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HAIL! GFOP

I type with fingers that are both exhausted yet energized. We are closing the year with a frenzy of tapings guaranteed to ruin your holiday period. In truth, they are so bloody good, but our tiny team is totally underwater in edits. Right now, we are feeling all of the emotions. First up, the 87th annual John Oliver Holiday Special on Monday night. What a bloke John Oliver is. I admire his football fandom and the role of release and emotional connection the game facilitates in his life. More than that, I am consistently blown away by his ability to do what we do… but so much better!   

You all know someone like him. A human who does not do your job, but when he dabbles at it he is so much more talented than you could ever be, in a way that is staggering and awe-inspiring. I know Men In Blazers is Crap. What is hard to describe is just how hard we work to create that crap. Research. Writing. Pre-producing. More research. Every year, John just strolls into our studio (or, in times of pandemic, onto our Zoom) and effortlessly delivers insight after insight, running the gamut from humor to wisdom to pure footballing analysis. This year we cover all the bases: Jota, Big Virg, Insta Jose, Pulisic’s Beard, the wonder of Marcus Rashford, Adam Driver’s football fandom, and winning an Emmy in a Liverpool hoodie.  


2. Men In Blazers makes a Dark World even Darker

i. John Oliver Holiday Special THIS MONDAY Dec. 21 at 5.30 PM ET on NBCSN. 
 
ii. Arsene Wenger Special Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 5.30 PM ET on NBCSN. Arsenal fans. This one is for you. Arsene comes in hot, ready to talk about birth, death, love, fear, and every other major philosophical question ever posed. We also talk about zippers and his inability to master them. A slice of magic. 
 
iii. Our Preview of this weekend’s big games is available HERE. Thanks to the mighty DraftKings for their partnership which has allowed us to grow our coverage. They are the Best King since B.B. Access its Sportsbook here. For a limited time, all new users can get a sign-up bonus up to $1,000. Just enter code MIB when you sign up.
 
iv. Pod with Davo was genuinely lovely this week.
 
v. Wednesday's TV Show with this tribute to Mike Dean is available on P’Cock. The amazing Jordan Pickford-Bob Costa double act was an honor and a privilege. 
 
vi. Taping our weekend preview WGFOP: The Bald this morning. Call in your questions (646) 450-9472. 
 
vii. One final Newsletter of the Year on MONDAY which will include Best Books of the Year. If you enjoy this newsletter please share it with your friends and ask them to subscribe HERE.


3. To the Football

i. Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool (Saturday 7.30 AM ET NBCSN)

Brutal early kick-off for Jurgen Klopp after a midweek game. I would not want to be the man interviewing him post-game. Excellent piece by Jonathan Wilson on Mourinho smelling weakness in Klopp despite defeat.

Good news for Liverpool? Thiago coming.

ii. Southampton v Manchester City (Saturday 10 AM ET NBCSN)

Aguero Back. First time in a little over six years that Southampton will go into a fixture against Manchester City above their opponents in the table. Here is what Ralph Hasenhuttl has done to turn the Saints into stealth European contenders.

iii. Everton v Arsenal (Saturday 12.30 PM ET NBCSN)

Theo Walcott’s spirit will fly around Goodison Park in a game with wheels within wheels storylines. Mikel Arteta returns to the ground at which he salvaged his career as a player, hoping it will do the same for his managerial aspirations. Everton lack James and Allan. Alex Iwobi will hope he can become the latest Arsenal discard to hurt the club which spurned him. These two teams are essentially cut from the same cloth.  Arsenal versus Arsenal of the North. Clubs built of passionate dreams and shattered hope. Whatever the score, masochism will be the only winner.

Guillem Ballague attempts to build a case for calm Arsenal fans. A gear you are not used to using.

iv. Tottenham v Leicester City (Sunday 9.15 AM ET NBCSN)

Both clubs arrive with wounded pride after defeats against Merseyside’s Twin Powers. Mourinho has the most scintillating attacking duo in the Premier League. When you watch them, you wonder one thing: Why does he not use them more?  Leicester are a team made in Brodge’s image: Devilishly handsome and with obscenely white teeth. The match may revolve around James Maddison’s ability to unlock the Spurs rearguard.

b. I enjoyed this piece: What does a Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg do? BBC explain, “At Bayern Munich, Guardiola ‘fell in love’ with teenage Hojbjerg after a couple of training sessions because he ‘reads the game brilliantly and has an astonishing ability to break through five players with a single pass,’ adding that Guardiola felt he had found the ‘[Sergio] Busquets of Bayern’”.

Must Watch: Tim Sherwood with the Most Freezing Cold Take of Freezing Cold Takes

v. Manchester United v Leeds United (Sunday 11.30 AM ET NBCSN)

A game with a “little bit” of History. Know the backstory here.
 
vi. Chelsea v West Ham (Monday 3 PM ET NBCSN)

Interesting piece on Pulisic and his injuries and how Chelsea win more games without him. Frank Lampard described Christian Pulisic as a 'work in progress' amid annoying injury issues but the fit-again American winger has the class to shine amid manic festive schedule.


