BOb Dylan had advice for aspiring artists: Write 10 songs a day, then discard nine. In a way this seems to be Todd Boehle’s approach to improving English football. He puts things in there, you see. Show ideas on the flagpole and see if someone greets them. Throw it on the slope and see if the cat licks it. Not necessarily good ideas. or practical ideas. or popular ideas. Or thoughts that carry the weight of logical thinking for a moment. But ideas nonetheless.
As such, it is not necessary at this point to involve what Chelsea said the owner on stage at the Bros, Brews and Brunch business conference in Jerky Falls, Connecticut last week. Spoiler: None of this will actually happen. A sober assessment of the merits of the North-South All-Star game, or relegation playoffs, would give these ideas more attention and seriousness than Buhle himself did. Even more intriguing is the shouting and disdain of the subsequent speech: why the shocking comments of a man named Todd seem to have bruised the psyche of English football.
This seems to boil down in large part to Boyle being an American, but more specifically, a very special kind of American. Bohley is by no means the first American man to try or dream of making his fortune in English football. But he’s probably the first to be public, unabashedly, out loud… American about it. In doing so, he is dealing with a largely unresolved tension in our game: between the game’s culture itself and its outlook and the culture of the people who exert an influence on it through ownership and viewing likely greater than that of any other foreign country.
Of course, most of Buhli’s ancestors avoided this tension meticulously through distance and respect. Strategic and emotional respect, perhaps, but respect is the same. Keen to belittle America, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa immersed himself in the club’s tradition and history and rebuilt the dilapidated Holt Pub across the road from Villa Park. John Henry at Liverpool struggled to portray himself as a benefactor rather than a benefactor of his career. Stan Kronk and Al Glazer, like many other foreign owners, have been careful to say and do as little as possible. There’s an unspoken, often double agreement here: Hey, that’s your thing, and we don’t want to change it.
And for nearly two decades, that’s been the palpable extent of the American influx: a parade of wrinkly men in baseball caps glimpsed only through the tall lens of Sky’s camera. The story was similar on the pitch: As much as the Americans were tolerated, it was tough goalkeepers, tough defenders, and technically low-brow strikers. Basically, English football was basically fine with the Americans as long as they either wrote checks silently or stayed in the net.
A different Buhli tone. Buhli is neither distant nor respected. If the Glazers are largely content with English football, Buhli wants to fatten them up, clone them, put them on a diet of alfalfa and steroids and make the world’s most decadent electronic steaks. Let’s play all star, fan, metaverse and premier league matches which we won’t call super league yet. Let’s buy Cristiano Ronaldo. Let’s get rid of the eccentric German man. Let’s create a bowling alley at Buckingham Palace.
Perhaps this explains the acid reflux that welcomed Buhli’s thoughts: not just the thoughts themselves, but what it means to utter them, and the chill of saying the quiet part out loud. In many ways, it draws on the fundamental fear of English football, what one might call the central delusion: that even as it sold pieces of itself, unleashed its sails and embraced the trade winds of global finance, it danced and molded itself for the market. , can retain its basic essence. That despite all its foreign stars and foreign money, the Premier League can somehow remain fundamentally and authentically English.
And so whenever an outright American influence popped into its head – the rise of analytics, the transition of aging players to MLS, Bob Bradley – he was always met with a mixture of defensiveness and sarcasm. We saw it again last week, as Jürgen Klopp mocked the “Harlem Globetrotters” and Gary Neville claimed US investment was a “clear and present risk” to the game. We’ve seen it in the mockery that accompanied Jesse Marsh when he was assigned to Leeds United, in Adrian Chiles’ delicious monologue when he gave ITV coverage of England’s match against USA at the 2010 World Cup. “We really love the Americans,” he said sarcastically. “We couldn’t eat a whole one.”
And so, as an intellectual exercise, what would the MLS look like in practice? Perhaps you start to see goal-beating loud music, big furry mascots, steadily rising ticket prices, an explosion of corporate hospitality and a constant focus on customer experience, a competitive model that increasingly resembles a closed store.
You might start to see Hollywood actors buying up a local club and turning it into streaming content, the MLS coach in charge of American players, being analyzed on Monday Night Football by an American broadcaster. You can celebrate or regret these developments. But either way, you’re going to judge something that has already happened.