When you move to a new country, how do you pick a football team?

By Thiru

I have been in this country since 2001 and in common with anyone coming from India as I did during that time, I arrived having had limited exposure to football.

I was more or less used to names like Man Utd, Madrid so on and so forth but not many outside that group.

What I want to do here is talk about several different points: why I chose Arsenal, whether we should be deliberately buying players from countries where we want to increase Arsenal’s exposure, and the way early success can harm a leader.

How do you choose a team when you move?

One of the first things that attracted me to Arsenal was Arsène Wenger’s press conferences and his intelligence shown in them, and I have been a huge admirer since then.

But it raised the question: how does one pick a club when one moves from a different country. Some of my peers who came from the same background either picked United or Chelsea and it took me some time to figure it out.

I shared my thoughts with Dan Ariely and Tim Harford after reading their respective works on rationality and they seemed to concur on the aspects I had put forward. This was my take on the topic.

As far as the locals are concerned be they ones that support the team through generations or based on local affiliations, I am guessing the reasons to pick the team are straight forward. The love of a club can be passed over generations and hence not linked in any way to the success/failure of the team.

But what happens to a person moving into a new city? How does he choose if he doesn’t already have an affiliation? Since I live in Manchester I will use the clubs in the city as an example.

Do they always pick a more popular and successful team to help them gel into the local community and gain acceptance from a majority of the local population?

Is it because it gives them a sense of superiority by supporting a team that wins often (and overcomes any disappointments/failures of their own individual lives) which massages their ego on a regular basis?

Is it because you identify attributes in the team that you an relate and support it for the same?

Let me use my own example and my closest mate’s example. I support Arsenal for the manager’s philosophy,their playing style and the way they are going about achieving this with more emphasis on young talent rather than buying superstars (or at least I have deluded myself into believing this!) As an individual I normally prefer people taking their own decisions and feel that’s the way Arsenal’s Manager treats his player’s even though they are very much in their teens.

I somehow feel the reason my mate supports Manchester United is the way their manager deals with their players in a strict disciplinarian way much like a father from a traditional background takes care of his children. The reason I suspect my mate supports the team is because he unfortunately lost his father at a much younger age and hence the attachment to the club because he kind of has formed a mental bond based on that.

But having chosen Arsenal, last season threw open a lot of questions for me and would like to hear your views on them.

Reaching into new markets

Arsène had always spoken about German football during his formative years and the impact it had on his thinking and career but he has not signed many German players bar Lehmann considering he has been such a huge admirer of their technique.

Considering Arsenal (via Ivan Gazidis) are looking at markets to increase revenue streams for the club I would like to see Arsène pick players from countries from where we have had no representation as it gives the club a focal point to target the country’s market. For instance if Arsène has two players in mind for a position and if one of the players is from a country where we have not had a commercial market I would like Arsène to sign that player what do you reckon your point of view is on this one.

Also I would very much recommend (not that my recommendation counts for anything) the recent work by Micheal Lewis on the financial collapse “The Big Short” was a big eye opener as all through the story and the characters in the book I could find parallels with the state of finances in football.

The problem of early success

Micheal Burry in the book was chided by his own investors after he had bought them huge profits in the past and had asked the investors to be patient as he had bet long in the markets for future growth. He said he found there was no logic in the housing market and the way the financial institutions behaved. A majority of the investors were not happy and what they wanted has a striking resemblance to the situation Arsène is facing now. Maybe the problem is universal – if you get success early on, everyone expects it to continue, even if the environment changes.



The Index to the Index to the Index to Reality

Or alternatively the book

24 Replies to “When you move to a new country, how do you pick a football team?”

  1. I have an Arsenal supporting friend who many years ago moved to Nottingham, and chose to support County.

    As his son grew up and took an interest in the game he asked his father why it was County and not Forest – who were Division 1 at the time.

    Mike said, “We’re socialists, and as socialists we support the underdog, so we support Notts County.”

