Archive for December, 2015


December 30, 2015

I have known a good many loving, caring, devoted couples whose members don’t share many of their tastes or interests, or what I like to call their aficiones (to put it simply, an afición is what one is an aficionado of).

My wife and I are not among those couples. We discovered when we first met that we already had a surprising, given our different backgrounds, number of aficiones in common, and we have since then managed to infect each other with some of those that we had not shared to begin with.

One of my contributions has been to turn my wife into an aficionada de fútbol. Rare is the weekend morning that we don’t spend some time on the living-room sofa, watching a live broadcast of a soccer game in the EPL. Yes, the EPL!

The Guardian recently published a list of what it considered the 100 best players in the world. It turned out that of those one hundred there were 28 each in the EPL and in La Liga, the Spanish first division. But in Spain almost all of the players involved were either with Barcelona or with Real Madrid, with only a few on other teams, while in England they are pretty well spread out among several teams. And while La Liga used to call itself La mejor liga del mundo (they have recently replaced that slogan with The best together, in English), it has always been dominated by Real and Barcelona, with perhaps one other team (lately it’s been Atlético) challenging them, and games other than El Clásico are rarely interesting. The German Bundesliga has similarly been long dominated by Bayern Munich, with the wildly inconsistent Borussia Dortmund occasionally competing with it, and the French Ligue 1, where once upon a time Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Monaco were competing powers, has of late been tyrannized by Paris Saint-Germain. Only Serie A, in Italy, shows some of the same unpredictability as the EPL, but nothing quite like the current situation where the defending champion Chelsea is hovering a few points above the relegation zone while Leicester City, promoted to the EPL only in 2014 and finishing that season in 14th place, is now tied for the lead with Arsenal.

Another aspect of the EPL is the rarity of very one-sided games. Today’s match, for example, was between Liverpool, a historic power (currently in 7th place), and Sunderland, next to last in the standings and probably relegation-bound. It was a close, hard-fought match with Liverpool barely eking out a 1-0 win.

But what we enjoy the most is watching so many of the great international players that we see in the Wolrd Cup and the Euro. You will not see any England players in any other European league, but the EPL has enough French, Spanish and Belgian players to make pretty decent national teams for their respective countries. Here are some lists, with goalkeepers first and other players listed at random.

France: Lloris; Koscielny, Flamini, Giroud, Martial, Schneiderlin, Sagna, Mangala, Cabaye, Sissoko, Sakho, Zouma, Debuchy, Payet, Nasri, Clichy, Rémy

Spain: De Gea, Adrián; Arteta, Azpilicueta, Fàbregas, Mata, Navas, Cazorla, Pedro, Diego Costa, Bellerín, Monreal, Moreno, Silva, Herrera

Belgium: Courtois, Mignolet; Aldeweireld, Vertonghen, Dembélé, Chadli, Kompany, De Bruyne, Fellaini, De Laet, Origi, Lukaku, Mirallas, Benteke

The two great South American soccer powers are well represented as well.

Argentina: Romero, Speroni; Agüero, Demichelis, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Ulloa, Lanzini, Lamela, Rojo, Fazio, Zárate, Coloccini, Fernández

Brazil: Gomes; Fernando, Fernandinho, Willian, Oscar, Ramires, Coutinho, Firmino, Gabriel, Leiva, Allan

Not to mention the many great African players, whose countries I am not always sure of. (Nor am I always sure whether a European-born African plays for his birth country or his ancestral one — think of the Ghanaian-German Boateng brothers.) And there are even players from exotic places such as Japan, Korea and the United States.

So, while we can now watch Bundesliga games on Fox Sports without paying extra, and if we chose to do that we could also watch Spanish and Italian soccer on beIn, we are quite happy with the EPL. Or even the BPL, if you insist on calling it that.



December 21, 2015

I have just watched an exciting match between two of England’s best soccer teams, Arsenal and Manchester City. But if someone unfamiliar with the game were to tune in and try to determine what was going on by looking on the fronts of the players’ jerseys, they might think that it was a contest between teams representing the two competing airlines of the United Arab Emirates, Emirates (Arsenal) and Etihad (Man City). It is not that either team is owned by the respective airline. But it may surprise Americans to learn that in Europe corporate influence on professional sports is far more extensive than in the US and goes well beyond stadium naming rights. We don’t, after all, see the San Francisco 49ers or Giants players to show up with “Levi’s” or “AT&T” emblazoned on their uniforms.

Sometimes that stadium’s name and the company advertised on the jersey are different. Bayern Munich’s stadium, for example, is named for Allianz (the insurance giant), while their jerseys feature T-Mobile. In other cases the stadium keeps its old sponsor-free name, but the jerseys still act as billboards: Emirates (again) for Real Madrid, Milan and Paris Saint-Germain; Qatar Airways for Barcelona: Jeep for Juventus; Chevrolet for Manchester United; and so on.

Several professional clubs in Europe actually are or were owned by local companies, and carry their names: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Philips Eindhoven (Holland). The reason that Volkswagen’s team, VfL Wolfsburg, doesn’t carry the company’s name is that it doesn’t seem necessary: everybody knows what Wolfsburg stands for.

And then, of course there are the leagues themselves. Spain’s major league, commonly called La Liga, is officially Liga BBVA, named for Spain’s second-largest bank. And in England the Premier League is officially the Barclays Premier League, similarly named for the country’s second-largest bank.

Outside of England, however, we call it the English Premier League, or EPL. To get information about it on Yahoo or Google, you can enter either EPL or BPL. And as long as EPL works, I choose to forget about BPL.