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Exclusive: 101 speaks to commentator Derek Rae on the Bundesliga, FIFA’s commentary process and the Red Bull project’s perception

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Birmingham City v Wolverhampton Wanderers - St Andrews' ESPN commentator Derek Rae pitchside before the match (Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images)

Derek Rae is the words behind the Bundesliga commentary for ESPN amongst other media outlets and the English-language commentator alongside Lee Dixon for EA Sports’ FIFA video game series.

101 spoke with Rae about the Bundesliga and FIFA. Looking into the misconceptions of the German league, some of the key transfer stories from the summer and the controversies surrounding the Red Bull project. We also delve into the intricacies of Rae’s involvement with EA Sports’ FIFA video game. How commentary is recorded and the huge collaborative effort that goes on behind the scenes.

Firstly, having worked with the Bundesliga for a considerable amount of time, how would you look at the league in the European standing? Many people see it as a one-team league but is it gradually becoming much more than that?

“The Bundesliga is my favourite league. It has been for a long time going back to my childhood in tandem with my German language studies. I think it remains one of the top leagues in the world. 

With regards to it being a ‘one team league,’ it has been in recent years. Bayern have won the title 8 years in a row, but like every league, there are stories up and down the Bundesliga so it is not just about who wins the league. Let’s not forget there have been some close finishes in recent years. It has not been a case that Bayern every season are running away with it.

Sometimes we think that’s the case when listening to people who do not cover the Bundesliga. But you have in the Bundesliga some of the best teams in Europe. Just look at what Leipzig did in the Champions League last season and what Borussia Dortmund are capable of. Similarly, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to commentator Derek Rae on the Bundesliga, FIFA’s commentary process and the Red Bull project’s perception

Bayern Munich’s French forward Kingsley Coman (R) celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates during the UEFA Champions League final football match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 23, 2020. (Photo by Miguel A. Lopes / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL A. LOPES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

I think the other thing we have to talk about is the tradition that is a intrinsic part of the league’s appeal. Once you become a fan of a Bundesliga club it stays with you forever. In a way, I think is not the case in other leagues, there is nothing fake about the Bundesliga. It is very authentic, the teams, the clubs are run on that basis. They have, for the most part, a say in the running of their own football club and that doesn’t happen in many other leagues.

I think its overall all-around appeal is something we have to look at and also the style of football. It is dynamic, youthful, young players get a chance, certainly in comparison with other leagues. I think you have to look at the whole package to understand it rather than just judging it based on one team winning it over a number of years.”

The movement of British talent to the Bundesliga is becoming more common, what advantages do you think this gives players who move from the U.K. to Germany?

“I think it is a very positive development and I think it has taken maybe English players a long time to figure this one out. But they now realise that if the invitation comes from a Bundesliga club, it is going to do nothing but good for that player’s development. So they’ll get a chance at a young age and that doesn’t really happen in the Premier League.

They will learn from some of the best coaching in the world and when you look at those two factors, you look at the fact they will be playing week in-week out, if they are good enough and not sitting on the bench. Then they will reach their early twenties, like Jadon Sancho has now, and be better and more complete players.

I think also from a worldly point of view, it is a big benefit to go and experience a different culture at a young age. It makes you more rounded. I think all of those things together, and in such a short career to make everything count, there is no better school for a young talented footballer than the German school.”

What have you made of the Jadon Sancho situation in regards to The summer saga and where you see his future?

“Well it was the longest-running soap opera in many respects. Was he going to leave Dortmund for Manchester United or was he going to stay? Well we know now that he is still with Dortmund. I don’t think he will be there for the long haul, but we have to look at what he’s achieved. What he’s learned there.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to commentator Derek Rae on the Bundesliga, FIFA’s commentary process and the Red Bull project’s perception

Dortmund’s English midfielder Jadon Sancho celebrate scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match BVB Borussia Dortmund vs Eintracht Frankfurt, in Dortmund, western Germany on February 14, 2020. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER / AFP) / RESTRICTIONS: DFL REGULATIONS PROHIBIT ANY USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND/OR QUASI-VIDEO (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

I don’t think he would have become the footballer that he has become without his years there. Working under people like Lucien Favre, working in a way which has challenged him and made him better tactically in addition to just his raw talent. But I would be surprised if he is not on his way to England in the near future.”

What’s your view on the Red Bull model in regards to club ownership and also their relentless production of brilliant young talent?