  2. Thiru- Sahi hai!!! Reading your article reminds me of how I started loving Arsenal. Arsenal Zindabad!!!

  3. The only difference is that I started loving Arsenal since 1996-97. Arsene Wenger was a new guy those days but you can tell instantly that he was intelligent and gifted. And also I always believed that Arsene was destined to run Arsenal bcoz of the similarities in their name. LOL!

  4. I too started supporting Arsenal in 97. I’d only really heard of Man U at the point but thanks to a computer game I saw the name Arsenal 🙂 It was the name ( as opposed to drab names of cities and such like of other clubs) and the distinctive red and white shirt that drew me to them.. I decided to support them thinking they would be a mid-table side.. we won the title that season with the ‘would you believe it’ moment. Arsenal forever..

  5. It’s an interesting question. Perhaps a more interesting one is people trying to force you out of your own country and then presuming to try and tell you to go and watch Borussia Dortmund instead? Happened to me. I said FO without opening my mouth…..

    Another question for people in my generation was this: if you simply forgot football post Heysel for many years, why would you make your choice the same way as a child in a family of, say, Spurs supporters? You wouldn’t would you? Because you’d use your own brain…….

    As for targeting foreign markets, fine. But the esteemed writer should be in no doubt that, at least at Arsenal FC, 33% of income comes from THIS COUNTRY.

    So it might be a good idea for 15-20% of the team and 25% of the squad to be from England, not France.

    What do you think, considering the commercial implications of that being English fans shelling out £70m+ a year to see hardly any English players and French fans shelling out not much at all to see huge numbers of French players.

    Something to grill Arsene and Gazidis about at the next, highly principled, Fans Forum, perhaps????

  6. As regards the article I don’t really agree with the signing players for commercial reasons. Too Real Madridy 🙂 for me.. I also don’t think the players necessarily need to be English (guess cos I’m not) but I can understand the pleasure it gives to see a team grow right from the youth stages. However those players can be from any country. Sport should not be meant to divide. Its a bit archaic I feel to hold on to national boundaries when it comes to sport and art.Though I can understand the sentiment and maybe even the logic behind wanting local representatives.

  7. nice tangent Rhys.

    in answer to your main question Thiru, regardless of nationality, I would wish that Arsene would buy the best players for the job. I know that Manu have tapped the south korean market well by signing their best striker, and it has worked fairly well for them, but i believe this is a rarity.

    As has been pointed out in some of the articles on here and especially the swiss ramble, the EPL is now shown in 220? countries. how many more markets are there?

  8. Good perspective mate. Started supporting Arsenal since ’96 b’coz
    1.They played the most attractive football I had ever seen- free flowing, entertaining and tenacious- the way football should truly be played.
    2. Wenger – an embodiment of many features- calm, intelligent, visionary, economical, humble and down to earth,when everybody else at other clubs was just speaking of building a stadium he was the the one who did it, as recent as two months back Ferguson himself accepted that Wenger is the toughest manager he has faced along with G.Graham. Nobody in the world could have kept us in CL not even Ferguson with the sort of budget he had the few years.
    3.The very tradition and culture of Arsenal which teaches never to give up
    4. The Arsenal jersey- inspiring.

  9. I can see where the writer is coming from in regards to players bringing in money from commercial deals from their native country, but I don’t think we should ever sign players for that reason. It’s asif if you’re using them for the wrong reasons.

    However Rhys has a point as well, I think most of the money being made is from this country. How I see it, is that in the future we have a lot of good English players coming through, with Wilshere, Lansbury, JET, Afobe, Bartley, Gibbs (and it goes on… Walcott as well!) and if all of these players do become first team regulars and lets say they win the league; then suddenly we’ll be the team with the English spine, players in the England team and I think this would inspire most of the next generation of youngsters in England to sway from supporting the Man Uniteds and Liverpools to support the Gooners.

    Then also on this same point; not forgetting Ramsey (Welsh) and Conor Henderson (Irish)… We may win over most of Britain (Wales especially when Ryan Giggs is retired and Aaron Ramsey is the nearest comparison in terms of ability).

