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MIB is driven by a belief that Soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972.

Hail! GFOP

 
Goldfish are mythically meant to have a three-second memory. Premier League fans recall must be even shorter. Despite the fact last Monday’s epic clash for the ages between Liverpool and Manchester United flamed out into a turgid 0-0 draw, I am already salivating for Sunday’s Battle of the Bastards [11 a.m. ET on NBCSN] as Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge to take on the “Three Rats” of Chelsea with his new Mancunian mob. Whatever happens on the field, the spectacle is sure to be Bigly. Like Steve Spurrier’s return to the Swamp to face up to his beloved Florida with new arm candy, South Carolina.  

Zlatan, Rooney and, most notably, Social Media’s Paul Pogba have shown they can do it in the Europa League when facing some tractor machinists from Turkey. Can they do the same against Antonio Conte’s more physically robust Chelsea, rejuvenated after switching to a back three? They are Vic Moses’ Team now. Much will depend on what set of emotions run through Diego Costa’s head. He has netted a league leading seven goals. Yet if left in touching distance of a deadly weapon like a training bib, he might well implode like a malfunctioning host in Westworld. My prediction, 2-2, and a happy yet confused moment for Juan Mata.  

In other games, 💩 Guardiola will return from his Champions League humiliation at Barcelona hoping to put an end to his run of four games without a win against Stealth Form’s Southampton. Worth tuning in simply to watch Claudio Bravo, who insists on playing like an EA Sports FIFA Glitch made human. America’s Team, Swansea City, battle Watford in what is a “must not lose” for the heroic Man in Black, Bob Bradley, if he is to stay on track for that Knighthood. A combined four points from this weekend and next (a trip to Stoke), would be footballing Pepto-Bismol.  

We are on the road so very briefly next week… headed to Dallas, to glimpse the future of American soccer with Oscar Pareja and the remarkable youth development facility he has overseen there. If you are in Frisco, Texas, look out for me and producers JW and Lexi. We will be in town for less than six hours, but could not be more excited to experience Tree Capital USA. And The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW returns Monday, Oct. 31 at 6:30 p.m. ET for a special Halloween episode with Liverpool supporter Mike Myers. 

In Bob We Trust,
Rog @rogbennett

P.S. Mazeltov to GFOP Kyle Martino and his wife Eva, on the birth of new son Major James. We wish the entire family a lifetime of happiness and health and are relieved to have been told by Kyle the names are merely formal, and his new baby will answer to the nickname “Robbie.”

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @tannneal
 


I. Three Questions with The Times of London Chief Football Correspondent Oliver Kay

Oliver Kay is one of Britain’s preeminent football journalists. As chief football correspondent for The Times of London, Oliver finds himself at the undepletable coalface that is Premier League narrative. He is also the author of a remarkable new book, “Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty,” now available on Amazon HERE. In this edition of Three Questions, we ask Oliver about said book, Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge this weekend and how journalists in the UK evaluate Bob Bradley’s first game.

MiB: It is a Premier League drenched in narrative. Pep, Mourinho, Klopp, Conte …  and that’s just the managers. How have you experienced covering a season with so many storylines? And with so many options, how do you decide what you’re covering on a weekly basis?

OK: There are two parts to it. One is the build-up to the game. The other is the aftermath. The build-up will often focus on certain issues or context, which might be about the managers or a certain player or some particular tactical intrigue or something more historical. Then the match will take place and we will usually end up talking about something else entirely. You are certainly right to say that there’s a strong “narrative” surrounding the various managers, but what I have enjoyed this season, so far at least, a lot more of the analysis has been based on what those managers are trying to achieve football-wise than on their personalities (or our limited perception of their personalities). If it’s Mourinho v Guardiola, or Mourinho v Wenger, it’s not just “these guys loathe each other”. It’s also about two totally different philosophies.

MiB: This weekend. Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge. A game rich in previous. But one that could be wanting when it comes to the actual football. Does Mourinho take a pragmatic approach and try to shut this match down from the jump? Or will the temptation of beating his former club lure him to the shores of entertaining football?

