JJ is Claret and Blue through and through
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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 said. “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.
American businessman Todd Boehly and his consortium acquired Chelsea last May, while Creed actor Michael B Jordan became part-owner of Bournemouth after Bill Foley’s December 2022 takeover.
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.”
The 34-year-old, who retired from playing last year, has been in Lancashire this week to enjoy Burnley’s final game of the season and take part in Tuesday’s trophy parade after he and his wife Kealia, a former United States international, became investors in the club.
Watt has previously said he was a Chelsea fan but that is in the past for the three-time NFL defensive player of the year.
“I’m a massive football fan and I’ve been looking for the right opportunity for a long time,” Watt told the PA news agency.
“Burnley is a club that has been around since 1882, it’s got incredible support in a great town and I’m very much looking forward to helping create the vision that Alan (Pace, chairman) and Vincent (Kompany, manager) have for the club.
“With a club like Chelsea if I got involved, I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t have any impact in what is a $6billion club.
"But if you come to a club like Burnley you have the chance to make a difference, the chance to make an impact.
While the Premier League is now awash with investment from around the world, most of that is channelled into the big six clubs or those in London. Turf Moor is a long way from the more glamorous image of the top flight, but Watt, who grew up in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, said that appealed to him.
“I’m from a small town in Wisconsin and I grew up watching the Green Bay Packers,” said Watt, who spent 10 seasons with the Houston Texans and two with the Arizona Cardinals.
“Every bit of evidence says Green Bay is not a big town and there’s no reason for them to be great but I think that something special can happen in a small town, especially when you have a manager like Vincent Kompany and a chairman like Alan Pace, and supporters like we have here.”
Having taken some inspiration from the impact Hollywood owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have had at Wrexham, just promoted to League Two, Watt said he wanted to take Burnley global.
“I’m going to be helping to increase the global brand,” Watt said.