4. WoSo

i. Arsenal in danger of falling behind as the Women’s Game evolves: “Arsenal have picked up one point from a possible nine against top-four rivals and lost to Manchester City and Chelsea in the FA Cup and League Cup respectively. They sit four points off the leaders, Manchester United, going into Sunday’s game at home to Everton and have not beaten a title rival since October 2019.”

ii. How Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis have ratcheted up Manchester City’s confidence. 
 
iii. Game of the Weekend: Arsenal v Everton (Sunday 7.30 AM ET on Atafootball.com (free))
 
 
5. FIFA Awards!!!
 
i. How Robert Lewandowski -- who scored 55 goals and won the treble last season -- faced adversity in journey to top. In one word: Tenacity. 

ii. Lucy Bronze wins The Best Women's Player of 2020. Pep needs her. 
 
iii. Alphonso Davies becomes first North American named to FIFA Best Men's World. This should be bigger news. Incredible story. Incredible achievement. Incredible human being. 
 
Our Pod with Phonsie, which is one of my favorite interviews of the year.
 
iv. Tottenham’s Sonny won the Puskas award for Goal of the Year. I had the honor and the delight to spend time breaking down the move down with him. It is worth watching, partially in case you ever find yourself surrounded by four Burnley defenders, and partially because Sonny is such a remarkable mix of the transcendent and the humble. 
 
b. I also loved this Tottenham piece of content in which they focus on the genius of Vertonghen, who made the assist.


6. A Brand We Love: Icons

What Holiday gift can you get for the football fan in your life that has already purchased this year’s home, away, and alternate jersey? Icons is a veritable house of treasures that can transport you to the pitch next to all of the greats. Jerseys and memorabilia signed by all the greats. Not just Messi and Maradona, but Thierry Henry, KDB, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Trent Alexander Arnold and more. Finished Basements cry out for this stuff. I have just hung a signed Messi jersey, a Carli Lloyd 2015, and an Everton 1984 FA Cup Final winners jersey in mine.  

Get 10% off your purchase! Go to ICONS.com and enter code “MIB10.”

For more… watch this video!


7. More Football, Did Ya Say?

i. Jonathan Wilson on the Evolution of modern striker and why it may be easier to score coming off the wing than playing centrally. “Over the past decade, the notion the centre-forward’s role may be just as much about creating space for others as for scoring himself has become an orthodoxy.” 

ii. Premier League Players to continue taking a knee. "This powerful symbol of solidarity represents the players' commitment to anti-racism… It is a peaceful act of unity that highlights a persistent and systemic issue."

iii. Our mate Wayne Rooney's son Kai (who looks older than Billy Gilmour) signs for Manchester United. Product of the American Youth Development. Winking emoji. 

iv. Premier League approves permanent concussion substitutes. 

v. Everton fans. Check out these “Beers of Goodison” beer mats. I could not love them more.

vi. Piece on the Dortmund coaching change which will affect our dear Gio Reyna.

vii. West Brom and Allardyce. A marriage made in heaven. A team in 19th hires a manager who has never been relegated in his career. Jonathan Liew describes the welcoming return of our lumbering hero: “Allardyce has been out of football for two years, which as he admits is his longest career break since he left school at 15. Has he changed? Has the world changed? Do the old truths still apply in a new landscape? In a game that has never felt more adrift, more bereft of simple hope and simple joy, crying out for a meaning and a purpose, is Allardyce really the man to supply it? 

viii. Suddenly, New York has become one of world football’s greatest youth development hotbeds.


8. Non-Football and all the more Magnifico because of that.

i. I really enjoyed John Le Carré’s two Fresh Air appearances with Terry Gross from 1989 and 2017. You can really feel the measure of the man.  What a life. What a legacy. So much human wisdom.

b. Seven Le Carre Books to Read, as per the New York Times.

ii. First and foremost, God Bless Tom Cruise.
 
iii. Important bird news of the week: Helmeted Hornbills are very picky about their nests. 
 
iv. Only thing better than a great book is a Great Book Heist. @Clooney believe we've just found the plot of Ocean's 14.
 
v. The UK is getting its cities cycling. Can't wait to see Moyesey on an antique French bike.
 
vi. Unbelievable story. Armed with a handgun, a fake ID card and disguises, Miriam Rodríguez was a one-woman detective squad, defying a system where criminal impunity often prevails.
 
vii. In praise of some unseen essential workers I guarantee you haven't been clapping for. Fruit Flies Are Essential to Science. So Are the People Who Keep Them Alive.
 
viii. The Purest Irish Accents outside of Ireland are to be found here.
 
ix. Looking for a positive spin? Tell people this is your Year of Ambitious TV Watching.
 
x. David Hockney is alive and well and painting in Normandy. Worth a read just for the lovely new Hockney drawings inside. 
 
xi. Songs that have propelled me through this week:

Men I Trust - Tailwhip 
Harris - Sheena is a Bush Doofer
Kid Cudi ft. Phoebe Bridgers - Lovin Me’


That is it for today. One last request: Take a minute to watch this short clip of an interview with Marcus Rashford and his mother Mel. Marcus is, for me, the story of the season, picking up the mantle of the issue of child poverty and hunger and campaigning on it in an authentic, powerful, consistent, dedicated fashion. Every goal of his seems like a reward for human goodness, leadership and kindness. I revere how he has pioneered a new model of Premier League footballer. That of sporting hero turned statesman, using their platform as a force of good.  

There is so much wisdom in this video. Marcus says, “All the struggles and sacrifices. I don’t see it as a weakness because I think in sports you have to have to something to drive you… When you come from a place of struggle and pain it switches and becomes your drive and motivation.”  

I think the secret to overcoming 2020 lies in here for many of us.  

To better days ahead for all of you. To life. To love. To strength. To making memories through football.
 
Courage, 
Rog: @rogbennett 

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly

Please Consider Supporting: 
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NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Equal Justice Initiative
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“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”

Philip Larkin
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