Exclusive: 101 talks to commentator Derek Ray about the Bundesliga, the FIFA comment process and the perception of the Red Bull project

Football - FA Cup - Third Round - Birmingham City - Wolverhampton Wanderers - ESPN St. Andrews commentator Derek Ray at the pitch before the match (photo by Mike Egerton - PA images via Getty Images)

Derek Ray are the words behind the Bundesliga commentary for ESPN among other media and the English language commentator alongside Lee Dixon for the EA Sports FIFA video game series.

101 talked to Ray about the Bundesliga and FIFA. Dealing with misconceptions in the German league, some key summer transfer stories and controversy surrounding the Red Bull project. We'll also delve into the ins and outs of Rey's involvement in EA Sports' video game FIFA. How comments are recorded and what a huge collaborative effort goes on behind the scenes.

First, having worked with the Bundesliga for quite some time, how would you rate the league in the European rankings? Many people see it as a single team league, but is it gradually becoming something more?

“The Bundesliga is my favorite league. This goes back a long time to my childhood combined with the study of German. I think it remains one of the top leagues in the world.

As for the “league of one team”, this has been the case in recent years. Bayern have won the title 8 years in a row, but like any other league, the Bundesliga has its stories, so it's not just about who wins the league. Let's not forget that in recent years there have been several close finishes. Not the case for Bayern to run away with her every season.

Sometimes we think it is when we listen to people who don't cover the Bundesliga. But you have some of the best teams in Europe in the Bundesliga. Just look at what Leipzig did in the Champions League last season and what Borussia Dortmund are capable of. Similarly, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Exclusive: 101 talks to commentator Derek Ray about the Bundesliga, the FIFA comment process and the perception of the Red Bull project

Bayern Munich's French striker Kingsley Coman (right) celebrates scoring the first 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 we should also talk about tradition, which is an integral part of the league's appeal. If you become a fan of a Bundesliga club, it will stay with you forever. In a way, I think that is not the case in other leagues, there is nothing fake in the Bundesliga. It is very reliable, teams, clubs work on this basis. For the most part, they have a say in the management of their own football club, which is not the case in many other leagues.

I think his overall appeal is something we should look at as well as the style of football. It's dynamic, young, young players get a chance, of course, compared to other leagues. I think you need to look at the whole package to understand it and not just judge it based on one team winning it over a few years.”

The transfer of British talent to the Bundesliga is becoming more and more common. What benefits do you think this gives players who move from the UK to Germany?

“I think it's a very positive development and I think it took the English players a long time to figure it out. But now they understand that if an invitation comes from a Bundesliga club, it will do nothing but benefit the development of this player. So they will get a chance at a young age, and that doesn't happen in the Premier League.

They will learn from the best coaches in the world and when you look at those two factors you will see that they will play week after week if they are good enough and not sitting on the bench. Then they will live to be twenty years old, like Jadon Sancho is now, and become better and more complete players.

I also think that from a worldly point of view, it is a great advantage to go and experience another culture at a young age. This makes you look rounder. I think about it all together and in such a short career that everything counts, there is no better school for a young talented footballer than the German school.”

What do you think of the situation with Jadon Sancho in regards to The Summer Saga and where do you see his future?

“Well, in many ways it was the longest-running soap opera ever. Was he going to leave Dortmund for Manchester United or would he stay? Now we know that he is still in Dortmund. I don't think he will be there for long, but we have to see what he has achieved. What did he learn there?

Exclusive: 101 talks to commentator Derek Ray about the Bundesliga, the FIFA comment process and the perception of the Red Bull project

Dortmund's English midfielder Jadon Sancho celebrates a goal during the German Bundesliga First Division BVB Borussia Dortmund football match against Eintracht Frankfurt, in Dortmund, western Germany on February 14, 2020 (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP) / RESTRICTIONS: DFL REGULATIONS AS IMAGE SEQUENCES AND/OR QUASI-VIDEO (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

I don’t think he would have become such a player if he hadn’t spent years there. A job under Lucien Favre, a job that challenged him and made him better tactically in addition to simple talent. But I would be surprised if he doesn't go to England soon."

How do you feel about the Red Bull model in terms of club ownership as well as their relentless production of brilliant young talent?

