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The most fascinating thing to me about soccer around the world is the acknowledgement of fans of specific clubs that they will probably never win a title or a trophy, yet stick with their club through thick and thin. Growing up in the States, I am used to the notion of equity within sports. The creation of a model centered around giving equal opportunities to each franchise. If you perform poorly, you are given the rights to the biggest prospect out of college, in theory this should allow you to be competitive in a few years time. Overseas, the institution of relegation and promotion, the lack of a salary cap, and a draft means that a shit team will most likely be a shit team for years to come. It demands complete restructuring of a club to improve your fortunes. Anyway I’m getting off topic. What I am trying to illustrate is that in America, we are addicted to winning, but sports should be so much more than just the W. As more and more Americans become invested in European soccer, they will have to choose the club that they want to support. Obviously the European clubs with the biggest exposure in the USA are the ones that win. They are shown on TV, we see their star players plastered on different advertisements, and well they win a lot. The number of little PSG fans I’ve met blows my mind. But also, I am guilty of this issue too. I am an Arsenal fan, while in recent years we don’t win as much and haven’t really competed for the league or the champions league, in the context of British soccer as a whole, Arsenal are EXTREMELY fortunate.
With all this, there is something to be said for supporting a team that does not necessarily always win. While the majority of Americans will be a fan of a top 6 club (Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool), I think it’s great fun to potentially take on a 2nd favorite team. A team that won’t necessarily compete for major honors, but teams that will make you happy if they finish a place better than the year before. Naturally, if this team comes up against your actual favorite team, then you outta feel inclined to support your actual favorite team. But in all other scenarios, having a 2nd favorite team gets you more invested in the Premier League and lets you share in the unique experience that makes European Soccer so special. Also, your 2nd favorite team will typically not directly compete with your favorite team. For example, while Arsenal sits as my favorite team, Southampton holds a special place in my heart and I will always root for them; but if Arsenal and Southampton play one another, you best expect I want a complete dismantling of Southampton. But when Southampton play Crystal Palace and Brighton Hove and Albion, you know I’m demanding a fanciful showing from Hassenhuttl’s men. Taking on a 2nd favorite team can be influenced by a number of factors; there could be an emphasis on youth culture, a unique club history, a well run club operating with little resources, or that random time you spent a week in Birmingham and actually enjoyed your time? Through this article, I will explore the reasons that this non Top-6 club should be your second favorite Premier League team.
Remember when I said a reason for taking on a 2nd favorite team could be that you actually enjoyed your time in Birmingham, well here you go, Aston Villa. There is so much more going for this club. First off Aston Villa has an extremely rich history, though that can be said about the majority of teams on this list as British Soccer has been around for 100 years+. But Aston Villa truly stands out. They are one of the oldest clubs in England and were a founding member of the original first division in 1888 and subsequently the Premier League in its current form in 1992. They have won the first division seven times, domestic cups 12 times, and can stake claim to a European title during the 1980’s. If we take all games since 1888, the club ranks 5th in terms of points accrued, that is actually really impressive. The club today has been recently promoted to the Premier League and seems destined to stay. The club boasts, not one, but two billionaire owners in Egyptian Nassef Sawiris and American Wes Edens (Milwaukee Bucks owner), so get ready for some big money purchases in years to come. In fact, this past summer they spent nearly $130 million on new acquisitions. Furthermore, they have one of the most coveted young managers in Steven Gerrard who just came off some title winning seasons with Scottish team Rangers. The club is positioning itself to be a buying club rather than a selling one. After selling Villa legend Jack Grealish for 100 million, the club can now focus on the future and maintaining success for the years to come. Those preceding two statements are oxymoronic, but alas, I wrote it. This club is for those of you who want rich history, big money backers, and a club unafraid to make a statement. Or maybe you just like claret and blue, who knows.
