In a commercial for the Premier League filmed at Gillette Stadium recently, Julian Edelman miskicks a shot at an open net, then appears despondent and says, “He looks at himself and says, ‘This is not his sport.’ ”
Soccer might not be the Patriot receiver’s sport, but that did not prevent him from developing a rooting interest in Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
“I started playing FIFA [the video game] a few years back,” Edelman recalled. “And I had a friend that loves Arsenal, a friend that loves Man United, one that loves Man City. [So] I’m going to play with Tottenham.
“I started playing FIFA and it’s crazy that you can actually learn the game through the video game. It’s pretty incredible. And then I started watching it and started appreciating the athleticism of the guys and just the appreciation of the sport.
“Once you finally get to sit back and watch it and see what these guys do on a daily basis, and how much they run and how fast they run, and the ability to make these moves with a ball on their foot . . .
“It started like that, plain and simple.”
Edelman developed an affinity for Harry Kane, and met the Spurs striker after being named Super Bowl MVP in Atlanta last year.
“One of my favorites,” Edelman said. “You watch these guys like [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and it’s remarkable to see the consistency of greatness they display and show over the years of playing this game.
“I don’t know the game inside and out. I’m just a fan that appreciates it from outside looking in, and it’s pretty crazy to see. Those guys are pretty special with their foot-eye coordination. That’s something that, as an athlete, as a professional athlete, I sit back and say those guys are studs. And there’s an appreciation for what they do.”
Other Patriots receivers have had a background in soccer: Deion Branch, Ray Crittenden, Wes Welker. Randy Moss used to juggle a soccer ball as a warmup exercise, Edelman said.
“I played, like, four years of soccer when I was real young,” Edelman said. “So I’m not very good but, I mean, I didn’t play very much.”
Edelman made up-close observations watching Brazil’s national team train during the Copa Centenario at Gillette three years ago.
“I watched everything, from just how they warm up and how that ball sticks to their feet,” Edelman said. “It’s crazy. Just the ankle stability and that feel and touch is just so impressive.
“I think if you were to work at it as a football player, even if you don’t use a ball, it would be a lot of good prevention-type training for keeping your ankles strong, without a doubt.
“It’s good footwork. If you watch how they get the ball past the defender, it’s very similar to, like, a release without a ball getting off press coverage.”
Edelman wore a Spurs scarf while filming the Premier League spot for NBC Sports, but his interest is not limited to the North London club. He attended an Arsenal game against Leicester City at Emirates Stadium three years ago, hanging with Danny Welbeck after Welbeck scored a 90th-minute winner in a 2-1 Gunners’ win.
If soccer had been Edelman’s sport, he envisions himself as a playmaking midfielder.
“I’d probably be some sort of center mid,” Edelman said. “Just kind of in the middle of the field. Attack, play a little defense. I’m not a blazer, by any means, but I feel like if I grew up playing the sport, if I were to switch roles and put myself as a football player there, a savvy kind of know-your-strength guy. Who knows?”
Edelman’s interest in the Revolution has increased since Bruce Arena was named sporting director/head coach, having become acquainted during workouts in Los Angeles.
“It’s pretty cool to see him,” Edelman said. “Wish him and his staff the best. He was so generous to me when I was there.”
What might have been
Of the three Boston-area franchises that competed in the North American Soccer League from 1968-80, the Minutemen might have been the most significant loss. The Minutemen finished in first place in the Northern Division in 1974 and ’75, and might have contended for the NASL championship the next year, but lost financial backing and sold off their best players. So instead of competing for the Minutemen, former stars Eusebio and Wolfgang Suhnholz led Toronto Metros-Croatia to the 1976 NASL Soccer Bowl title. Suhnholz, who died in Austin, Texas, at age 73 Friday, was named MVP of the championship game. Boston was Suhnholz’s first NASL stop following a career that included capturing the 1972 Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich, performing alongside Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Mueller. He had moved to Grasshoppers in Switzerland and TeBe Berlin in his hometown in Germany before making the move to the Minutemen in 1975. Suhnholz never returned to Europe, going on to play for six teams in the NASL, then coaching the US Under-20 national team, which included DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan.