such that they can make another run at a top-half finish anytime is (VERY) up in the air.
Apologies in advance to those of you – and I know there are a few – who are already fans of one of these clubs… condolences, but it is what it is.
These clubs will show bursts of class here and there, and could potentially do something crazy like make the semi-finals of the League Cup, but unless lightning strikes twice they will not be in the mix to lift the league trophy anytime soon.
BOURNEMOUTH will be an interesting club to watch this season. They dominated the Championship two seasons ago and steered clear of the relegation battle for most of last season despite losing a ton of important players to injury. Depending on who they bring in this summer, and assuming they avoid the injury bug, Bournemouth has the makings of a club that could begin establish itself as a reliable mid-table finisher (a la a Crystal Palace)… or we could be saying fare thee well come spring, whichever. Bonus fact: they have one of the worst nicknames – the Cherries – that I’ve ever heard. So you’d have that going for you. Which is nice.
CRYSTAL PALACE has been a club on the rise the last few seasons, though there are questions about whether it has what it takes to make the jump. Since coming over from Newcastle, manager (and former Eagle) Alan Pardew and helped the club cement itself in the middle of the table and it some serious talent in guys like Yohan Cabaye and Yannick Bolasie (assuming they stick around). Bonus fact: Cheerleaders and they are located in London so traveling to see them is not all that tough, plus cheerleaders.
MIDDLESBROUGH are fresh from the Championship but play an attractive brand of soccer that should be easy on the eyes, which should be made all the more so with the gaggle of Spanish talent that has been shipping in this summer. Unlike many newly promoted clubs, Middlesbrough has quite a history in the top flight of English soccer, though whether they will be able to stay there for years to come is very much up in the air. Bonus fact: picking “Brough would meaning saying “Up the ‘Boro” anytime you get excited. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s a thing.
SUNDERLAND has a history of skirting relegation just by the skin of its chinny chin chin, and last season was no different. This summer though the club made what I think (though I may be alone in this) was a smart move in bringing on David Moyes, who has shown a propensity for helping bad teams play good and good teams play bad. Make no mistake, this is not a good team at the moment so he could be a good man for the job. Bonus fact: DeAndre Yedlin (assuming his loan from Spurs becomes permanent)!
SWANSEA is located in Wales making it the only non-English team in the Premiership this year. So if you like rebels and/or Welsh people (despite the fact that nobody – not even the bloody English – can understand what the hell they are saying, ever) then Swansea might be the team for you. The club is not far removed from some impressive finishes but is coming off an extremely meh season in which they finished in 12th place and, more worryingly, has sold some of its key players this offseason (though to be fair they have also done some good bits of buying as well). Bonus fact: the club is owned by Big Cat. (True fact.)
WATFORD is kinda sorta considered to be another London-based club though in truth that’s a little like the Red Bulls claiming to be a New York-based team. Makes sense from a commercial perspective but real fans know better. Anyway, solid club that has recently benefited from a huge influx of cash from a wealthy Italian owner, whose family also owns teams in Italy and Spain, which have a tendency to trade players among the various organizations (nice little fallback in case one of them is facing relegation). Unfortunately the club recently fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who had done a fantastic job with them, and other clubs have shown some interest in buying one of their most dangerous strikers in Odion Ighalo, so this season could be a bit of a crapshoot for the Hornets Bonus: Elton John is a lifelong fan, so if you’re a big “Rocket Man” and/or “Lion King” fan then perhaps this is the club for you.
WEST BROM was just bought by a “Chinese entrepreneur” so the big question is whether old boy plans to pour money in to help the club break out of its “just below mid-table or bust” attitude, and whether Tony Pulis would even allow him to do so. (Pulis breaks out in hives anytime his club strays too far away from away from 14th place.) The club tends to play conservatively with a dynamic flash here and there, so if missionary style sex ‘with the lights on sometimes’ is your thing then this just might be the club for you. Bonus fact: this will be the 11th successive season in the EPL… which ain’t exactly nothing.
We’ve whittled our way down to teams that have more or less firmly established themselves in the top half of the 20-team EPL table year in and year out. These clubs should be contenders for both secondary trophies like FA and League Cups and Europa League slots (5th through 7th-ish) in the spring. The nice thing about picking one of these is that you will NOT have to deal with people giving you shit about picking a front-runner. On the flipside, the chances your team competes for the league title this year are prettyyyyyyyyy small.