Projected finish: 9th
Future Projections: European Soccer next year (8th or higher)
Rivals: No one in the PL. Birmingham City and West Brom
Nicknames: The Lions, The Villains
Ok so you just finished watching Moneyball and all you want is a club that operates on a shoestring budget punching above its weight, then buddy I got news for you, Brentford is the club for you. Based out of far west London (barely London at that point) and operating on the smallest budget in the PL at about $15 million, for context Manchester United, the biggest spender has a payroll of $274 million and the median wage for the PL is $67 million. This club has a partnership with Danish based club Midtjylland and they share both coaches, players and data. Brentford is almost exclusively data driven and this has allowed them to buy undervalued players and sell them at a huge profit, yeah you know…Moneyball. Brentford were just promoted from the 2nd division of English soccer and this is the first time they have been here in 75 years, that is one hell of a dry spell. Brentford’s playing style is also data driven and seeks to maximize as much value from set pieces as possible. Supporting this club will probably not beget you European soccer in the near future, but you can seek comfort in knowing that they will trounce a top-6 club every now and then and that’s ok! The club is for those of you who are data nerds, self identifying underdogs, and those content with their stock in life.
Projected finish: 16th (just out of relegation)
Future Projections: Staying in the Premier League and aiming for a mid table finish.
Rivals: No one in the PL, though that will change soon. Fulham and Queens Park Rangers
Nicknames: The Bees
Brighton Hove and Albion
I want a club that employs the right people, is well functioning, data driven, not a big spender, and punches above their weight then there’s no better option than Brighton Hove and Albion. The number one conversation around Brighton is their coach, Graham Potter. Potter has built a reputation as a coach’s coach, the man most coaches will cite as one of the best up and coming. As opposed to a lot of other coaches in PL at the moment who were thrown into the first division of some nation and have bounced around high profile jobs, Potter started his coaching career with 4th division Swedish club, Ostersunds FK and managed to bring them all the way up to the first division of Swedish soccer. He later had a one year stint in the 2nd division of England before ultimately getting the job for Brighton Hove and Albio who were already in the Premier League. His team and playing style is predicated on adaptability, often changing tactical shape mid game. There is also a piece of data that determines “how many goals a team should be scoring” based on their chances, called Expected Goals (xG); I won’t get into the specific details of it, but just know that based on data, Brighton should be ranked amongst the Premier League elite, but have a knack of not being able to slot chances away. Furthermore, the staff of Brighton is highly regarded and they just redeveloped their training ground and nearby facilities, this is a club that is truly acting like it belongs in the Premier League.
Projected Finish: 11th-13th
Future Projections: Pushing for European soccer if they can manage to start scoring their chances
Rivals: Crystal Palace – an unconventional rivalry with a club that is not even nearby. Its name is derived from the highway (A23) that connects the two clubs who are more than an hour away (remember this is England, that is a long distance) from one another. Its Seagulls vs Eagles.
Screw this new wave thinking and data analytics and all this BS surrounding sports today, give me something old fashioned, simple, and based around having a “dog mentality”, then can I interest you in Burnley FC. Also operating on a small transfer budget and targeting players in the lower tiers of England, Burnley plays soccer the classical English way, almost like an NFL football team running Smash Mouth football or an NBA team just funneling the ball into the big man in the paint. An emblematic showcase of this is that when their 6’ 3” Striker Chris Wood was bought by Newcastle, Burnley decided to go bigger and buy a 6’ 6” striker to replace him, goodness. For the past five years, Burnely have been projected to drop to the 2nd division, but every time, they scrape out survival. Most of this is thanks to their coach Sean Dyche who sets his team up in a very classical way, but has drilled them like no other. No club has committed more fouls without getting a guy sent off than Burnley, talk about discipline. In the last 2 years, the club has tried to bring in more guys that can bring in a “continental flair” to diversify their means of attack, but the basic tenets remain the same. Burnley was recently bought out by an American equity firm, and while they don’t have plans to necessarily dump a crap ton of money in the club, you can expect an increase in investment into the starting XI and their facilities. This year has proved tougher than most and while I don’t want to see them drop to the 2nd tier of English soccer, it might just happen.
Projected finish: 18th (relegation) though 17th is not out of the question
Future Projection: If they drop, I expect them to bounce right back up after a year in the 2nd tier. If they stay up, they really need to start increasing the gap between them and relegation
Rivals: Mostly teams not in the 1st division, but with the performance of Blackburn Rovers in the 2nd tier, if everything falls right, Burnley will have a rival in the 1st division.