OK: You can always expect a pragmatic, cautious approach from Mourinho. And let’s be clear about this, pragmatism has served him bloody well over the years. If I was judging the various managers on the quality of football their teams have served up so far this season, I don’t think Mourinho would be anywhere near the top; for the money they have spent, I haven’t been impressed by United so far. But, faced with a difficult ten-day period – Liverpool away, Fenerbahce at home, Chelsea away, Manchester City at home in the EFL Cup – he opted for a safety-first approach at Anfield on Monday night and it went pretty much to plan. (I’m sure he would have happily accepted a 0-0 draw beforehand.) I’m sure he would be happy to take a similar approach at Chelsea. On Wednesday night we saw his great rival Pep Guardiola take Manchester City to Camp Nou and try to take on Barcelona at their own game. That is the difference between them. I love Guardiola’s approach, but there are times when it looks naïve. You would never accuse Mourinho of naivety – other things, yes, but not naivety. He will always manage to his strengths – and the interesting part of his challenge at United is that it’s not yet a squad that seems particularly well suited to his approach. At Chelsea he was always very good at winning the big head-to-head matches against rival teams. He could do with a win on Sunday – they have only won four Premier League games out of eight so far, and only one of the past five. But would he settle for another draw if he was offered it now? Yes, I expect deep down he would. Antonio Conte might feel similar about Sunday, so I’m not expecting a free-flowing game.

MiB: Here in America we are all wanting to view Bob Bradley’s Swansea debut, a 3-2 loss at Arsenal, as one of grit and refusal to capitulate to superior talent. Understanding that we might be slightly biased. How is Bob’s start being viewed in the UK?

OK: There have been plenty of suggestions that he only got the chance to manage in the Premier League because an American owner picked him. I understand this talk has caused some upset in the States. But it is true, isn’t it? It’s fairly obvious and fairly natural that certain owners, without a great experience or in-depth knowledge of the game outside of America, look to what they know. Bob Bradley is one of those coaches whose work over many years has rightly put him on the radar of  European clubs, but if you’re wondering which Premier League clubs have thought about hiring him prior to Swansea, you’re looking at Aston Villa under Randy Lerner (another American) and very few others. That’s just the way it works. Roman Abramovich was probably the only owner who would have considered appointing his mate Avram Grant in succession to Jose Mourinho in 2007; Roland Duchatelet, at Charlton, is the only one who would have appointed a succession of unimpressive Belgian coaches; a great example is when Gary Neville got the Valencia job, appointed by one of his business partners. If people are saying there was a jobs-for-the-boys aspect to Bradley’s appointment, it’s nothing new. Where is that perception of an appointment, the manager in question needs to make a strong start. To come back to that earlier word “narrative”, Bradley needs to get a few good results on the board to ensure that the narrative surrounding him – in the dressing-room and on the terraces, not just in the media – is a positive one. It’s far too early to make an assessment of Bradley’s suitability at Swansea. There was some encouragement in defeat at Arsenal, but it’s fixtures like this next one, at home to Watford, that will shape his and Swansea’s prospects.

MiB: Your book, “Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius” is a fantastic read – the true story of a young Northern Irish football prospect who was on the verge of stardom at Manchester United. He was hailed as a teenage prodigy on a par with Ryan Giggs, but a knee injury cut his career short and by the age of 26 he was dead. In a Premier League that is ever more star-soaked, what made you want to devote your craft to this particular story?

OK: In short, I wrote this story because I was utterly captivated by it. From the first moment I stumbled upon the bare facts that you just mentioned, I found myself thinking: ‘How on earth has this story not been written before? Why do people not know this? Is there something sinister behind it? What is the real story?’ And having started off with those basic facts, which seemed captivating enough – the teenage prodigy who doesn’t make it, due to injury, and dies at the age of 26 – I embarked on this five-year journey to find out everything I could about him. And what I found out was that Adrian Doherty was this amazing, extraordinary, incredible individual who, despite having such incredible football talent, was the complete opposite of what you would expect a Manchester United footballer to be. People told him he was going to be the next George Best. He was more interested in being the next Bob Dylan. He wore second-hand clothes, spent his free afternoons writing songs and poetry and on Saturday afternoons, when his team-mates were at Old Trafford watching United’s first team, he would take his guitar into town and go busking. Even while he was still a footballer at United, he spent a summer in East Village, playing his music in bars and trying to get signed up for a record deal. One of his team-mates Sean McAuley, who now coaches at Portland Timbers in MLS, described him as someone who "played football like Ryan Giggs and played guitar like Bob Dylan." He was an amazing character with an extraordinary story and I’m still astonished, really, that it hadn’t been written until now.
 

