The Secret Brotherhood: The NFL and the English Premier League

This fascinating Guardian column by Portsmouth goalkeeper David James highlights an under-covered, under-the-radar story: the growing informal technical links and ever-more-intense mutual admiration society between the National Football League and soccer’s English Premier League.

We know that the NFL would love to copy the Premiership’s global dominance—would love, in other words, to carve out a place beside Manchester United and/or Chelsea in the heart of every free-spending fanboy in Asia and upwardly mobile African urbanite. And we know that a number of NFL owners recognize the financial potential (and restful lack of regulation and oversight) that can be theirs if they buy an English club. For the Premier League’s part, a gargantuan commercial enterprise already adept at staging full competitive games outside its home market, with a tight salary cap and no bothersome relegation structure, must look attractive indeed.

James reveals that connection runs deeper than the boardrooms and nocturnal visions of worldwide success shared by the leagues’ executive classes. Players, coaches and front office personnel are traveling back and forth (mostly, sounds like, from there to here) to pick up training techniques and organizational insight. James sounds immensely jealous of the NFL’s facilities, specialization and technical infrastructure:

The trip made a huge impression on me and I was shocked by the attention to detail. Each club we went to had an array of coaches for specific skill sets, there were multiple video analysis suites and superb training facilities. John Terry and I were talking about it the other week and he couldn’t believe they had full-size indoor training pitches. Of course clubs in the Premier League could easily afford those kind of facilities but we seem to have different priorities for spending.

The video suites were particularly impressive. Over there teams spend time reviewing footage every day to study offensive and defensive play and specialist roles. I had the privilege of sitting in on a quarterbacks session with the then-Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Zorn and, even though it was the close season, every move on the training ground was captured on film.

Some NFL fans and commentators have complained about the league’s London games, but they can count on being ignored. In a globalized and fluid sports world, no league or sport exists in a vacuum. It would be highly ironic if the next wave of quality Premier League players found themselves shaped as much by the exportable know-how of the American gridiron as the homegrown tradition of English football. 


About zachdundas

Freelance journalist. Author of The Renegade Sportsman (Riverhead Books). Thank you.
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One Response to The Secret Brotherhood: The NFL and the English Premier League

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