Both Ted Lasso and Jose Mourinho reached critical acclaim in their respective professions since they last talked four months ago. Lasso’s character was originally introduced during a uniquely 2013 time, with the Premier League on the cusp of entering the global pop culture, social media-influenced, branding age. The league table from the end of that season are a relic, with Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City topping Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool by two points. Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger rounded out the Champions League places. From the perspective of American soccer, Clint Dempsey moved from Lasso’s Tottenham to MLS at the start of the season. Tim Howard’s success with Everton symbolized the existential angst of the country producing keepers, though not creative outfield players.
But even the promotions from last summer advertising the Ted Lasso television series, with Lasso softening up Mourinho’s image while getting credibility in return, feel outdated. First and foremost, it featured a friendly Mourinho who was just happy to be back in the Premier League after getting fired at Manchester United in 2018. Half a season later, we’re now back to a Mourinho battling for the top of the table with mind games, the one chiding Frank Lampard for only standing during matches when his side are winning and telling Jurgen Klopp to stop complaining about injuries.
At the time, Lasso was the American audience’s way into the Premier League in a friendly setting, acknowledging the awkward outsider. The original conceit came at a time when the league still seemed impenetrable to outsiders, with a tension between America (and the world) wanting in on the discussion and fandom while the locals wanted to keep their own. But of course, technology and finances move forward. The Premier League’s television rights reached a billion dollars per season for the first time in 2013, doubling from 2010. The value of its television rights are now estimated at $4 billion per season.
Other studies put the league’s overall brand value at over $11 billion, more than La Liga and the Bundesliga combined. With billions of dollars and the future of entertainment at stake, it was time to completely let go from an underground secret conversation to full-on mainstream as perhaps the most valuable sports brand in the world.
Likewise, the original wide-eyed Lasso approach has been replaced with something more knowing, wearied, and experienced through the years, both on and off the field. Even Lasso’s Tottenham unveiled a world class stadium built to attract concerts and events outside of just soccer matches. Clubs now serve as investments in larger financial portfolios. There is the potential of the European Super League humming in the background. So where does Lasso’s positivity exist within this framework? You could go as far to say that the proof-of-concept worked too well, with Premier League matches now moved behind NBC’s Peacock TV app paywall in a larger battle for monthly subscriptions (for context, Netflix had yet to premier its first piece of original content in House of Cards when Lasso first appeared).
Teams are no longer just soccer clubs, but 24/7 lifestyle brands with no offseason. Matches are only opportunities to create more content. Moneyball and transfer window efficiencies are no longer outsider concepts, but table stakes. There are stories of Liverpool supporters feeling alienated by the club’s global success, aided by their dominant analytics team and a Nike jersey deal. Even the anxiety of an American supporter in 2013 has been replaced by expectations for youth prospects. It’s no longer a question of who the next American teenage prodigy will be, but when and from which academy.
Though there is a manager who invokes a Lasso-esque form of American optimism and trailblazing quality. RB Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch became the first American manager to win a Champions League match last season. His half-time team talk while down 3-0 against Liverpool went viral for its mixture of half-German, English swear words, and passion. Marsch insists on speaking in German to show vulnerability to his young players, that even the manager is learning and improving. You can even hear the Lasso-isms of a holistic approach to team culture.
“When I show my vulnerability and when I show I’m not perfect and when I show I make mistakes, whether it’s through language or culture or coaching or whatever, they understand we don’t have to be perfect. Part of growing is understanding that you should make mistakes,” said Marsch, whose words would probably be too spot on in a show-but-don’t-tell world of storytelling.
His initial appointment to the Austrian club was met with a similar skepticism and backlash, with supporters hanging “No to Marsch” banners inside the stadium. Now, that skepticism has been replaced with rumors of a potential move to RB Leipzig or Borussia Dortmund. Like American youth prospects, it’s not a matter of if, but when and where Marsch will move to in the Bundesliga. Suddenly, Lasso’s charm becomes less resonant should his side begin dominating the Premier League.
That sense of inevitability creates new expectations. There is a clear pipeline from MLS to Europe, with the USMNT’s starting eleven built with players from the top five leagues in the world. The national team are attempting to out-recruit England for Yunus Musah. Juventus are now rumored with MLS prospects thanks to the success of Weston McKennie. In fact, the problem now is that the USMNT is too successful in filling their roster with European-based players, leaving players in domestic leagues behind.
Lasso’s happy-go-lucky personality has been replaced by Dest nutmegging opponents in friendlies just because he can. Even the advertisements have grown more of today, with the fun replaced by hype videos filled with emotional moments. With several MLS clubs rebranding to keep up with the times, the perception and messaging is more serious than playful. And NBC doesn’t have to explain why Americans should care about soccer anymore through Lasso. It’s straight to the matches, the results, and the table.
Considering the Premier League’s emphasis on growth, the roles have reversed: it would be up to the league to create a lovable, friendly avatar to convince global markets to give it attention. And it would be more likely for a Lasso-esque British coach moving to America and taking over an outsider-weary NFL team.
Jurgen Klopp partially served as inspiration for Lasso’s character, including a plot line from when the German manager took his Liverpool squad out for karaoke. The current archetypal manager would be something like Julian Nagelsmann: a brash, young prodigy focused on pressing, working on the cutting edge of video analysis, backed by a global brand. If Lasso were invented today, you could see him as a press-oriented manager rebuilding a Bundesliga side with American prospects, sent to Germany as part of a work-related program through a global brand with offices around the world. And he would not have the naiveness of a fish-out-water manager. Considering the growth of online tactics and statistics, he may even be expected to innovate tactically while finding overlooked gems in the transfer market.
An American manager taking over a large Premier League club seemed impossible in 2013. Again, just in over seven years, it seems only a matter of time. And there will be no time for awkward embarrassments of culture misconnections, the expectations will be to win using the most modern methods while increasing brand value off the field. In re-signing with NBC Sports in 2015, then-Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore said that the network’s production value, analysis, and audience “have all been beyond expectations.” Even among characters based in empathy and niceness, you can never get away from subscriber growth.