This Christmas season the football media seem focused primarily on today’s marquee Monday Night Football contest. No, I am not talking about the Saints vs. the Falcons, but a similarly intriguing English Premier League contest between Arsenal and Chelsea.
Naturally intrigued by a fixture that featured two of the world’s heavyweights, I nearly missed a very important shred of news for American football (soccer) fans this season: Robbie Findley is headed to Nottingham Forest.
At first glance, Findley appears to be simply the next American to pursue European success after a few successful years in the MLS. However, unlike immediate predecessors Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan who earned starting roles on middle-of-the-table English Premier League squads, Findley will fight for a starting role on a team that is currently ninth in the Football Championship.
Seemingly destined to spend the remainder of his career fighting for the chance to play against the likes of Holden, Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard in the English Premier League, Findley's seemingly insignificant move benefits the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT).
A true Yanks fan, I have often likened Donovan to the biblical character John the Baptist—preparing the world for the arrival of Jesus Christ. Though not America’s football messiah himself, Donovan has legitimized both the USMNT and the MLS. As a result, top managers have recognized football talent throughout America and have begun recruiting at both the amateur and professional levels.
Following a successful World Cup campaign, I expected one of our young players to emerge as the long-awaited messiah. The coach’s son and clear heir to the USMNT captaincy, 23-year-old Michael Bradley, seemed to be the prime candidate.
Demonstrating world-class ball skills, excellent pace and surprisingly acute attacking instincts, he seemed destined to pique the interest of an Arsene Wenger or Alex Ferguson. However, Bradley continues to stay put at the relegation-threatened Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach while Findley makes the big move to English football.
Though Bradley will still have the opportunity to play for a major club in the future, Findley has the unique opportunity to help a once great program restore its former glory immediately. Under legendary manager Brian Clough, Nottingham Forest won consecutive European Cups in 1979 and 1980.
Forest performed well throughout the 1980s but drifted in and out of the premiership throughout the 1990s. Currently, they have not played top tier football in 11 years.
If Forest can manage to move up three places in the table to sixth place by the end of the season, they will qualify for a playoff with the third, fourth and fifth place teams. The winner of this mini-tournament joins the first and second place squads in promotion to the Premier League. Looking to enhance his attacking options for a run at the premiership, Forest manager Billy Davies appears convinced that Findley has the pace to pressure opponents.
“It’s a great challenge for him and a great challenge for us, but there’s no doubt that he can score goals and, more importantly, with the pace he’s got he can be a real handful.”
Let’s say that Findley seizes this opportunity and scores around 10 goals, leading Forest to a sixth place finish. Reversing Forest’s 2009-2010 fortunes where they finished third but failed to win the promotion, he uses his unmatched pace to score critical goals in consecutive playoff games and Forrest is subsequently promoted to the Premiership.
Earning immortal status amongst Forest supporters and capturing the attention of the English media, Findley finally gains the confidence that he so often lacks while representing the United States. Combining this confidence with his exceptional athleticism, Findley goes on to enjoy a successful 2011-2012 season scoring 15 to 20 premier league goals.
You might denounce my prediction as sensational optimism, and you might ultimately be right. However, we should not forget that during the beginning of this Premier League season, the football media primed tiny Blackpool as the top candidate for immediate relegation.
Yet, with nearly an identical roster as the side which finished sixth in the Football Championship last season, the Tangerines have remarkably scored 24 goals in 16 games and sit 11th in the table at the season’s midpoint. If humble attackers Luke Varney and Marlon Harewood can combine for 10 goals in less than half of the season, then the far more athletically gifted Findley could surely match this total.
Time will ultimately reveal whether Findley can become the world-class striker the USMNT team so desperately envies, but, if my instincts are correct, this move is a Christmas present that American football fans will cherish well into the future.