In March 2011, with the NFL embroiled in labour disputes, Chad Ochocinco, a Cincinnati Bengals player (now with the New England Patriots), embarked upon a childhood dream to use his feet rather than his hands.
The six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver seemed willing but unpolished during a week-long tryout with the Major League Soccer outfit Sporting Kansas City, ultimately failing to impress.
Despite being nothing more than a public relations experiment, perhaps inspired by USA goalkeeper Tony Meola’s tryout with the New York Jets a few weeks after the 1994 World Cup, Ochocinco’s fleeting involvement with a round rather than an oval football however, illustrates an unquestionable meshing of sport cultures that simply begs to be compared.
Although competing in incredibly diverse environments, both teams and players of the NFL possess noticeably similar styles, attributes and ambitions with their sphere-kicking brothers—none more so than the English Premier League.
Maybe, as Ochocinco almost proved, we are not far away from cross-sport transfers; it doesn’t take much imagination to picture Nemanja Vidic donning the traditional shoulder pads and joyously accepting the prospect of being rewarded for mercilessly throwing opponents to the ground, whilst the nimble figure and raw speed of Theo Walcott coupled with Pepe Reina’s throwing accuracy would terrify defenders across the league.
A mouthwatering, albeit totally impossible, conception.
However, in the meantime, since the NFL is pushing to schedule more games in England, and with a growing American interest in the English version of football, it is fitting to draw a relationship between two major leagues that command the sports markets either side of the Atlantic.
With the NFL about to begin its 91st season and the EPL in full swing, here is a collection of disturbingly similar themes between the two. The list includes NFL teams, players and a manager that will have hit the headlines for differing reasons come 2012, matched, with their most appropriate Premier League counterparts.
Chad Ochocino: Legendary Wide Receiver. Aspiring Right Midfielder.
"I don't know if we win the all-hype team, I think that might have gone to somebody else"—Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
It was the Philadelphia Eagles who became the envy of the NFL this offseason, aggressively acquiring several big-name players with impressive resumes, including cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and veteran quarterback Vince Young. It appears that when all else seems to have failed, the Eagles have thrown as money at their much-maligned passion to win a Super Bowl.
Lots and lots of money.
The staggering $225 million spent on improving the squad, incidentally the most spent in the NFL since 2004, was $12 million more than any other team—an incredible feat taking into consideration the newly drawn-out salary cap.
Although far from the complete article, the Eagles' newly assembled "dream team" possesses an immediate force. All that is missing is an elusive Super Bowl title.
Premier League Counterpart: Manchester City
Whether you love him or hate him, this boy has talent and there is no better time to prove it.
It was hardly surprising, after the turbulent year he has endured, that Cam Newton was greeted by both cheers and jeers when he was named as the NFL's first pick in the annual draft.
It is even less surprising that everybody and anybody is doubting his chances of success in his first season with a dangerously weak Carolina Panthers team.
The 21-year-old quarterback from Auburn University may well have been the most outstanding college player last year but he remains a controversial figure that has travelled a bumpy road to the top. The Panthers took a big gamble on him, and subsequently Newton's shoulders are burdened with expectation.
Newton has the attributes.
He is a winner, a national champion at two collegiate levels.
His junior season was arguably the greatest season in the history of college football as he took home the Heisman Trophy and the BCS National Championship.
His dynamic playmaking ability helped him dominate SEC defenses and earn the right to be taken No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL draft.
Now he faces his biggest obstacle: adapting to the NFL in difficult surroundings and repaying the faith shown throughout his young career.
Premier League Counterpart: Fernando Torres
Maybe it was his outlandish and unsporting touchdown celebrations? His continuously infuriating tweets? Could it be the incident which involved spitting in the face of Atlanta's Cornerback DeAngelo Hall? Or possibly the incessant off-field attention he has attracted throughout his career?
Whatever the reasons, Terrell Owens has become the most hated player in the NFL. Although facing stiff competition for the top spot, no one can create such drama and thrive on it like the outspoken wide receiver. He has unceremoniously talked his way out of San Francisco, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati and thrown the majority of his teammates under the metaphorical bus in the process.
However, the resentment of T.O. goes beyond his continued lack of sportsmanship and controversial behaviour.
Owens, simply put, is one of the greatest wide receivers of all time. He's caught 1,078 passes for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns over a 15-year career which has seen six Pro Bowl selections. Although an induction into the Hall of Fame is inevitable, T.O.'s greatest flaw has been to disregard and tarnish these figures and performances.
Not that he cares. He has his own show and expresses a career in acting. I'd recommend a soap opera.
Premier League Counterpart: Joey Barton
Right from the word go, there was something instantly irksome about Heath Evans' transition from robust fullback to "NFL analyst."
Brimming with eagerness to make a splash in his first week, Evans has entered the studio with a mentality of a rookie blinded by the spotlight. Although doing a lot of media work as the lockout raged over the offseason, he is now out of his depth, with many already accusing him of showing too much bias and a criminal lack of research.
He is obviously qualified, as a veteran NFL player, to voice his opinion. However, having someone so bold and opinionated does not necessarily make for a more exciting watch.
A good player-turned-analyst supplies an insight to the game, without making rash judgement.
Troy Aikman stands out as a poignant example. Understated but authoritative, Aikman quietly has become a great game analyst. Despite a Hall of Fame career and three Super Bowl wins, he rarely factors his personal or team experience into the discussion, consistently resisting the "I/We" temptation that could begin to doom Evans' career before it has even started.
The ex-New Orleans Saints man has a lot to learn.
As a fullback, he led with his head. I'd suggest utilising that approach as an analyst.
Premier League Counterpart: Robbie Savage
It's the offseason following the Patriots' defeat to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
In a classic move, aimed at preventing his players dining out on past success, Bill Belichick orders that all pictures of his team's previous Super Bowl victories be removed from Patriots headquarters.
There would be no sense of satisfaction having already won a hat trick of Super Bowls; he wanted his team to be hungry for more glory. When pushed on why he had made such a move, Belichick simply stated, "The walls needed painting."
It was a smart move by a coach who is the embodiment of the type of player he brings through the door at every given opportunity.
The three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach runs a tight ship and does not suffer fools gladly, taking leave of both pre- and post-match conferences at the drop of a hat. He is a ruthless tactician, happy to ship out troublesome players who don't fully buy into his system, even if they are the biggest names in the sport—most notably Randy Moss, one of the most successful wide receivers of the past decade.
Belichick remains at New England, and with 33 years of experience, is the longest-tenured coach in the NFL. But don't let this fool you; the 2003, 2007 and 2010 Coach of the Year is not about to rest on his laurels and is a long way from being satisfied with his body of work in the NFL.
Premier League Counterpart: Alex Ferguson
It isn’t the longest-running rivalry in the NFL, not even close, and it probably isn’t the fiercest in terms of player and fan hostility. But no two teams over the past decade have played the game better and smarter than the Patriots and Colts, and you’re liable to witness a classic whenever they meet.
They both feature high-tech, high-scoring offences, led by quarterbacks with contrasting styles but identical objectives: to win at all costs.
Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings, Peyton Manning one. In head-to-head showdowns, it’s Brady seven, Manning three, including a 2-1 edge for Brady in playoff games. They will be remembered as two of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play and serve as iconic figures of an iconic matchup.
Premier League Counterpart: Arsenal vs. Manchester United