Napoli, Real Madrid, Arsenal

I find Brian Phillips, a soccer writer over at Grantland, to be pretty annoying.  He’s clearly knowledgable about the game, but he tries to be provocative and as a consequence makes broad assumptions that I think are foolish.  For instance, he wrote a piece awhile back about why Americans looking for a European team to support should pick Napoli, an Italian that has been playing well of late.  Here’s his lead:

Napoli’s startling 3-1 upset of Chelsea in the Champions League last Tuesday accomplished three important things. It put a formal timestamp on the moment everyone realized that Serie A had caught up to the Premier League.

It has this footnote:

There’s a long conversation to be had about why that change has happened: tactical adjustments, three-center back formations, the talent drain from England to Spain, Italy’s gradual recovery from calciopoli, this one really amazing party at Berlusconi’s house, etc. But that it’s happened seems safely beyond doubt. After sending three teams to the Champions League semifinals every year from 2007 to 2009, England has fizzled, relatively speaking, in European competition for three straight seasons. This year, Manchester City (which lost to Napoli in the Champions League group stage) and Manchester United were flushed down to the Europa League months ago, while Milan supplemented Napoli’s win over Chelsea with a 4-0 rampage over Arsenal.

This was written back in February.  Chelsea would beat Napoli in the second leg of the matchup, and go on to win the Champions League, albeit with a substantial amount of luck involved.  Arsenal would torch Milan for three goals in the first half of their second leg, and Milan that night by the skin of their teeth.  Only Milan would make the final 8, and no Italian team made the final 4.

Phillips also says:

Seriously, if you’re a fan in search of a club, how do you not consider Napoli at this point? Not only are the Azzurri not English — meaning you won’t be lumped in with the 40 trillion bros who picked a Premier League club because that’s what everyone else was doing — and not only are they a fun, overachieving young team, they’re also, and this is putting it mildly, a sky-wide constellation of the elements that make sports amazing….Really, you’d rather root for Arsenal?

Yes, I’d rather root for Arsenal.

Simply put, the Italian League Serie A may field some teams that can compete with the best in the world, but Serie A is not as good a league as the Premier League, and any person thinking of looking for a team to support should factor the league into consideration.

I speak from experience, after following Real Madrid for a year.  I loved the drama of Mourinho’s first year, and I loved watching terrific players like Mezut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and my favorite of all, Xabi Alonso. (Ronaldo I just don’t like that much.  I don’t like his game.  It’s effective, but it doesn’t dazzle me like an Ozil pass or a Di Maria juke.)  The problem was the league.  Real Madrid kicked the crap out of everybody except Barcelona.  The English league is just more fun to watch, because any team can beat the top teams.  Not every team will challenge Manchester United for the league, but they can beat them in a given game.  This just doesn’t happen in Spain.

So I switched to Arsenal, for a number of reasons I’ll elaborate on later at some point.  For now, I would just recommend that one pick a team that is reliably on TV, preferably a channel that has HD.  Napoli isn’t always on TV, and the Italian league is corrupt, the fans don’t fill the seats, the cameras are far away from the field so the players look smaller when you watch the games, I could go on.  Arsenal is almost always on TV, playing teams that they stand a chance of losing to.  It makes for a better long-distance fan experience.





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