Considering that Xabi Alonso and his FC Bayern Munich teammates are more than 4,000 miles away from their home soccer base, it may seem surprising how comfortable they feel playing in a foreign environment.
But given how easy technology makes it for U.S. fans to watch international clubs compete either on television or online, Alonso said when Bayern Munich faces A.C. Milan in a friendly as part of the the 27th International Champions Cup Wednesday night at Soldier Field, there will be a certain sense of familiarity and support that makes players feel right at home.
“Even being miles away, (U.S. fans) follow us on a daily basis,” Alonso said Tuesday at the Audi Football Summit at the W Hotel. “It’s good to embrace (fans) following the club and them being kept close to the team and feeling more touchable.”
Despite spending the majority of their time in Europe, players from both clubs feel a connection to fans across the Atlantic. So when clubs arrive in American cities to compete in friendlies that will prepare them for their upcoming seasons, they are greeted by fans that are as knowledgeable about their favorite clubs as they might be if they were in the same city.
The familiarity opens the door for foreign support that they can sense from not only the most passionate soccer fans, but from the fans that may be on the fringe of establishing more of a connection with teams like Bayern Munich and A.C. Milan.
“Soccer, football is getting bigger and bigger and more interesting for fans in the states,” Alonso said. “That’s great news and hopefully (soccer) becomes as big as the NBA and NFL.”
A.C. Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo has not only seen his team’s international fan base grow, but has watched as the U.S. soccer culture has changed as the fan base continues to expand into Europe.
For an Italian soccer power that already has a worldwide audience, playing games in American venues brings fans face-to-face with players that before now, they had likely only seen from a distance.
Montolivo said Tuesday that he credits much of that popularity to the success of the U.S. Women’s National Team, which has opened up soccer in ways that American soccer leagues like MLS may not have been able to.
“It’s great to see fans care about (international) teams here,” Montolivo said through a team translator. “It’s always good to see the affection and the passion of the fans that follow us.”
The international stage is one that 17-year-old A.C. Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is just discovering as he prepares for his second season. So not only is he beginning to understand the international following his club has, but he’s starting to see it for himself.
And for a teenager just making a name for himself, doing it internationally makes the transition easier.
“It’s always fun to travel to meet fans,” he said Tuesday. “It’s kind of exciting to begin to evolve into the world of soccer.”
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