Archive for the ‘La Liga’ Category

Traveling through Bali in search of soccer

bali

Editor’s note: World Soccer Talk writer Oliver Huddlestone is currently traveling throughout Asia and is sharing travelogues with us from the countries he visits. So far, he’s shared his observations regarding trying to watch or play soccer from Hong Kong and Malaysia. Today’s post is on Bali.

Bali quickly found its way into my heart as my favorite place in Asia for three main reasons. First, the water. Whether seeing dolphins at Lovina beach in the north, the marine life around the Gili Islands or the waves of Kuta, being in the water was always exhilarating.

Second was the chance to escape real life in the rain forest town of Ubud, where all day long you relax in tranquillity and soak in the jungle wildlife surrounding you.

Last and most important of all was the accessibility to soccer, and all sport for that matter, in the lively areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

Kuta is many people’s worst nightmare but every lad’s dream with cheap booze, music blaring all night long and a long stretch of bars and clubs showing nearly every sporting event imaginable.

It was the last point that impressed me the most. No matter what time the match was on, I was able to find every game I wanted to watch, which mostly involved the big guns.

Contrary to reports I read before coming out, I felt safe thanks to the locals of the area. I had read on TripAdvisor that Bali and Kuta were dangerous, and that western tourists had to be careful. In my experience however, the Balinese were very accommodating, helpful and some of the nicest people I have met.

Kuta was quite strange to me as an English soccer fan because it catered more to Australians. The bars showed Aussie Rules matches. There were many ‘Oz style’ BBQs and shops that sold Australian rugby (both union and league) jerseys.

Throughout the USA, Europe and most of Asia, I was used to sports stores selling Manchester United and Chelsea jerseys or Lakers and Bulls jerseys, so it was strange seeing all these different teams I had never seen before.

However, in the back of the stores were European soccer and NBA jerseys. Not long ago, you would struggle to find a jersey that wasn’t United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Juventus (at a push).

Alongside these so-called ‘top teams’ were Borussia Dortmund, Southampton, Napoli, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. Who would have wanted a Manchester City top five years ago when Thaksin Shinawatra was chairman and they were getting beat 8-1 at Middlesbrough?

The variety of jerseys struck me and made me realize how there’s much more fierce competition in the top leagues thanks to the emergence of clubs such as Atletico Madrid, Manchester City and PSG.

During my Balinese adventure, I took the fast boat to the party island of Gili Trawangan to snorkel, lay on the white beaches and see what all the fuss was about.

Unlike most other beaches, where you spot a volleyball game or people playing frisbee, there were no signs of any ball games as the sand was a thin strip and if you stepped in the sea you’d land on hard, rocky coral.

The one exception was my last night where I joined in with two teenage locals doing keepy-ups on the beach whilst their family set up their beach shacks for the fire show. These were no ordinary keepy-ups, however. They used a small ball made of wood and had an unusual technique to keep the ball in the air, only using the inside of their feet.

One of the first things I was taught in soccer was to pass and control with the inside of the foot. I was never taught to juggle with it.

One thing I can definitely say is that the Balinese love soccer. I even met one guy who supported both Bayern Munich and Arsenal, and another who had a jersey that was half the sky blue of Manchester City and the other half the devil red of United. I couldn’t imagine seeing that in the middle of Manchester.

From what I saw, the locals were enthused by soccer as a whole, not by one particular club. They enjoyed watching and playing the sport, which is dramatically different than the relationship with the game in the UK. The Balinese do not have the same connection with the club than someone supporting their hometown team in England, which means the Balinese can enjoy watching a good goal no matter who scored it.

Bali is memorable for the beaches, rice fields, temples and people. It’s also the locale where I saw Wayne Rooney on TV surpass Sir Bobby Charlton as England’s all-time leading scorer, watched Middlesbrough grasp a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest, and where I watched the Rugby World Cup.

Next up is Australia!

 

Where have all the personalities in English football gone?

brian-clough-bill-shankly

One of the most enjoyable things about listening to former players and managers talk is the stories about characters they’ve worked with in years gone by.

The quirks of iconic coaches such as Bob Paisley, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson, and perhaps how players like Paul Gascoigne, George Best, Roy Keane, Vinnie Jones et al were around the dressing room.

But in 20 years time, when this current Premier League generation have hung up their boots and embark on their own after dinner speaking circuit, who will they have to talk about? Figures who encapsulate supporters, who are unique and innovative in their craft, and extend beyond the silverware they’ve sampled in their distinguished careers? Perhaps not so much.

Personalities are certainly scarce in the modern British game. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had an aura when he arrived at the Blues when he first took the job on in 2004, but the rigors of managing on a knife-edge have moulded his current persona into one which is a little more withdrawn and a lot more bitter.