EVERTON (100/1): after a few seasons at the fringes of contention the club took a serious step backwards last year, finishing in the bottom half (11th), but stole manager Ronald Koeman away from Southampton in what could turn out to be their best bit of business in years. The club has a ton of talent though it is in a bit of upheaval at the moment with John Stones gone and Romelu Lukaku reportedly on the way out, so if we’re being honest this might be a bit of a “transition season” before Koeman really starts to have an impact on things. Bonus fact: While they don’t have any Americans at the moment, the Toffees have a history of bringing in gringos – eg, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, etc. Also, you should know going on though that Everton’s crosstown arch-rival is Liverpool, so depending upon your feelings about Feitelberg (massive long-time Liverpool FC fan) that could be a big draw or a reason to shy away.
SOUTHAMPTON (200/1): perpetually one of the biggest overachievers in the league, which is a credit to a solid youth system, smart spending and good coaching. Unfortunately, as discussed above, they just lost Ronald Koeman to Everton, which throws a possible monkey-wrench into their operations. The club has been stuck in a perpetual state of flux because big clubs tend to poach a lot of their talent – and Liverpoo usually stakes a claim to their garbage (Sadio Mane not included… and, yes, Dejan Lovren may finally be coming around, too) – as soon as they start to flourish. Alas, this season is unlikely to mark any sort of departure from this cycle. Bonus fact: on the plus side you would get to watch them compete in the Europa League this season… for a little while anyway.
STOKE (750/1): spent years carefully, perhaps even meticulously earning the distinction of being known throughout the world for playing the ugliest brand of soccer known to mankind. They kicked, they chased, they hacked, they defended… and yet they managed to finish mid-table every single season. Fact: if David Stern were running the EPL, he would have made sure Danny Crawford & Co. did whatever it’d take to get Stoke relegated five seasons ago. HOWEVER, times have changed and the club spent the last few summer transfer windows moving away from that atrocious brand of soccer by bringing in all sorts of new talent that has meant a far more attractive brand of soccer on display at the Britannia Stadium… even on cold and rainy Tuesdays nights. Bonus fact: The club also employs the services of Geoff Cameron, the best defender America has to offer at the moment – whether we are talking soccer or Donald Drumpf.
WEST HAM (80/1): was a serious relegation contender just a few years ago but managed to sneak out of the danger zone and made a leap from mediocrity to legitimacy last season, hanging on to an outside shot at Champions League (top four) until fading the last few weeks and settling for 7th place. Dmitri Payet is one of the best free kick specialists in the world and head coach Slaven Bilic is a certified badass. Lots to like about the Hammers, which are moving to a new grandiose stadium and could – with the right moves – make the jump into the next category sometime soon… or just as easily fall back into mid-table mediocrity because when it comes down to it there are few clubs in the league more afraid of success then West Ham. Bonus fact: by rooting for West Ham you would be (tangentially) associating yourself with the Green Street Hooligans of Elijah Wood movie lore, which is in fact a fictional group based on the machinations of the Inter City Firm, one of the more infamous groups of European soccer hooligans.
UNIQUE AND SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES
LEICESTER(28/1): underdogs don’t win soccer. They just don’t. This is a sport where the rich get richer and the poor get Ricky Lambert (or Mario Balotelli).
“Oh yeah, well what about Portugal in the Euros this summer? Or Chile in the Copa America?”
Um, yeah, those teams were led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lexi Sanchez, respectively, among many other world class players. What Leicester did last season was incredible, amazing, spectacular, and deserves all the respect… but that was then and this is now. They are losing some important players and their ability to fill those holes is a big, biggggg question mark. The recent purchase of Ahmed Musa from CSKA may turn out to be yet another stroke of brilliance, but even that may not be able to paper over the loss of N’Golo Kante and possible exit of Riyad Mahrez. The club will remain fun to watch, and is going to be easily one of the most interesting stories all season, though expecting that they will be able to maintain the same level of play from last season may prove a tough ask. Bonus fact: if you decide to go with Leicester be sure to get a tattoo commemorating the “magical” 2015-16 season as a means for convincing everybody you have always been a big fan.
