New Burnley investor and ex-NFL player JJ Watt is determined to win over doubters still sceptical of Americans who buy into English football.
The one-time Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and his footballer wife Kealia Watt were unveiled as the Premier League-bound club’s latest backers earlier this month, but the retired defensive end is no stranger to the game.
Watt watched his first Premier League match over a decade ago, soon finding himself fully drawn in thanks to an affinity for Didier Drogba, and completely appreciates why some may be wary of an upswing in US interest.
“I don’t blame them for having cynicism,” he told the PA news agency. “I would if I was in their shoes. Think about it. You’ve had the best league in the world, and it’s been around for over 100 years, and it’s kind of your national treasure.
“I absolutely understand why you’d be sceptical of Americans coming in and wanting to be part of it, but having said that our experience has been unbelievable. We haven’t met one single person who hasn’t been incredibly welcoming, so we’re very thankful.
“But we understand the situation and we want to continue to earn that trust and show that we are going to honour and respect that tradition and history.”
Burnley’s majority shareholder and chairman Alan Pace, Watt’s compatriot, took over in December 2020 and has previously spoken about his own integration challenges.
The most immediate comparison to the Watts, however, might be with Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, who are currently celebrating their own club’s promotion.
The Welsh side’s rise under the Hollywood duo has largely been seen as an overwhelming success, though they too have detractors.
Watt has already sought out the advice of dual Canadian-American citizen Reynolds.
He said: “We talked a lot about the tribalism over here with the clubs and how much it means. Over in America we have the ability to watch every single match and it’s a little easier to have multiple teams.
“You don’t do that here (in England). You’re born somewhere, you support that club and that is your club, ride or die forever. That’s very, very, important.
“(Reynolds) talked a lot about honouring and respecting that coming in and knowing that this club has been here long, long before we got here and it’s going to be here long after we’re gone, so it’s just a matter of doing right by the supporters and doing what you can to help shepherd it into the next chapter in a better place than you found it.”
Though Watt’s Wisconsin accent will always betray his nationality, he is also conscious of the nuances in vocabulary that might be perceived as shudderingly Yankee on these shores, like “locker room” instead of “dressing room”.
Watt’s authentic appreciation of English football – he also speaks eloquently about the women’s game – was initially motivated by his ambition to one day invest in a club, “because someday, if it was possible, I wanted to make sure I could speak properly about it”.
As a true student of the game, Watt “loves” listening to meetings about player business and says “just talking to Vince (Vincent Kompany), watching film with him and breaking down our strengths and weaknesses, where we can enhance even further, that’s been fascinating. That’s my favourite stuff.”
He hopes to use his own background as an elite athlete to get involved in conversations around training, nutrition and players’ buy-in to the Burnley mission, but he is quite content to leave certain things to the experts.
He added: “I’m never going to give my input on a player. I’m never going to be at the knowledge level to tell Vincent Kompany what I think.”