Soccer fans in America tend to stress out about the announcers more than any other sport. Naturally any soccer fan in America who’s heard the unmistakable voice of beIN Sport’s Ray Hudson has likely formed an opinion on the one-of-a-kind Englishman.
Last week Big Lead Sports caught up with Hudson by phone before the new La Liga season began. Barcelona opened with a 7-0 smackdown of Levante, while rival Real Madrid squeezed past Real Betis 2-1. If your cable provider still don’t have access to beIN Sport, Hudson’s commentary can be heard on Siruis XM FC thanks to a new partnership this season. Hudson can also be heard when he hosts “The Football Show” on the station.
During our talk we discussed the high-profile singing of Neymar by Barcelona, along with the long-rumored move by Real Madrid to land Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. Hudson was bullish on the Neymar move, but a little warier about Real Madrid’s potential marquee summer signing.
Make no mistake: the pairing of Neymar with Messi makes Hudson giddy with anticipation.
“It’s too much isn’t it? It shouldn’t be allowed. There should be a law against it,” Hudson said by phone from his home in Florida last week. “It’s nitroglycerin mixed with TNT. That’s the promise ahead. Whether it actually ignites … that’s part of the magic of this game.”
Hudson doesn’t think Neymar will turn into another Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona, a talented player who never quite gelled with what the Catalans were doing during his one season at the Camp Nou before moving to AC Milan.
“Neymar should bring a lot to the dance at the very, very least,” Hudson said. “The combination of the two should be like Lennon and McCarthy. It should be. It will be beguiling to watch.”
Although Barcelona looked at its most dangerous best against Levante on Sunday, there’s a chance the club ends up feeling a lot different now that Gerardo Martino is in charge. The Argentine coach breaks the successful chain forged by first Pep Guardiola and later Tito Vilanova, who stepped aside earlier this summer when his throat cancer returned. Under that stewardship, Barcelona established itself in the conversation for best club teams of all-time.
In Hudson’s view, Vilanova’s cancer treatments during last season — particularly during Barcelona’s humiliating loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals — haven’t been put into the proper context, even if the club won La Liga with a record points haul of 100.
“I was derided, dismissed casually for my stand this had an enormous impact on the players on the club when Tito started suffering from this terrible illness. It took away the soul of the team. It wasn’t one player, it was the whole team,” Hudson said. “When you see players come down 20 percent in their form, that’s not by accident. They were wounded. The attachment those players had with that coach in that club is unique. It hurt them. It took so much away, yet they were still able to stay ahead. They were battling with so many things. They carried themselves over the line for Tito.
“Sadly with the new arrival of a coach who is being forced into the situation with no ties, Tata (Martino) has to polish this diamond and get it back to his best. He’s capable. He did a great job with Paraguay, turning them into a tight defensive side. With Newell’s Old Boys he made them into one of the most vibrant attacking teams. He can do it on both ends.”
“It’s nitroglycerin mixed with TNT. ” — Ray Hudson on the mix of Messi and Neymar at Barcelona
On the other hand, Hudson isn’t so sure Bale’s impending arrival to the Spanish capital will have the same positive effect Neymar and Martino should have in Catalonia. Bale, the reigning Premier League player of the season, is rumored to land in Madrid any day now for a world-record transfer fee worth well over $100 million, perhaps closer to $150 million.
“I don’t think (Real Madrid) need him,” Hudson said. “I prefer to see (Luis) Suarez or that type of player, the real point of the spear that he is. I’m not sure Real has one in (Karim) Benzema. In this preseason, this Madrid team has never looked more threatening. … They have a true Real Madrid look to them. They look like they’re much more expressive in their football. I think they’re neck and neck with Barcelona, if not ahead of them at this point in the preseason.”
The key issue Hudson would have with the arrival of Bale is how it would impact Cristiano Ronaldo since they both like to operate in similar pockets on the field, namely the left wing.
“Cristiano’s looked happier than a dog with two tales. He looks ready to grab the Ballon d’Or,” Hudson said. “You don’t want to diminish Cristiano’s light when you have arguably the best player on the planet, why would you want to go into that territory to even dim that bulb a little? It has that possibility. “
Of course stockpiling high-profile players is the Galactico-way at Real Madrid.
“It’s never bad to have top class players,” Hudson said. “Bale proved in his most spectacular season he’s an international player, whether or not he’s a world class player and ready to deal with Real Madrid is a different question. His overall game is worth this staggering amount of money when you have a player like Angel Di Maria in a similar position whose ensconced there, I’m not sure it is. We all like playing coach and fantasy football. You can just imagine Suarez in that No. 9 shirt and what he’d bring to that finishing product without ruffling Cristiano’s feathers. It seems a much more synchronized fit. They let (Gonzalo) Higuian go, so they have a need.
“Real Madrid fans will be happy, but I think this has as much to do with (Florentino) Perez, the chairman, the glitter has to be there. How much stardust do you need when you have Cristiano there and such a fabulous supporting act with (Mesut) Özil and (Xabi) Alonso?”
On Wednesday news emerged that Alonso, a Spanish international, suffered a broken metatarsal and will be out up to three months. Liverpool remains adamant it won’t sell Suarez be it to Arsenal or Real Madrid.
If there’s one major criticism of La Liga is its lack of competitiveness outside Barcelona and Real Madrid, mainly due to the way the giants dominant the money generated in the league’s television contracts. Hudson tipped Atletico Madrid as one club to watch outside the Big Two, even if Atletico’s own manager, Diego Simeone, called the league “boring” over the weekend.