  10. …then by the time they all come through and start winning the league every year, I should have my season ticket in place, and I can thank my family for supporting the Arsenal since something like 1930 lol 😉

  11. Nice article, Thiru.

    I don’t know what the club options were where you lived before moving, but when I moved, I was already supporting The Arsenal and had no need to change.

    I did watch other teams (for example, Washington Diplomats) but only supported the one club. And Tony, surely a move within the same country shouldn’t infer a change of loyalty?

    Notwithstanding which, I see you’re clever enough to choose correctly. And it’s nice to see that your mate is still your mate regardless of his choice.

  12. Thiru, i faced exactyly the same dillemma when i moved into the UK in 2000. Many of my friends, already based here, were supporters of various clubs as a result of family, birth or other considerations. Coming from Nigeria, i already knew of Arsenal as a result of Kanu, but that was not enough for me to automaically support the club. What finally swayed my support towards Arsenal {for whatever it’s worth}, are Arsenal Wenger, the club’s cosmopolitan philosophy and of course the club’s playing style. Now Thiru, {and i pose this question to Tony and every readers as well}, given the Wenger factor in my support for AFC, will i be guilty of footballing apostasy if, post Wenger Arsenal abandons the above philosophy and i cease supporting the club?

  13. I remember MU getting a Chinese player that they had loaned to Antwerp. Imo he was a good player for our second division but when MU got him to Manchester I couldn’t believe it. But they did it to sell shirts in China for a while and then let him go, I think. I think he only played a few games for them as a reserve. But he was not good enough for them.
    So I really would not like us to go that way. I think we only should buy players for what they can or what AW hopes they could do in the future.

  14. Ade…..if ever foreign fans get stick, it is cos of that ‘fallacy’ that they readily switch clubs for whatever reason.

    I’m not sure how many others there are like yourself who contemplate switching, but here in the UK, you’d rather admit to being a Jewish Nazi war criminal than admit to that.

    I honestly thought it was a complete fallacy that any (adult?) fan switched teams.

  15. The reason why i support Arsenal could seem a bit strange. In the 90s when ManU won the league more or less every season, I got sick of them. I didn’t have much knowledge about football back then so my decison wasn’t based on how the teams played or anything like that. I chose to support Arsenal because i felt sorry for them finishing second most of the time =) I’m from Sweden and here we usually support the best team (except me). People who remembers the 60s, supports Spurs. People who remembers the 70s, supports Pool, and so on. Today all kids here support Barca.

  16. Robbie, and the very, very old support Arsenal for the team of the 1930-1940 period. 😉

  17. As a young, American Arsenal supporter myself, I may have a slightly different perspective. As I’m actually rooted in the States for the next few years due to University, I might as well take a difference spin on the questions Thiru posed. That is, how does one choose a football club as an international, far removed from the league itself? I’d like to think that it’s some sort of personal link most of us see that draws us to the club initially, and perhaps later on we begin to look deeper into the club we’ve chosen, analyze the names, the strategies, etc. and begin to reinforce our original presumptions. Of course, there’s also the opposite case to consider. Some people are drawn to a club by a single signing and transfer their allegiance as soon as that player moves on, having never really immersed themselves in the culture of the club itself. I think that this theory reflects my own experiences quite well. For example, my brother is a Chelsea supporter, and although now he is currently rather submerged in “the glory”, he’s become much more of a true supporter, even though originally he bought the shirt because of his fascination with Drogba. I actually only began watching The Arsenal in 2006, just in time for the Champions League debacle, and I’ll admit to being drawn in merely because of Thierry Henry. Looking back now though, I’d like to think his quick departure thereafter made me choose quickly. I had lost my talisman, the player that made Arsenal special to me in those early years, and through sheer stubbornness (and the goading of some of my friends) I had to come up with another reason to support Arsenal. I found it in Arsene Wenger and the team he has created. The man practically sweats footballing style, and his pragmatism, charisma, and financial sense only further increased his draw. But over the years (however few they’ve been) I’ve found it quickly became less about the people. Yes, Arsene Wenger, Cesc, Vermaelen, and Van Persie have become new talismans, but only after I’ve realized that even if they all left, I’d continue to cheer for red and white have I truly considered what it means to be an Arsenal supporter. So that’s my little rant, first time posting here, although I look forward to adding my color commentary a bit more frequently from now on. Cheers!