“As you know, the German model is very important. The 50+1 rule is very close to the hearts of most German football fans and that is why when we talk about Leipzig in particular they are polarizing. I don't agree with this. I absolutely understand what they did from a football point of view. They have greatly enriched Germany's football perspective. But they did it in a somewhat controversial way.

They did this by somewhat circumventing the 50+1 rule. From an English point of view it may not be so controversial, but of course, as a German team, we have to look at them through this prism. But I like what they do in terms of football, I like their concept. young players, signing them, making them better - polishing diamonds, if you want. And then eventually they cash in on the diamond, that's what they do, and then they wash and repeat.

Exclusive: 101 talks to commentator Derek Ray about the Bundesliga, the FIFA comment process and the perception of the Red Bull project

Leipzig players celebrate after winning the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Leipzig and Atlético Madrid at the José Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon on August 13, 2020. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/POOL/AFP) (Photo by LLUIS GENE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Salzburg is part of the same system, but apparently in Germany we cannot use the same prefix for legal reasons. But again, I see both sides of the argument. I understand why they are seen as the exact opposite of what a German football club should be, but on the other hand they brought competition to the league and did so 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 follow Salzburg in Austria and Leipzig in Germany with great interest.”

You have also become the chief English speaking commentator for the FIFA series. First, how did you get into the video game industry and what do you expect from it?

“Well, I have been involved with EA Sports FIFA since playing FIFA 19. Shortly after leaving the UK, I was approached with a request to return to 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 of my work on UCL for a number of years around the world and thought it would be a good fit for the game.

Did I expect this? In a sense, yes. I visualized it, you never expect to be invited because it's such an iconic game and I'm honored to be invited, to be a part of it. What I would say about it is that it's a collaboration between a commentator, a producer, a sound engineer and a co-commentator, we all have our input on it, but we work as a team. That's how it all started with FIFA 19.

I couldn't say anything about it when I was first approached because nothing was done under the contract. It was just a vague idea and then we started recording. I couldn't say anything to anyone until June 2018 before I went to the World Cup in Russia and then the official announcement was made.

Now I've been connected through 19, 20 and 21. My work has been the same the last two years, it was the same content, just a refinement of the content. Like I said, 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's interesting to see how the finished product comes together. I really would like to pay tribute to everyone behind the scenes at EA Sports, most of which the players don't know, who spend hours every day making sure everything is organized in various aspects of the game. I consider myself a member of a really dynamic team.”

While recording the audio files for the game, did you invent any of your own, or were they all scripted by the game's authors?

“Like I said, this is a collaboration and ultimately EA Sports wants me to be like me. And that means lines feel natural to me, and lines that I would say intuitively while playing. Of course, this is a video game and we have to come up with different ways of saying things depending on the situation. So it's usually an idea that comes from the production team and then I have to flesh out that idea. To, as I say, do it with my words.

They will give me the script. Maybe it's a shot that just went over the bar and I have to play it the way I would normally during a match. Here's how it works: the commentator is a big contributor, but we work as a team and the producer can change one or two things. Ultimately, the production team has control over what goes into the game and what doesn't.

It's a bit like what a musician goes through when making an album. You try different things and see what works, and sometimes it's only during a repeat session that you firmly believe that "this" works better than "this". But we work very hard on it, and I like the creative aspect of it, because that's who I am as a TV presenter. We work as part of a team and in such collaboration.”

Did this experience lead you to consider moving into other industries using the experience you have gained throughout your career?

“Well, I love new projects and that was one of the highlights of my return to the US in 2017. I have been in the UK for almost ten years with ESPN and BT Sport. And I just decided that I wanted to work on specific projects that interested me, so that the Bundesliga would continue to work with them, and the whole world would be fed. NBC on their Premier League was different, the World Championship with FOX is again a new project. Then, of course, the biggest game for me is EA Sports FIFA.

I am a linguist, I live the language side of life, so I am always interested in new projects. But now I'm switching between many of the projects mentioned and we'll see what happens. A lot has changed in the way we operate during the pandemic, but we are still here and we keep going…”

101 thanks Derek Ray for taking the time to answer questions and wishes him all the best in all future projects.

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