Nicknames: The Clarets
Of all established 2nd favorite clubs for people, I feel Crystal Palace is definitely up there. Crystal Palace is a perennial mid table club that never rocks the boat but will surprise big clubs every now and then, they have a great record against Chelsea and Manchester City. It is one of the oldest clubs in London and has teetered between the 1st and 2nd tier for the past 30 years. The club recently went through a transformation this past year. After suffering financial ruin during the 2000’s, the club sought to establish itself in the first division and reap the financial rewards of this league. After many years under different coaches who emphasized counter-attacking soccer and sustainability, the club is now looking to a new direction. This past summer, a whopping seven players left at the end of their contract, the club sought to freshen the squad with younger players equipped to play possession based football. They also brought in Arsenal club legend Patrick Viera as their coach. This year the club is now one of the youngest in the league and is holding on to the ball better and longer. They boast a number of talented young players and hope to build around this crop of talent to hopefully push for European soccer in the coming years. Also, if you’re a fan of the NBA team the 76ers, same owners ;).
Projected Finish: 10th
Future Projections: Pushing for Europe soon
Rivals: Brighton Hove and Albion. A lot of their London rivals are based in South London (who are in the lower tiers of England) as opposed to the other Premier League London clubs who are mostly in the north, west, and east of the city.
Nicknames: The Eagles
Oh Everton. How do I even describe this club, in literally any other point of time, the club could make a serious push to be your favorite team all together. This club was the definition of the “best of the rest”, a club that while not part of the top-6, has always enjoyed a status of being one of the best clubs in England but still maintaining its hometown status. Hell in terms of all time points, they sit 3rd! It is quite hard to describe the downfall of this club other than the fact that it has squandered nearly 500 million in transfer fees in the past decade. They have a big money owner willing to spend, but spent they did and squandered they mastered. Everton currently sit right outside the relegation zone and this is so uncanny for a team that has had one of the longest runs in the Premier League spending nearly 60+ years, this year that might change. The club is in dire need of a restructuring and something to shake things up. The club is based out of Liverpool and while their next door neighbors have improved exponentially, Everton has…yeah. Taking on this club as your second favorite team is a solid investment. Just as people say the best time to buy a stock is when it is low, this argument can be translated to Everton. Relegation would probably wake up this club to the problems infecting them. Sometimes a good fall from grace is the best wake up call you can get. It is a well supported club with a strong legacy, if they can get their act together and you take this team on as your designated 2nd favorite, you could be in for one hell of a ride.
Projected Finish: 17th though relegation might take them.
Future Projection: If relegation happens, they will surely bounce right back up. If not, they are wholly unpredictable and cannot tell you where they will finish, but I guess that’s part of the fun.
Nicknames: The Toffees, The Blues
Historic club, check, fun high octane soccer, check, well run, check, and an AMERICAN head coach, check. This feels like the club most suited to be the 2nd favorite club for a large number of Americans. After a mutual termination with their previous coach, Leeds has sought a more tempered tactical approach in Jesse Marsch, a well spoken American trying to prove a point about Americans and soccer. I like Leeds, it feels like a club that must be in the top flight of English soccer and I hope they can stick around. While they are dangerously close to a relegation battle, the new coach will probably see them stick around. This club has taken massive steps to building a sustainable future by improving their facilities and employing the right people in their staff. They have a knack for talent identification and play extremely high octane soccer. I like tuning in for Leeds matches because they will either lose by 3 goals or win by 3; though this may change with a more steady approach to the game under Jesse Marsch. His team will still be high octane, albeit not as aggressive as they were before. If this club can stick around the Premier League, they will inevitably learn from their mistakes during their sophomore season back in the PL and massively improve their fortunes in the next season. They have a passionate fan base in a one club city and have an extremely successful history. This is an excellent choice for a 2nd favorite team, though Manchester United and Chelsea fans need not apply. This is a fun club. Additionally, the San Francisco 49ers own a 44% stake in this club, not a common ownership, rather specifically the NFL Franchise the San Francisco 49ers do, wild times we live in.