  18. The Arsenal. A football club supported by hopeless romantics. And I use the word hopeless with the best intentions. I live in Nigeria. Here we care about winning. Every game. But we idealize football. A mental image of how football should be played – that’s what we have. We support the opposition when the Eagles dont play well. That is why Arsenal will always be big in Nigeria. Trophy Or No Trophy.
    There are many ATHLETIC clubs in England. But WE ARE ARSENAL – And We Play FOOTBALL

  19. i’m an american and the reason why i chose arsenal at first might seem stupid, but the whole story is when i was in high school, my friend and i made a deal to play the other’s sport because both teams desperately needed players. his sport was soccer. i had never liked soccer much until then, but i was absolutely hooked. so when i was flicking through teams on my newly purchased FIFA ’08, i realized i needed a favorite team. i didnt want to join my friend’s bandwagon of barca, and really all i had to judge teams by were their names. i just happened to stumble upon arsenal, and i decided that was the coolest name for a sports team. 10 minutes of research told me that they were 3rd in the league at the time and that we had been unbeaten in ’03-’04, pretty darn impressive considering there are 38 games in a season. after a few months, i quickly learned about lord wenger, and his philosophy when it comes to the beautiful game, and i quickly realized that i had most definitely chosen the greatest team on the planet. and now, i am absolutely one of the biggest arsenal supporters and my dream is to drop by london on a trip through europe and see the legends play in person

  20. I started to love Arsenal because it was the only team that could stand up to ManU!

  21. Tony, please forgive me for what I’m about to do, but I’ve had just about enough of this fool’s nonsense, and it’s time to let him have it.

    Rhys, you are a cretin of previously unimaginable proportions. Your constant racist and xenophobic comments make one wonder if you’re some kind of poster boy for the KKK, or their British cousins, the BNP. London is the most cosmopolitan city in the world, and Arsenal is the most cosmopolitan team in London. If you can’t get your head around that fact, then yes, you should go support some team which picks players based on nationality rather than skill and ability.

    The BBC commentators made snide comments about the origins of some German players during the devastating demolition of England, and the feeling was that England are superior because they don’t allow any player who can’t trace his paternity back to five generations of Englanders to represent their national team at international competitions. Which is why Agbonlahor, despite being a vastly superior player to Emile Heskey, was left behind. Perhaps there was a time the Germans too thought the same way, but those times have changed. The Germans have embraced diversity, and their football is better for it, as England found out.

    Arsenal will not become some team of square-jawed kick and rush merchants just to make you happy, so perhaps it is time for you to consider getting yourself a new team to support. I suggest something in the lower divisions as virtually every EPL team has been infected by the foreign disease.


  22. nice article!
    I’m from Holland, 25, and at first my dad always let me watch MOTD, which was excellent. I love the combination of passionate English players and crowds and skillfull foreign players. Then my dad taught me to hate Man U, I dont know why but he used to support Everton (as they are sort of an underdog club to Liverpool), and always hated United. 🙂 I fell in love with entertaining players like Zola, Bergkamp, Di Canio, Kinkladze and so on.. When Overmars went to Arsenal I became a fan and what a attracked me from there on was the way Arsene developed the club, to a point that sometimes I think Arsenal fans do not realise how many people outside the UK love Arsenal, mainly because of what Wenger has done. Therefore I do not see people who say that he should leave as Arsenal fans…

  23. I think you are right to a degree Thiru, I think mostly it is a emotional affiliation before a rational one.

    I love the football, the potential of the club, Hill-Wood and the respectful gentlemen, Wenger philosophy, his intellectual approach to all sides of development of the game, even to the smallest movements on the field…though when all comes to all the rationalism came with time, then I built the narrative story of Good vs. Evil…I basically started supporting them because my favorite cousin did when I was 11-12…

    just emotions no rationale, which I believe is the case with most

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