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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Morgan Schneiderlin Never Had a Chance

Morgan Schneiderlin’s Manchester United tenure came to an early end when he went to the place where many United stars go when their careers don’t turn out the way they had hoped. On Thursday, the French midfield maestro joined Everton in a £20 million deal (potentially rising to £24 million). But did he ever really have a chance at Old Trafford?

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UFC at MSG

“It was very, very, very, very, very hard,” Dana White said when asked about how long it took for the UFC to get into New York. “It took a very long time – longer than it should have.”

Too bad I’m not still living in New York. It would have been nice to see the show if, for other reason, than to bring things full circle. That and seeing Conor McGregor in action.

New York Lifts Ban on MMA Events

Well, New York state has finally legalized professional mixed martial art events. The big news came yesterday, as the state assembly, where many prior bills have gone to die, finally passed it by an overwhelming majority. Without long-time opponent Sheldon Silver around to stop the bill from reaching the floor, the bill easily passed with bipartisan support.

… And only six years after I wrote my master’s thesis on the battle to lift the MMA ban in the state. Can’t say I didn’t get some mileage out of the whole thing:

Some fighting to legalize mixed martial arts in NY.

Suit Challenges Ban on Mixed Marts.

Judge Narrows Challenge to Ban on Mixed Martial Arts.

Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery While Watching Manchester United Matches

“De Gea passes to Smalling, over to Fellaini, he gives it to Carrick, back to De Gea, over to Schweinsteiger, who holds it… holds it…. holds it…”

Seriously, this Simpsons clip essentially illustrates the divide between the vast majority of the soccer world and Louis van Gaal. While everyone else (including United’s biggest corporate sponsor) sees a boring, impotent team that can’t break down a third-division team at home, van Gaal sees his philosophy at work.”We can improve but how many chances have Sheffield United created? Nobody is talking about that,” he said after the game, a 1-0 victory for United after a stoppage-time penalty gave the team its best scoring chance of the day. Maybe the reason why no one is talking about it is because United shouldn’t be giving up any chances to a team 47 places below it in the English football standings. But hey, how about those possession stats? 71 percent! That’s a C- at most schools. A much higher grade than United deserved for its poor showing against Sheffield.

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“A Season in the Red”: How David Moyes Beat Himself Before Chelsea, Everton, Man City, Liverpool (and a Ton of Other Teams) Did

“He is a modest man who has a lot to be modest about,” Winston Churchill reportedly said about political rival Clement Attlee. Of course, Attlee got the last laugh, defeating Churchill in the 1945 parliamentary elections, but the (possibly apocryphal) put-down lives on in political lore.

Churchill’s quip was on my mind as I read A Season in the Red, by the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson. The book, which was released this month in the United States, chronicles all of the various missteps and mishaps from David Moyes’s disastrous 10-month stint at Old Trafford. The book, which covers both Moyes’s ill-fated tenure, as well as the first year of Louis van Gaal’s reign, is written primarily from the perspective of the press corp covering the team during that tumultuous two-year period following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

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