Projected Finish: 16th though relegation might take them, less chance than Everton
Future Projection: Reestablish a mid table finish, and if you drop, a quick bounce back up
Rivals: Manchester United is a massive one
Nickname: The Whites, The Peacocks
If you started watching soccer during the mid 2010’s then you probably have Leicester as your favorite team. Having miraculously won the Premier League in the 15-16 season and beating insurmountable odds, they lodged themselves in the hearts of many. Since that time, they have not quite reached those heights but have finished in the top-4 multiple times. They have not been complacent since that season, fixing up their stadium, rebuilding their training facilities, and being extremely successful in the transfer market operating on a mid-range budget all the while identifying great domestic and foreign talent. Arguments have been made to consider Leicester City as a top-6 club though that title should be reserved for historically and currently big clubs. Leicester can confidently claim the title as the “best of the rest” in today’s game. It’s quite hard to take on Leicester as a 2nd favorite club because of their ability to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, and Arsenal, but nonetheless they are a great club to bring into the fold. You will be impressed by their signings in the transfer market and employ a higher end form of Moneyball. They buy young talent at a mid-range price and sell them off at an even higher price. They also employ one the game’s best managers in Brendan Rodgers, though he has a knack of “bottling” games. Leicester’s striker is also one hell of a personality. Jamie Vardy at 33 is still one of the most prolific strikers in the league and regularly drinks two red bulls and smokes a cigarette before each game (would not recommend). Furthermore, Leicester is a great up and coming city to visit and having a good club makes it all the more fun. They are having an off year this season having dealt with a number of long-term injuries.
Projected Finish: 8th-10th
Future Projection: Get past their injury crisis and make a push for a top-6 spot again
Rivals: Nottingham Forest is a big one, though they are stuck in the 2nd division
Nicknames: The Foxes
I don’t want the odds stacked against me, I don’t want to operate on a shoestring budget, I want history, I want a good future, and most importantly I want big money signings. Newcastle is flushed with money, like absolutely swimming in it. Thanks to Saudi Arabia and their oil money, Newcastle’s future looks pretty set. The biggest concern this season was and continues to be ensuring that the new ownership’s plans would not be derailed by a potential drop into the 2nd division of England, but after a calculated January Transfer window and steady coaching from Eddie Howe, Newcastle looks set to compete in the Premier League in the upcoming season. This certainty will allow Newcastle to invest once again in the upcoming summer window and hopefully look towards the future. While many expected Newcastle to go big on their transfers with the backing of Saudi money, their January window showcased a calculated and steady approach to their newfound blessings. They prioritized steadying the ship by investing in their defense and midfield, we can only assume there is a coherent plan in place for the next few years. But other than a bright future, by taking on Newcastle as your 2nd favorite team, you are taking on a storied club, truly one of England’s elite clubs, they rank 9th in all time points in the PL. It is well supported, with a fan base that regularly shows up for games even when times are dire, they consistently rank in the top 5 in terms of attendance in the PL. A great combination of history and future makes this an excellent choice. However, if you have a moral compass, don’t support this club.
Projected Finish: 12th-15th
Future Projection: With all this money, I don’t doubt they want to push for the title in 5 years time.
Rivals: Sunderland AFC, though they are in the lower tiers of English soccer
Nicknames: The Magpies
Well, well, well my 2nd favorite team! This will be quite easy to write. I’ve essentially explained the conditions of other clubs but a large part of why someone is gonna choose a club to support, either 1st or 2nd or 3rd or whatever, it’s gonna come down to how well they are performing. When I was really getting into Premier League soccer as a young teen, Southampton was performing out of this world. Under a series of high profile coaches, Mauriccio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, Southampton was clearly the best of the rest. That’s what drew me to the club at the time. Apart from performance, Southampton has always been a selling club. No matter how you want to paint it, Southampton has either developed talent through their academy or bought undervalued players. They have a knack for being elite clubs’ favorite marketplace. There is something really cool about that. Huge kudos to the people that run Southampton. Not only do they identify players well, but also coaches in general; like I mentioned before, they appointed Pochettino (Tottenham and PSG) and Koeman (Barcelona and the Netherlands). Their coach now, Ralf Hassenhuttl, was at RB Leipzig and has managed to overperform with a club with limited resources. Looking at Southampton’s squad now, they have compiled a solid and young squad with players projected to make an impact at the highest level of European Soccer. This is a well rounded club to support, I love this team in a very unique way. Be wary though, after a big selling period, this club will hit the rocks like it typically does. It is a very up and down team.
