Two soccer shows that have captured the public has been Ted Lasso and Welcome to Wrexham. One is an 11-time Emmy Award-winning comedy that delves into human emotion and mental health. The other is an impactful docuseries that not only chronicles the struggle of two celebrities owning a sports team, but showcases the importance of sport to a community.
Both shows are universally acclaimed, but both have a fair share of opposition, primarily from soccer fans who question the real-life impact or the motivation for the series.
The Athletic interviewed Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin, and among many topics, asked him what he thought of Ted Lasso and Welcome to Wrexham. Curtin praised both to an extent but felt Ted Lasso has hurt the chances of American coaches in Europe.
“I have to say I like it, because if I say I hate it I’m some elitist coach,” Curtin said. “I love the humanness of it. I watched the whole first season. I give them credit for being at least close to capturing the feeling in the locker room. They get that there are people from different cultures, ********, nice guys, there are wives who are annoying who are problems. That’s all real. He comes off as loveable.
“Do I think it’s set back the American coach 20 years? Yes, I do. We worked so hard to get to Europe and then Jesse [Marsch] kind of breaks in and it’s like… what a curse to have that show break out at the same time he’s there. You can feel it with [Jesse]. He seems so angry at it but to go back to my earlier point, if you show that they’ll chew you up and spit you out.”
If anything, the Ted Lasso/Jesse Marsch comparison is more a thing with the media than the actual clubs. Maybe that was Curtin’s point, where if a Premier League club hires an American coach, fans will automatically hate the move because they think they’re getting Ted Lasso as a manager. And as much as I love the show and as endearing as the character Ted Lasso is, an American football coach moving to England to coach soccer would be a disaster in real life.
That being said, it wouldn’t hurt for a coach to have the human properties of Ted Lasso combined with the necessary soccer knowledge. That’s pretty much Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
Curtin was also asked about Welcome to Wrexham, which hits close to home for Curtin given he’s from Philadelphia, coaches in Philly, and knows co-owner/co-creator Rob McElhenney.
“I’ve actually connected with Rob,” Curtin said. “He was actually the manager of the soccer team (at his high school.) We’ve connected a few times and as recently as their most recent FA Cup game, he texted me afterwards.
(Curtin pulls out his phone and navigates to his text thread with McElhenney)
“He says “I love/hate this **** so much.” Those guys are genuine and kind of passionate which is cool. You can’t argue with what they did with their show, they’ve handled it in a pretty clever way and they’ve gotten a lot of eyeballs on their team. Their team is good. You watch them play, they play the right way, they’re winning games.”
Some have expressed similar concern with Welcome to Wrexham as Curtin did with Ted Lasso. Curtin believed that Ted Lasso set back American coaches 20 years, but others believe that Welcome to Wrexham is a show that indirectly knocks MLS or American soccer back. Where Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds buying a fifth-division Welsh club that they had no previous connection to somehow showed that American or Canadian soccer wasn’t worth investing in.
It was maybe an unintended consequence, but that definitely wasn’t their intent. We’ve seen McElhenney attend Union games, including last year’s MLS Cup final. And while he made a faux pas saying that there’s nothing like the FA Cup here when we have the U.S. Open Cup, McElhenney never hid the fact that he’s continuously learning about the sport.
Really, both series are worth watching and enjoying, and this is coming from someone who had similar hesitations as a soccer fan. I was afraid that Ted Lasso would belittle the sport and that Ted would be a stock character that would reinforce the stereotype that Americans know nothing about soccer. I was afraid Welcome to Wrexham was merely a vehicle for two celebrities to show off a shiny new toy that they could write off on their taxes by turning the entire thing into a docuseries.
I’m glad to say I was wrong. Instead, both shows are bringing in new fans and growing soccer around the world, which is how it should be.
In fairness to Curtin, he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Curtin feels that authenticity and access is what makes Welcome to Wrexham work, and he’s helping provide that with The Union Way, a high-quality docuseries that is on the Union’s YouTube page. Will that have a similar cultural impact as Welcome to Wrexham? Unless it has a home in places where non-soccer fans can access, I doubt it. But you can’t deny that Curtin understands what needs to be done to grow MLS.