Even Jurgen Klopp, just over a month into his tenure as Liverpool boss, seems to have been inhibited by the pressures of the English game. The German, while always beaming, is much more cautious in his dialogue since taking over at Anfield and has already commented on the unrelenting media coverage.

The result of such scrutiny and subsequent hyperbole has made managers and players alike form mechanistic personas.

Although managers have their weekly press conferences ahead of Premier League matches, and they are extensively covered by various outlets, often journalists could write up the report accurately before the briefing has even begun. Recap of the previous match, kind words for the opposition and an injury update is typically how they go.

The same goes for players. Pre-match, post-match, the same lines are dragged out. “It’s important for the team, the opposition deserve respect, we need to be at our best, we’re taking it one game at a time.” Monotonous, indeed (mostly due to the media training that professional footballers get).

It’s certainly something the game has brought upon itself, though, as every word out of step with the party line is now latched upon, bandied around social media and sensationalised all over the globe.

Wayne Rooney, who played in Everton colors during pre-season despite still being a Manchester United player, was clearly wary of this fact in his post-match interview following Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial. Not wanting to say anything to offend his former or current employers, the result was an awkward couple of minutes in front of the camera which naturally became a social media hit.

Even Mourinho’s recent, infamous seven-minute rant failed to get many pulses racing. The manner in which the Portuguese spoke reeked of a rehearsed retort, something he most likely concocted as his side floundered out on the field. Innovators and encapsulators are a dying breed, it’d seem.

The implications for saying something which doesn’t fall in line with the Football Association’s stringent set of rules is another factor. Criticize a referee and you can be sure a fine or warning will follow. Criticize the opposition and it’ll be on the back pages all week. Managers, who have enough on their plate as it is, would rather suck it up, adhere to cliches and do without the furore.

Some have even suggested doing away with immediate post-match interviews entirely for managers, with the inevitable result a plain back-and-forth or a fine for a beleaguered boss. But it’s the only time, with emotions running high, supporters occasionally get a glimpse into the human side of their heroes, instead of a pre-programmed exterior.

For the average fan, post-match interviews and press conferences are no longer anticipated with a degree of intrigue as they would have been with some of the aforementioned men, wondering what a gravitating character may say next. They’re an afterthought, a blemish on coverage, even.

Do viewers stay glued to the television after the match waiting to hear from the manager? Watching highlight shows recorded from the night before, does anyone not fast forward through the post-match dialogue with managers and players to get onto the next game? A manager’s take used to feel as though it was entwined in the matchday experience. Now it’s very much a separate entity.

It’s a shame, because the personalities must be there. Granted, players and even managers do have things a lot easier than generations earlier. But to make it to the elite level, those involved in the game require unshakeable self-confidence, ingenuity of thought and a fair degree of ego, as well as outrageous talent.

Those traits should make for managers and players that have plenty to share with the soccer stratosphere. Behind closed doors, they may well do, but as the game motors forward, those who roam on the pitch and prowl on the sidelines at the very summit of the sport seem increasingly robotic.

More than 1.8 million soccer fans in US watched El Clasico across beIN SPORTS networks

el-clasico

Saturday’s El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona delivered an average of 1.8 total viewers across beIN SPORTS and beIN SPORTS en Español, according to Nielsen. A total of 1,106,137 watched the game on beIN SPORTS en Español, while 768,445 watched the game on the English-language beIN SPORTS network.

“We are proud to be the go-to sports network for La Liga coverage in the United States, including what many consider the biggest rivalry in all of sports,” said Antonio Briceño, Deputy Managing Director of beIN SPORTS. “We are thrilled with the continuing growth in viewership for “El Clásico,” but even more so that beIN SPORTS’ programming and coverage is meeting the needs of such passionate sports fans.”

The 1,874,582 total number is less than the 2.12 million viewers that beIN SPORTS had in March for El Clasico. However, for last week’s El Clasico, there was less of a build-up to the game because it followed an international break.

The Spanish rivals faced-off at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid on November 21st, where league leaders and defending La Liga champions, FC Barcelona defeated Real Madrid in a 4-0 blowout. The match marked superstar player, Lionel Messi’s, return to the field, although goals were scored by teammates Neymar Jr., Andres Iniesta and two by Luis Suarez. The last goal by the Uruguayan striker, approximately in minute 74 of the match, marked the highest viewership peak of the broadcast reaching 2,226,070 total viewers across both networks. The teams are set to meet again on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona.

As part of beIN SPORTS’ coverage, the network sent Ray Hudson and Phil Schoen to broadcast the game live from Madrid, Spain. Meamwhile, in Miami, the studio set featured Patrick Kluivert, Christian Vieri, Gary Bailey and other stars.

According to an interview with World Soccer Talk, beIN SPORTS is considering sending Hudson to Italy this season to commentate Serie A games live from the stadium.