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December 19, 2016

Foreigners are killing British football, but not with their choice of words

Play along with this scenario for a moment:

A 58-year-old, London-born American football coach is a surprise finalist for the recently vacated Jacksonville Jaguars job. His crowning achievement is coaching Jon Kitna and the Barcelona Dragons to the 1997 World Bowl Championship in a 38 to 24 thriller over T.J. Rubley and the Rhein Fire. Despite having no NFL experience, this coach impresses during the interview process and is stunningly hired to replace Gus Bradley.

At his introductory press conference, he says, quote, "I think we've got a great group of lads and I can't wait to get to the training pitch."

Minutes later, Skip Bayless has a heart attack, Jim Rome offers a dorky "hot take," ESPN goes wall-to-wall with coverage, and callers crash the phone system at 94 WIP.

Measured takes would be buried. Some people would say, "give this guy a chance!"

I'd think that if this coach can win with Jon Kitna, then he can use whatever terminology he pleases.

A similar scenario is playing out in the United Kingdom, with Swansea manager Bob Bradley taking some flak for using the term "PK" instead of "penalty" during a recent press conference. Both terms mean the exact same thing, but the former is an American abbreviation. The latter is a proper British term.

Apparently, some people took umbrage. I don't know how many folks were offended, or genuinely cared, or how much they cared. Some Twitter users were sardonic. Others were sarcastic.

Most reasonable folks seemed to understand the bigger picture, like this guy:

Some went further, like Joshua Robinson, who wrote a great article in the Wall Street Journal, dispelling the notion that Bradley is even leaning on Americanisms at all. God bless this guy for doing the legwork.

We're pointlessly splitting hairs with the terminology here, but this column isn't about bashing British football fans. I think you lot are fantastic, as is your Premier League. My Saturdays are now English football followed by college football, instead of Lee Corso followed by college football.

But I'd argue that Bob Bradley's verbiage is a distraction from larger issues of foreignness.

For starters, non-natives make up 13 of the 20 managers in your first division.

The best performing domestic manager this season is Tony Pulis, who has West Brom at 8th in the table. Eddie Howe, who will coach your national team someday, is the only other British-born manager who has his club in the top half of the table. Mike Phelan, David Moyes, Sean Dyche, and Alan Pardew join Bob Bradley in the bottom five.

British managers are being marginalized, just like British players.

This past Saturday, first-place Chelsea put out a starting eleven that featured 10 foreigners and one Englishman. Second-place Manchester City also put out 10 foreign starters. Arsenal countered with two British-born footballers and brought a third off the bench. Tottenham is the only top-seven team that consistently fields a starting eleven with a native majority, and they're coached by an Argentinian, so go figure.

This all makes for some fantastic quality on the field, but what happens to the domestic player?

He loses to Iceland at the Euros, that's what happens.

To be fair, this isn't unique to the UK. Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez aren't from Spain. Jose Mourinho's treble-winning Internazionale only sometimes featured an Italian. Major League Soccer clubs still sign aging European veterans.

The difference is that these other countries and cultures at least make an effort to fix the problem. Barcelona complements that South American trio with domestic players like Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique. The other Serie A clubs actually put Italians on the field. MLS has rules on how many international players you can even have in your squad.

In the UK, we're talking about Bob Bradley's choice of words when the local player is being utterly disenfranchised. I get the sense that people would be fine with 100 percent foreign infiltration as long their league remains the "best in the world," which is debatable. Promising English managers will be stuck at Barnet and Bury while Germans and Italians win the Premier League, then speak to the media via translator.

If you wanna kill Bob Bradley for something, talk about his porous defense, or his false 9, or his lack of meaningful substitutions. Criticize Swansea's board for hiring a less-than-qualified American when you could have had Ryan Giggs instead. Criticize the person who sold Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew.

Foreigners are killing British football, but not with their choice of words.