LIVERPOOL (8/1): Ahhhhhhhhhhh, Liverpool. A lot of the fans are convinced that I hate their club. This is untrue. I don’t hate any EPL clubs (except for maybe one… but it’s not Liverpool). The reason they think I hate Liverpool is because I simply speak the truth about how good their team is, whereas Liverpool fans by and large seem to think we are still living in the 1980s and their club is a legitimate threat year in and year out. I’m sure there is a good parallel here with an American sports team – the Red Sox are an obvious possibility given the Beantown connection with Fenway Sports Group – but nothing is coming to mind off hand.
Here are the facts of the matter: Liverpool is a very good club and Jurgen Klopp alone is a worthwhile reason to root for the Reds, but even with some of the good bits of business they have done this summer (notably nabbing Sadio Mane from Southampton and [likely] terminating the Christian Benteke experiment) I wouldn’t put a dime on them to win the league this year even if it was YOUR money. That said they have a LOT of very good players – Coutinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Clyne, Mane, Sturridge [if/when healthy] – will win a lot of games and should be in a position to threaten for one of the four Champions League slots for next season.
Biggest rival: Everton; United, Barstool Sam
Notable fans: Nelson Mandella (RIP); Elvis Costello; Dr. Dre; Mike Myers; Liam Neeson; Daniel Craig (blond Bondshell); Caroline Wozniacki; Lebron James (part-owner)
Bonus fact: Big Cat and Feitelberg were the respective heart and soul of the club. It is TBD at the moment as to whether Dan’s head or heart will win out now that he owns Swansea, but if you want to ensure Saturdays Are For The Boys AND rooting for Liverpool then you know who to go with.
TOTTENHAM (10/1): Not a club for the faint of heart. They contender for the league title last season but simply couldn’t quite keep pace with Leicester, then totally blew it down the stretch to finish behind Arsenal – their/our biggest rival – for roughly the 450th straight year. So in other words the club finds a way to ruin things even after enjoying their best season in a long, longgggggggg time. Typical Spurs. That said, the emergence of young talent like Harry Kane and Dele Alli, along with some smart transfers (Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela) gives the club some serious hope for the future, not least of which is because manager Mauricio Pochettino is a mother fucking gangster – you better ax somebody.
Biggest rival: Arsenal; Chelsea; fate
Notable fans: Billy Beane; Pierce Brosnan (bad Bond); Phil Collins; JK Rowling; Steve Nash; Jude Law; Barstool Sam
Bonus fact: fans are collectively known as the Yid Army (long story but, yes, it does relate to Judaism – or Jewishness?) so you could decide to support them simply for the jokes… unfortunately the joke would be on you, however, because as mentioned the team always – ALWAYS – finds a way to blow it.
They ain’t called the “Big Four” for nothing, folks, and that reason is because they have billions and billions of dollars to spend to protect what they see as their rightful Champions League slots, and – with the glaring exception of Arsenal – they ain’t afraid to spend ‘em. So the good news is that picking them means you are setting yourself up to enjoy a lot of winning this season, next season, and every season. The bad news is that picking one of these teams means you will inevitably be on the receiving end of some ribbing for picking a frontrunner – similar to somebody who comes to America and decides to be a Yankees or Cowboys or Lakers fan (orrrrrrrrrrrrrrr the exact opposite, but you know what I mean).
MANCHESTER UNITED (3/1): the Red Devils entered into a cross-licensing arrangement with the New York Yankees way back when, which makes a lot of sense given that both teams have glorious histories (and aren’t afraid to tell you about them – whether you ask or not) and have traditionally been willing to spend untold sums to recapture said glory. Like their American counterpart, United has not been so glorious lately, but after parting ways with one “genius”
they turned around and brought in even Specialer One
and immediately spent more money than god on guys like Zlatan, Pogba and Mkhitaryan. What the team lacks in cohesiveness it will attempt to make up for in sheer talent, and it just may succeed. Maybe.
