Welcome Ralf

After Manchester United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjær, there were all sorts of rumors flying around linking the club to the best managers available (or not available— at least not until the end of the season).

Brendan Rodgers was supposedly house-hunting in Cheshire. Zinedine Zidane was, reportedly, the choice of the Glazers. Or maybe it was Mauricio Pochettino, who United supposedly made a play for but were turned down. Or Luis Enrique of the Spanish National Team, who laughed off reports linking him to the job. Or fellow Barca alum Ernesto Valverde, who reportedly met with United brass. Or United legend Steve Bruce.

Ok, it was never going to be Steve Bruce.

But one name stood out: Ralf Rangnick. (Or as my wife calls him, “Ralf Ragnarok.”)

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Asleep at the Wheel

Never let it be said that Ole Gunnar Solskjær wasn’t the ultimate company man.

When Manchester United finally decided to sack him as manager after a series of humiliating losses and poor performances but didn’t want to use that terminology, Solskjær went along with the charade and said that he was “stepping aside.” He even gave an exit interview with ManUtd.com that was full of platitudes and niceties. He even managed, with a straight face, to deliver lines like “It was time for me to step aside” and “I’m going to leave by the front door” even though everyone knows he’s being shoved aside (and deservedly so, but that doesn’t mean he should have to swallow his pride or continuing taking one for the team on the way out). I can only imagine what Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho would have said to that. Probably a two word phrase that starts with the letter “f” and ends with the word “off.”

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Something for Ole to Think About?

There was plenty to talk about after Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle United.

Cristiano Ronaldo made his much-anticipated homecoming and bagged a match-winning brace. Not to be outdone, Bruno Fernandes scored a beauty from outside the box that will get plenty of consideration for Premier League Goal of the Month. Paul Pogba continued his fine form, adding two assists to his ridiculous early-season tally of seven in four matches. On the other hand, the defense continued to look shaky as the decision not to buy a better holding midfielder could come back to bite them.

Then there was the guy who scored the fourth goal in the dying moments of the match…

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Return of the King

A lot can change in 24 hours. Just ask Jack Bauer.

Or Cristiano Ronaldo. On Thursday, it looked like he was ready to break the hearts of the faithful United fans who still sing his name and join Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. In doing so, he would be the eighth player to suit up for both United and City — and the third player from that vaunted 2007-2008 Champions League winning team to do so.

But then the United Network kicked in. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke to the player he’s long had a fatherly affection for and tried to get him to come home, something he thought he had accomplished in 2013 as his last act before retirement. Former teammates weighed in, with Rio Ferdinand calling to try and talk him out of joining City, Patrice Evra keeping tabs via WhatsApp and Wayne Rooney sending a message through the media. Even Bruno Fernandes reached out to his fellow Portuguese international and Sporting Lisbon alum to try and change his mind and sell him on an unlikely homecoming.

It worked.

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A Treble of Coins Commemorating Manchester United’s Greatest Accomplishment

You’d forgive Manchester United fans like yours truly for living in the past. These last six years have been painful – especially for those of us who came of age during the Sir Alex Ferguson era, when the club collected trophies the way I collect coins. From Ferguson’s appointment in 1986 to his retirement in 2013, United won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and two UEFA Champions League crowns.

His finest moment came twenty years ago, this week. United played Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final held at the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Both sides were chasing a historic treble, having won their respective leagues and primary league cups. Both sides were evenly matched and loaded with talented players, however United were slight underdogs heading into the match, owing to suspensions to team captain Roy Keane and playmaker Paul Scholes.

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The Manager Formerly Known as the Special One.

Manchester United sacked Mourinho on Tuesday morning before training began. Club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been named caretaker manager for the rest of the season, whereupon the club will appoint a permanent manager – maybe Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham, ex-Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, or Mourinho’s BFF Antonio Conte. Or maybe someone else. Who knows?

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Master of None

It’s probably fair to say that Daley Blind was kind of an afterthought when he was unveiled alongside Radamel Falcao on September 11, 2014. El Tigre had been one of the best strikers in Europe, and his arrival on a loan/option-to-buy deal generated real excitement among the United faithful. Blind, on the other hand, was a good player but hardly a marquee star. A £13.8 million signing from AFC Ajax, he was, seemingly, only bought because of his rapport and familiarity with then-Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.

Four years later, as Blind prepares to return to Ajax in a deal worth, potentially, £18.1 million, it’s fair to say that he contributed far more to United’s cause than either Falcao or Angel Di Maria, the other major acquisition in the summer of 2014. With three trophies to his name, as well as many instances of professionalism, heads-up play and selfless determination, he will always be remembered fondly by the United faithful.

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The Strongman Cometh.

The common refrain about Jose Mourinho teams is that the good ones always have a strong spine.

At Porto, he had a spine that comprised, mainly, of Vítor Baía, Ricardo Carvalho, Costinha, Deco, and Hélder Postiga. During his first go-around at Chelsea, he added Carvalho and Didier Drogba to the already-strong Petr Cech-John Terry-Claude Makélélé-Frank Lampard based spine he got from Claudio Raineri. At Inter, he inherited a fantastic defensive spine and added playmaker Wesley Sneijder and hitman Samuel Eto’o to provide the goals. His best Real Madrid team was held up by a spine that consisted of eventual nemeses Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, as well as Pepe, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Özil and Karim Benzema. The spine for his second Chelsea go-around (Thibaut Courtois, Terry, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa) was so strong that it helped power the team to another title win following Mourinho’s dismissal.

Now, with Matic’s defection to Old Trafford, Mourinho finally has the kind of spine that can rival those of his best teams.

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Exit Adnan

West Brom 5-5 Manchester United on the last day of the 2012-13 season was notable for several reasons. It was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge. It marked the only time that Romelu Lukaku ever scored against United, as the Chelsea loanee (and recent potential world record signee) bagged a hat trick as a substitute.

Perhaps the most important figure, however, was a baby-faced 18 year-old who looked out of place sitting at the grownup table. The West Brom match marked the first time that a young, promising Academy product named Adnan Januzaj was listed on the team sheet for a Premier League match. He didn’t get into the game, as West Brom’s comeback meant that there would be no opportunities for any debutantes. Nevertheless, his very presence on the bench was powerfully symbolic. Arriving at United via Anderlecht, the talented Belgian /Albanian /Kosovar represented the best of Ferguson’s youth policy and was one of the biggest reasons why David Moyes got the job over more established names like Jose Mourinho. After Januzaj was the lone bright spot during the traumatic 2013-2014 season, it seemed like he was well on his way to becoming a world class winger in the vein of Ryan Giggs, the legend whose number he inherited the following season.

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He Cost Us F—king Zero. He Gave Us Lots of Goals (and the League Cup).

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced that he had signed with Manchester United, I figured he’d be good for a few great goals, a bunch of arrogant quotes and, a whole lot of moments where he came up short, thereby confirming the long-held belief that he couldn’t play in England.

I was right about the first two things. As for the third thing, I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

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