Oliver Kay’s book "Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius" (published by Quercus) is out now. American readers can order HERE UK readers can order it here HERE. You can follow Oliver on Twitter and on Facebook.  


II. A GFOP In Haiti On Hurricane Matthew

Shortly after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti earlier this month, killing more than 1,000 people, we received THIS Tweet from GFOP Lexi Oudman, a teacher who volunteers for South Dakota-based Mission Haiti in Ti Rivière. The image shows her village’s football pitch swallowed up by floodwaters. As we’ve said so many times before: In times of tragedy, football is the most important, least important part of life. It is a tenet reinforced by Lexi’s tale, which she so kindly penned for us below.
 

Lexi Writes: Prior to Matthew, Ti Rivière’s soccer field was a gathering place for the community. People of all ages participated in and watched pickup games that kicked off underneath palm trees. A vast ocean on one side. A river on the other. Barefoot and seemingly unaware of the rocks under their feet, players tried to score between makeshift stick goalposts with a ball that wasn’t just under-inflated, but completely flat. When shots went astray, the younger spectators eagerly retrieved the ball, even if it meant jumping into the river. The games were often heated and always competitive.

Hurricane Matthew erased this daily ritual. The storm littered the field with additional rocks that make play impossible. And the river that lined the field now runs right through it. Palm trees lie broken and scattered across the pitch. Unfortunately, we can’t make the football pitch a priority right now. The focus is on alleviating hunger by distributing rice and beans to those in need. We’re also in the process of rebuilding homes and attempting to restore schools in the area. For more on Mission Haiti, you can click HERE.

Just days after the storm, I received a beautiful reminder that not even a hurricane could kill Haiti’s love of football. I was on a hike to assess damage when I saw a nine-year-old barefooted boy in front of the ruins of his house kicking around a coconut. Seeing him brought tears of joy and showed what a resilient people Haitians are. And that even in the face of tragedy, they are determined to restore some daily rituals.


III. This Week’s MiB Togga Fantasy Winner

“Defying Klinsmann” aka GFOP Dave Adams from Appleton, Wisconsin topped the Men in Blazers Togga Fantasy league last week with 212.25 points, almost 25 more than his nearest competitor. When we glimpsed his team to see how he amassed so many points on a weekend during which so many fantasy powerhouses laid eggs, we were in awe of his lineup, which included Billy Zane’s favorite Premier League player Jose Holebas (36.25 points), Joe Allen (29.5 points) and Junior Stanislas (46 points). This week, we spoke with Dave to ask two pressing questions.

1. Are you Jurgen Klinsmann?

Dave: I am Defying Klinsmann, but am not Jurgen himself.

B. How on earth did you choose that lineup?

Dave: I actually set the lineup two weeks ago and forgot about it over the international break. I didn't check my score until Sunday morning and saw I was in 10th. Then when Holebas scored I just laughed. I did read an article about Holebas that made me put him in, and thought that Joe Allen had looked motivated this year. No idea why I picked Stanislas or Lanzini.
 

A reminder to all GFOPs, it is not too late to sign up for our fantasy league. Join HERE. It is a weekly game that resets every week. Each round’s winner gets a special MiB fantasy patch. And the season long winner will get to hop on the Pod with Rog and Davo at the end of the season to discuss their triumph.


IV. USL Final Preview with League President Jake Edwards

Sunday night, USL, the third tier of American soccer, provides the digestif to a weekend absolutely jammed with football. This year’s USL final sees New York Red Bulls II host Swope Park Rangers, Sporting Kansas City’s affiliate club, in a match that promises to give us a glimpse at players looking to break into MLS next year. The game at Red Bull Arena [Sunday at 8 p.m. ET] will be broadcast live on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app. It will be Simulcast on Sirius XM channel 85. We asked the league’s president, Jake Edwards, for three storylines to watch out for.