Biggest rivals: City; Liverpool
Notable fans: Russell Crowe; Roger Moore (shitty Bond); Sean Connery (best Bond); Usain Bolt; Victoria Beckham; Than Shwe (Commander in Chief of Burmese Military Junta)
Bonus fact: there are TONS of United fans in the U.S., both because they have been so good for so long and have thus received more TV exposure here than any other club. As such, finding a local watering hole that is full of fellow United fans come game time is never very difficult.
ARSENAL (6/1): the Gunners typically plays an exciting, attacking style that is easy on the eyes, and is perhaps the closest thing that the EPL has to the tiki-taka play of Barrrrrrrrrthelona. What’s more, the club are usually in the mix for the league title, and after slow starts the last couple seasons they have come on strong at the finish to stoke the embers of hope for fans that “next season” might finally be the one in which they win the league again (for the first time since 2003-04). In the years since the club has always been a bridesmaid, and never the bride, when it comes to EPL, though this is still better than their performance in the Champions League where they have basically patented losing early in the knockout stages. Now that I’ve talked a bunch of shit about Arsenal, I will say the club (and manager Arsene Venger) deserve a lot of credit for identifying young talent and developing them into stars, which they have always preferred to do rather than spend huge on big names… though Lexi Sanchez recently broke that mold a bit. This summer in particular fans are getting extremely antsy about the club’s unwillingness (so far anyway) to fill obvious holes at striker and centerback, but knowing Arsenal they’ll find some way to make it work well enough to finish ahead of Tottenham, so there’s always that.
Biggest rivals: Tottenham; Chelsea
Notable fans: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry; Demi Moore; Keanu Reeves; Puff Daddy/Diddy/Whatever; Mick Jagger; Piers Morgan
Bonus fact: the club has won the 3rd most Community Shields in history! Hooray!
MANCHESTER CITY (9/4): was for many years United’s dedicated whipping boy. City has been the “other” Manchester team for so long that most Americans probably still think of them that even after they’ve now won the EPL twice in the last five seasons. Things changed, and changed quickly for City after it was bought by a Middle Eastern sheikh in 2009, who immediately injected massive sums of money into the team, which has established them firmly among the league favorites year in and year out. As a result, the club (along with Chelsea) is thought of as being a “new money” team, which is ironic given how long City toiled as the unloved, underfunded little brother of United. The club has yet again spent BIG this summer on players like John Stones, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan as well as, oh right, one of the most sought after managers in Pep Guardiola from Bayern Munich. Suffice to say, they will be restocked and ready to go this fall.
Biggest rival: United
Notable fans: Ricky Hatton; Gallagher brothers (Oasis); Timothy Dalton (shitty Bond); Aaron Rodgers
Bonus fact: City owns New York City FC, the recent addition to MLS, so any newly minted soccer fans in the metro region could easily pull a twofer by becoming a fan of NYCFC and selecting City as your EPL team.
CHELSEA (5/1): textbook case of a club that has been transformed by a new owner with incredibly deep pockets who is not shy about spending ridiculous sums of money to win. Roman Abramovich is a Russian oligarch who amassed a fortune through questionable means and, after buying the West London club in 2003, immediately set about buying up players left and right. Chelsea was far and away the best club in the league two seasons ago, winning so easy that some fans began whining about “how” they won. That all changed last season when the club couldn’t buy a win – literally – and ended up firing the Special One, eventually pulling out of the tailspin but only managing to finish in a still horrifically embarrassing 10th place.
Abramovich has done his part in spending big to put Chelsea back on the right path, bringing in manager Antonio Conte (fresh off guiding an offensively challenged Italy squad to the quarterfinals of the Euros) and buying perhaps the league’s best player last season in midfielder N’Golo Kante from Leicester as well as striker Michy Batshuayi from Marseille.
Biggest rival: Arsenal; Tottenham
Notable fans: Michael Caine; Simon Pegg; Sienna Miller; Will Ferrell; Billy Idol; Martin Tyler; Gordon Ramsey; Bill Clinton; Kevin Garnett
Bonus fact: Whether it is John Terry’s remarks on September 11th or Branislav Ivanovic diving like a little wussy boy or Diego Costa just being Diego Costa, for my money this club is easily one of the most hatable… though on the other hand they’ve got American (and former NY Red Bull) Mat