“Well as you know, the German model is something that is very important. The ’50 + 1′ rule is something that is very dear to the hearts of most German football fans and this is why when we talk about Leipzig, in particular, they are polarising. I am mixed on this one. I absolutely see what they have done from a footballing point of view. They have been very enriching from a football perspective in Germany. But they have done it in a slightly controversial way.

They have done it by skirting, to an extent, the ’50 + 1′ rule. Viewed from an English perspective it may not be that controversial but of course, being a German team we have to view them through that prism. But I do like what they do football-wise, I like their concept. young players, signing them, making them better – polishing diamonds if you like. And then eventually cashing in on the diamond, that is what they do, and then rinsing and repeating.

Exclusive: 101 speaks to commentator Derek Rae on the Bundesliga, FIFA’s commentary process and the Red Bull project’s perception

Leipzig’s players celebrate their win at the end of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Leipzig and Atletico Madrid at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon on August 13, 2020. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LLUIS GENE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Salzburg are part of that same setup but obviously, in Germany we cannot use that same prefix for legal reasons. But, again, I see both sides of the argument. I see why they are seen as the antithesis of what a German football club should be, but on the other hand they have brought competition to the league and they have done it with an interesting football model.

What I would say is that I would not be happy if every club decided that this would be the model to use. I am a German football traditionalist at heart and we will monitor with a good deal of interest Salzburg in Austria and Leipzig in Germany.”

You’ve also now been made the main English-speaking commentator for the FIFA game series. Firstly, how did you get into the video game industry and is it what you expected to be?

“Well I have been associated with EA Sports FIFA since the FIFA 19 game. I was approached not long after leaving the UK to come back to live in the US. I was approached by EA Sports and asked if I was interested in being the voice of the UEFA Champions League because they knew my work on the UCL for a number of years around the world and thought it would be a good fit for the game.

Was it what I expected? In some respects yes. I visualised it, you never expect to be invited because it is such an iconic game and it is a great honour to be invited, to be part of it. What I would say about it is that it is a collaboration between commentator, producer, soundman and co-commentator, we all have our own input into it but we work as a team. So that is how it started with FIFA 19.

I couldn’t say anything about it when I was first approached because contractually nothing had been done. It was just a vague idea and then we began recording. I couldn’t tell anyone until June of 2018 before I was heading out to the World Cup in Russia and that’s when the official announcement came out.

Now I have been associated through 19, 20 and 21. My job has been the same for the last two years, it has been the same content, just refining the content. As I say, I love it, I love the creative side of it. I love how we all work together and come up with ideas and then it is intriguing to see the finished product put together. I would really want to pay tribute to everyone behind the scenes at EA Sports, most of whom the players won’t know, who spend hours and hours every day making sure everything is buttoned up in the different aspects of the game. I see myself as one member of a really dynamic team.”

Whilst recording the audio files for the game, did you invent any of your own or were they all scripted from the game writers?

“As I said it is a collaboration and ultimately EA Sports want me to sound like me. And that means lines that are organic to me and lines I would say intuitively during a game. Now of course it is a video game and we have to come up with different ways of saying things to suit the situation. So normally it is an idea that comes from a production team and then it is up to me to then flesh out that idea. To, as I say, make it my words. 

They will give me the scenario. Perhaps it is a shot that has just gone over the bar and it is up to me to make that come to life in a way that I would do normally in the course of a match. So that is how it works, the commentator has a lot of input but we do work as a team and the producer might change one or two things. Ultimately the production team has the control as to what goes into the game and what doesn’t.

It is a little bit like how I imagine a musician goes through when creating an album. You try different takes of everything and you see what works and sometimes only in the review session afterwards do you have it cemented in your mind that ‘this’ works better than ‘that.’ But we work really hard on it and I love the creative aspect of it as that is how I am as a broadcaster. Working as part of a team and in collaboration like this.”

Has the experience led you to consider branching out to any further industries using the experience you’ve built up throughout your career?

“Well I do enjoy new projects and that was one of the attractions about coming back here to the USA in 2017. I had been in the UK for nearly a decade with ESPN and BT Sport. And I just decided that I wanted to work on particular projects that interested me so the Bundesliga continuing with them and the world feed. NBC on their Premier League has been another, the World Cup with FOX again a new project. Then of course the biggest one for me, the EA Sports FIFA game.

I am a linguist, I live the languages side of life so I am always interested in new projects. But at the moment I am bouncing between many of the projects mentioned and we’ll see what happens. During the pandemic, things have changed with how we do things, but we’re still here and on we go…”

101 would like to thank Derek Rae for the time taken to answer the questions and wish him all the best with all future projects.

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This article was edited by Josh Barker.

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