Monday, August 28, 2006
With the purchase of Aston Villa by American billionaire Randy Lerner finalized, I think it is time to sit back and appreciate how welcoming England has been to Americans plying their trade with great enthusiasm in various forms whether it be on the field, or now, through ownership.

Much is made of the criticism of Americans by just about every other country in the world, especially Europeans. I think we all remember the "Freedom Fries" debacle in Congress a few years back, not to mention the common stories of general malaise often directed at American tourists.

More relevant to this issue, the burning of Glazer family effigies clearly associated with the American flag is an all too recent memory after their hostile takeover of Manchester United brought many issues to the forefront, including how Americans have felt for years about their rejection from the game in England.

Just about everyone I know has conspiracy theories about how the rest of the world is trying to keep the US down in the sport of soccer to "keep it holy" for the rest of the world, that for decidedly subversive reasons Americans were not being given their fair chance to play on the higher stages of the European leagues.

The reality is, of course, that these conspiracy theories are unfounded and cannot be further from the truth.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how this is the best year in American soccer history simply based on the unprecedented level of involvement that Americans will play in this year's Premiership campaign, which in itself is an indicator of the possibilities for Americans in English soccer and the chances being afforded to players regardless of nationality.

It is difficult to argue that Americans are being shut out of the sport when so many they have been making their way into the starting line-ups of teams in Europe and playing increasingly important roles in their team's internal leadership.

What the Lerner takeover clearly illustrates is the attitude required to enter into English soccer with the respect of the fans.

When the Glazer Family chose to purchase Manchester United, it was clear to Red Devil supporters the world over that all the Glazers were solely interested in was making money through the club, which to the fans was not an acceptable way to approach the purchase of their club.

More importantly, the Glazers took on a huge amount of debt, in turn transferring that debt onto the hands of the club.

Manchester United entered into a period of change that no United fan wanted, especially if it meant picking up the handicap of hundreds of millions of dollars of debt, relying on expected profits to repay that debt.

Honestly, if an oil baron from Russia decided to move to New York, buy the Yankees to enhance his empire, saddling the team with huge debts and a business plan designed purely around revenues, it would not be the fact that the prospective buyer was from the former Soviet Bloc that he was getting marched out of the Bronx, but pure mismanagement of a city's beloved team.

On the other hand, in buying Aston Villa Lerner is entering an arena where the fans have been clamoring for change for years and are excited by the sincere interest that their new American benefactor to make serious improvements to the club on all levels - not like stadium enlargement as the Glazer family made a priority upon arrival to Old Trafford.

Lerner has not picked up any debt in the process of becoming the majority shareholder, and while he is no Roman Abramovich, he certainly has the money to support some major transfers.

He has openly said that he wants Villa to regularly be a top four club. What fan wouldn't want a new owner like that for their new club?

The crux of the issue is all about a positive attitude that the fans can get behind in anticipation of glory brought to their team through American influence which, naturally, also applies to the Yanks on the field.

The Americans at Reading, in particular Marcus Hahnemann, are a great example of what hard work and a clear desire to give your all for the sake of the club can do for the fans and their appreciation of your efforts.

Now, when you now visit the Madejski Stadium, American flags are often strung about all over the stadium. Whenever Hahnemann makes a great save, which happens fairly often, the crowd cheers him on with a round of, "USA! USA! USA!" to show their undying support.

The fans not only support their players, but they do so in a way that acknowledges and embraces their nationality in a way that is in some ways shocking, considering the anti-American rhetoric often emanating from Europe.

The support they show isn't necessarily for America as a country, as Hahnemann admitted to YA: "They may not support America, but they support us."

"I definitely have a connection with the fans. I really appreciate their support. I have been playing pretty well over the past four years and I think last year was the best year I ever had."

Although Hahnemann has always been able to get the attention of the crowd, even when he was warming the bench at Fulham, his generally exuberant nature drew "Stone Cold" chants due to his slight resemblance to wrestler Steve Austin.

There are, of course, other examples of Americans fighting for and earning recognition from the fans. "I do notice American flags from time to time, and definitely the USA
chants from the fans," Watford's Jay DeMerit told YA.

"I would say itís probably from the fact that I am a Watford player and they chant that when I do good things."

Agreeing with the Reading netminder, DeMerit says: "Itís probably based on performance rather than liking the country."

So while soccer will probably never help the government earn support from their European counterparts, the old myth that Americans are rejected from the world's game based on nationality certainly holds little credence.

Americans simply need to continue to show their worth to the fans as Lerner, Hahnemann and DeMerit have to earn the respect that they deserve as contributors to the game of soccer.

[note]Yanks Abroad's Sean O'Conor also contributed to this feature[/note]