Buying High

The World Cup can be unpredictable, but there are always a few guarantees.

Expect a worldwide drop in workplace productivity (including technological innovations designed to hide your time-wasting from your boss).

Your World Cup pool will include casual fans who will pick Brazil to win simply because they remember seeing Pele or Ronaldo play once. Or Argentina and Maradona/Messi.

Finally, there will be several players who parlay an impressive performance at the tournament into a big-money transfer to a top club.

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Ronaldo: Pressing is For Sandwiches and Suits.

UPDATE (11/22/2022): Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United by mutual consent. According to reports, Ronaldo will forfeit the estimated £16 million left on his deal in order to leave the club immediately. Guess the World Cup will be even more important to him than we initially thought.

On the one hand, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t make any major revelations in his recent interview/therapy session/bridge burning with friend and sycophant Piers Morgan.

We’ve known that the Glazers don’t care about the team and only see them as a marketing cash cow. We’ve known that United are stuck in the past (Zlatan Ibrahimovic said the same thing) and that the club’s facilities and infrastructure are in desperate need of upgrades (a process that finally started over the summer). We’ve known that he almost went to Man City last summer and that it took a last minute intervention from Sir Alex Ferguson to change his mind (although, for the record, City put out a statement a couple of days ago denying this).

What we didn’t know was just how much contempt he had for Ralf Rangnick, Erik ten Hag, and modern managers and tactics. In that vein, it’s not only clear that his homecoming was never going to work out, but that, in many ways, Ronaldo is stuck in the past every bit as much as United are.

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A Star is Born?

Plenty of wunderkinds have graced the Manchester United roster over the years, tantalizing the fans with their talent and raising hopes for the future.

Some don’t pan out (Kiko Macheda, Adnan Januzaj, Darron Gibson, James Wilson, Ravel Morrison, Andreas Pereira, to name a few). Some thrive elsewhere (Giuseppe Rossi, Gerard Piqué, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck, Joshua King, Michael Keane). Some end up becoming superstars and important first-teamers (“The Class of 1992,” Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba).

On Sunday, the latest United starlet announced his arrival in a big way.

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All Part of the Plan?

In many ways, the just-completed transfer window was a sort of Greatest Hits complication of Manchester United’s mistakes from previous ones. So Greatest Misses, then?

For instance, there was the long, drawn-out and ultimately fruitless pursuit of a Barcelona midfielder who didn’t seem interested in leaving the Camp Nou.

There was the decision not to spend a reasonable amount of money to buy a player from the manager’s previous team, only to then get desperate, come back late in the transfer window and be forced to pay a premium.

There was the panic purchase of a top-class player who has won big trophies and could yet come good at United but probably isn’t a fit for their style of play.

And, of course, there was a transfer bid that seemed more like a late April Fools prank than a genuine deal.

The only thing that was missing was a group of shady intermediaries turning up at a team’s doorstep claiming to represent United only to be disavowed by the team. But then again, this window had a player’s mom scupper a move over wage demands, so there’s that.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about what United ended up doing in the transfer window — costs be damned.

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#Pogbye

In 2016, when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United in a then-world record deal, they coined the hashtag “#Pogback”to mark the occasion. United, Pogba’s social media team and sponsor Adidas even worked together on a slick promo video featuring UK rapper Stormzy that was designed to get tons of views and likes.

It was a rollout fit for a king — and appropriate, given how important social media has become in the marketing world (to say nothing of how much elite athletes like Pogba have come to rely on it).

It also underscored just big a statement of intent this was from United. That summer, the team also brought in goal machine Zlatan Ibrahimovic, defensive stalwart Eric Bailly, exciting winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan and hired serial winner Jose Mourinho. Together, this quintet helped deliver the League Cup and the Europa League during their first year together. Surely, more trophies, to say nothing of the league title, would be coming, right?

It’s been five trophyless seasons since then, and on Wednesday, United cut ties with one of the last remaining members of that trio (Bailly is the only one left, and he could be leaving this summer, too). This time, they went the complete opposite route, releasing a written statement announcing Pogba’s impending departure that was devoid of any hashtags.

In other words, United #Pogbade him farewell without resorting to cheap social media tactics. Maybe an anti-climatic statement was appropriate, given how long his departure had been a fait accompli. Pogba had never really settled back in and he and his late agent, Mino Raiola, had constantly #Pogbatted their eyelashes at other teams, especially Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and, most unforgivably, Man City. When Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over, Pogba seemed happy with his expanded role and even expressed interest in re-signing in 2020. However, the board chose not to engage at the time, and when they finally did offer him a new contract, he #Pogbalked. The club’s current situation made his departure a no-#Pogbrainer.

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To Tell The Truth

Ralf Rangnick’s spell as interim manager was a failure.

His tenure in the Manchester United dugout finally came to an end on Sunday after yet another listless effort — this time, losing at Crystal Palace 1-0 in a stadium where they had never lost a Premier League match. A season that began with so much promise and genuine excitement, had turned into such a nightmare that most people just wanted it to end, consequences be damned. That United managed to back into a Europa League place thanks to West Ham losing summed things up pretty well.

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Farewell To The Special Juan

Monday’s 3-0 victory over Brentford at Old Trafford was all about saying farewell. A farewell to this nightmare of a season. And, specifically, a farewell to outgoing players Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani, and Phil Jones, each of whom received a warm ovation from the fans. They’ll be joined at the exit ramp by at least three players who didn’t play: Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and most likely Eric Bailly.

It will be a long overdue housecleaning for United, which has lacked a coherent, consistent identity on the pitch and in the transfer market over the last eight years — a period that began when Mata helicoptered into Carrington looking like a cross between James Bond and a guy who sells bonds.

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It’s The Hope That Kills You

There’s been a familiar pattern at Manchester United, as of late.

United win a couple of matches, and everything is hunky-dory. Ralf Rangnick is a great manager who’s making his mark and could even get the job on a permanent basis.

They lose or draw a couple, and the buzzards start flying overhead. Suddenly, Rangnick is in over his head, and players are questioning his tactics and training sessions (because heaven forbid they start later in the day or work on basic things like team shape and organization). ESPN even reported that the players have started derisively referring to American-born assistant Chris Armas as “Ted Lasso,” after the titular character in the popular Apple+ series starring Jason Sudeikis as a clueless Yankee manager who somehow manages to land a job coaching an English football team.

You know what? United would be lucky to have Ted Lasso right now.

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Career Killers: The Super Bowl Halftime Show

If you go by the Nielsen ratings (which measures households), 19 of the 30 highest-rated programs in United States history are Super Bowls. If you look at average viewership, then the big game accounts for 28 of the top 30.

Either way you slice it, the Super Bowl is a proven ratings draw that provides a massive stage for players, performers and ad buyers.

As such, it’s no wonder that the Super Bowl halftime performance slot has become a highly sought-after gig for many musical acts.

When done right, the show can transcend the game and become an indelible part of the zeitgeist. In 2002, for instance, U2 gave a moving performance memorializing the people who lost their lives in the September 11 attacks and helped provide a moment of healing for a nation still in mourning. Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Madonna and Beyoncé reaffirmed their status as superstars while younger contemporaries like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars made a case for themselves to join their ranks.

When done wrong, however, the show can kill off an artist’s career. After all, it’s one thing to have a bad night, but to do so with the whole world watching?

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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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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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