Projected Finish: 9th-12th
Future Projection: Hold on to your key players and challenge for Europe
Rivals: Portsmouth FC but they are in the lower leagues
Nicknames: The Saints
This club, along with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City get the biggest shouts for being the best of the rest. West Ham is actually the 2nd favorite club of a close friend of mine, he cites the color scheme (which is very familiar to Aston Villa and Burnley, but I don’t want to burst his bubble) and the overall vibe associated with West Ham. This is the working man’s club, yes it’s simple to just point out that they are literally the Hammers, but it is quite emblematic of this reputation. Other than the fact that this club can be categorized as the best of the rest, it is a well rounded squad with players in their prime and boasts one of the best Center Defensive Midfielders (Declan Rice) in England, and arguably the world. They have a well experienced coach and play a fun style of soccer, predicated on throwing a crap ton of players forward. Lately they have been targeting players in eastern european leagues, which is a great move in my opinion. They are currently in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and everyone is praying for a Barca-West Ham matchup because why not. But the biggest thing in West Ham’s favor is their illustrious owner David Sullivan, acclaimed adult film innovator who became a millionaire by the time he was 25 by investing heavily in this industry. Working Man’s club, porn related owner, and stunning colors, what’s there to hate?
Projected Finish: 8th-5th
Future Projection: Keep the momentum going, keep pushing for those top 4 spots
Rivals: Mostly London based clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham. Millwall is there most famous one but they’re in the 2nd division
Nicknames: The Hammers, The Irons
A club who made a big impact coming up from the 2nd division a few years back. If you love Portugal and China this has got to be the club for you. A majority of the club are Portuguese players, and this is one the few clubs left in the PL with Chinese ownership. They are always at the door for the best Portuguese talents, they share a special connection with Super Agent Jorge Mendes who gives them essentially first dibs on the best Portuguese players as he represents a large number of them. Apart from that, they have consistently over performed expectations and are a defense first team. It is a well drilled club under the tutelage of a new coach, guess what, he’s also Portuguese. This club has some history, but its reinvention in the past decade has created a sustainable model. They are currently in the race for European soccer, only a handful years removed from promotion, which is the goal of any promoted club. A coworker of mine has recently taken on Wolves as his 2nd favorite team due to their innovation in the sports sciences field utilizing data to better inform their sporting decisions. They also have a pretty cool name, Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Projected Finish: 8th-5th
Future Projection: Keep the momentum going, keep pushing for those top 4 spots
Rivals: West Brom is their big one, but they are in the 2nd division. Aston Villa is another big one.
Watford and Norwich City
Wait what, why are you combining these two? Well astute observer, I embarked on discussing Premier League clubs, even those these two are Premier League clubs, I see them more as existing in a metaphysical plane, between the depths of the 1st and 2nd division. This also includes Fulham and maybe Bournemouth AFC. They are consistently crushing the competition in the 2nd division and then are promoted and finish the season with 7 wins, 9 draws, and 22 losses and being placed bottom or 2nd to last. All I can say for Watford is that Elton John is a former co-owner and a big fan of the club. For Norwich City, they retain a hometown club feel, their owner is not super wealthy, both were small time TV personalities. They typically pull players from the surrounding areas and are known to have a stellar academy. Norwich has tried to implement a Moneyball system but geared towards cheap prospects and hoping that they could make a direct impact on the first team and subsequently sold at a higher fee to sustain the club but it has not worked all that well. If you like what I’ve written about these clubs, then go for it, just be ready to learn about clubs such as Nottingham Forest, QPR, Blackpool, Preston, Swansea, and the like.
What’s the point of this?
This was a fun little experience writing this piece. I feel there are a number of factors that make each of these clubs a great 2nd favorite team to support but at the end of the day, you’re gonna turn on the TV one day, watch a PL game between two clubs you know little about, and something will just click. I mean that’s how we all chose our teams, isn’t it?
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