Roger Bennett Is Here to Walk You Through an Enormous Soccer Summer

“It is not just an American problem,” Bennett said. “The Premier League is burying alive the Bundesliga. La Liga is threatened by the Premier League. It is a monster. Having said that, when I was a kid, Italian football was light years ahead. English football was a muddy backwater played by bald men who just wanted to kick each other. There was an Italian player, Ravanelli, who went to play at Middlesbrough in the beginning of the Premier League. They wrote in the paper how sad it is for him that his career has come to an end so he has to move to the Premier League.”

Nowadays, with the Premier League unquestionably one of the best in the world, MLS is the place where global superstars come to end their career. From David Beckham to Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Wayne Rooney, the American soccer circuit has provided a place for some of the best players of the modern era to begin their deceleration into retirement. The latest and greatest foreign icon to move to America is Lionel Messi. “It’s been incredible for Inter Miami, whose popularity, in our study, is bigger than that of the league right now,” Bennett informed. “So MLS has this moment—and it is a moment—and needs to work out how to convert and build upon it.”

For many Americans dipping their toe into the soccer pool, the lack of true stakes provides a nice temperature. The Men in Blazers study discovered that a sizable swath of American fans will alleviate their anguish by switching their allegiance, finding that 12% of the survey respondents had changed their favorite team within the last five years. “12% of American football fans are essentially like Rob Lowe with the ‘Yay, league!’ hat on their forehead,” Bennett joked. “43% of respondents said they support three teams or more, which is incredible. It’s just a remarkable number.” Along with the internet making everything immediately accessible, the soccer video game FIFA, a staple of seemingly every college dorm from California to Connecticut, is a major force behind young Americans becoming soccer fans. “Diego Forlan, the Uruguayan striker, once told me that scoring a goal was like an orgasm, but even better,” he laughed. “I think when you learn how to play with Messi on the Xbox and really get the best out of [it], it’s in that range.”

When watching the best international sides from Europe and South America duke it out in their respective tournaments, Bennett suggests zooming out and taking a wider, anthropological view. Yes, every team has individual players worth tuning in for, but there’s also much to be gleaned about a country at large by watching them play a little footy. “International football is a refraction. It’s just a mirror that’s held up to the society that surrounds it,” said Bennett, before offering a breakdown of England men’s team, who have eked into the Euro quarterfinals without playing to their full potential yet. “Number one, England is in a time of challenge. There’s an election that’s going on, it’s a royal nation. And so you could make the case that this team have done really well recently, but they’ve done it by playing very conservative football…The quality of the football is not inspiring. It’s very, very pragmatic.”

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