1. NYRB II’s “Haitian Messi” - 19-year-old Derrick Etienne Jr. is a Virginia-born, New Jersey-raised, Haitian youth national team midfielder who came in at No. 3 on USL’s “20 Under 20” list this year. Look for him and 17-year-old U.S. U-20 prospect Tyler Adams (No. 5 on USL’s “20 Under 20” list) to partner in the Red Bulls II midfield.

2. Swope Park’s Canadian Connection – GFOPs North of The Border and denim on denim clad neutrals might look to adopt Swope Park for this match. USL Coach of the Year finalist Marc Dos Santos, leading scorer Mark Anthony Gonzalez, Defender of the Year Finalist Amer Didic, and versatile midfielder Tyler Pasher are all Canadian. They lead a SPR side that comes into the final with eight straight wins.

3. Key Matchup  – Brandon Allen, 23, signed with NYRB as a homegrown player at the start of the season. He went on to bang in 15 goals and earn a spot on the USL All-League First Team, as well as nominations for MVP and Rookie of the Year. Allen is a Jersey guy, former Georgetown player and brother of NYCFC’s RJ Allen. He’ll matchup against SPR’s aforementioned Canadian rookie Amer Didic in what promises to be a physical battle.  


V. Relive Rog’s Favorite Football Decade with “Here We Go”

The 1980s. John Hughes was cranking out films. Rog had hair. And Everton won two league titles, the FA Cup and the European Cup Winner’s Cup (the UEFA Cup’s creepy uncle). Simon Hart chronicles Everton’s most successful decade in his new book, “Here We Go,” available on Amazon HERE. In this issue of The Raven, we have a copy of the book to give away. We want to know which member of those 80s Everton teams (an absolute legend) was falsely rumored to have a role in “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” The first person to EMAIL US with the correct answer wins.


VI. Boys in Blazers

We’ve been replaced. They’re younger, they’re better looking and they have full heads of hair. Cooper Miller and Eli Petchel are the Boys in Blazers and their youth soccer YouTube highlight show puts our SubOptimal production to shame. Hailing from Charlotte, NC they both play for Holy Trinity Middle School, want to be the next David Villa, and created their show with the belief that the children are our future... of the game. We couldn’t agree more. Godspeed Cooper and Eli, we can’t wait for episode two. Watch Boys in Blazers HERE. #InLudumPulchra
 
 

VII. #PatchAtThePark

This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark features patches from Anfield, the Emirates and Commerzbank-Arena. We also received submissions from the home of a curse (not The Curse of Rog) 5 wins away from being broken, and the only thing in Kansas City more American than Matt Besler’s smile.

But our favorite comes from GFOP Matt Wilson at Zion National Park.

 


VII. "Plumb our Annals”

Our entire pod archive is available HERE. If you prefer the Cliffs Notes version, check out "Men in Blazers. Unbuttoned: Now That's What I Call Sub-Optimal,” Vol. I (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play) and Vol. II - The Best of 2014 (iTunes, Amazon, Google Play). The albums are the least objectionable of our football "analysis," Ravens and interviews.

You can access all MiB-related content (videos, pods and articles) by visiting www.nbcsports.com/mib.
 
Please forward this to your football curious friends. Let's see if we can bring them over to the dark side. The Ian Darke Side.
 

“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”

Philip Larkin


Podcast

Rog and Davo recap Liverpool and Manchester United's 0 - 0 draw, salute Bob Bradley as he makes his Premier League debut at Arsenal, and break down City vs. Everton. Plus, the MLS Playoff picture. LISTEN HERE

Good Reads

> Premier League Should Learn from Pep Guardiola, Not Pour Scorn on Him. Jacob Steinberg for the Guardian.  READ HERE

> NBC’s Kyle Martino: Bob Bradley’s Hiring at Swansea City “Bigger Than it Should Be.” Jonathan Tannenwald for Philly.com. READ HERE

> Sounders’ Jordan Morris Embraces the Expected, Unforeseen Pressures in Seattle. Brian Straus for Sports Illustrated. READ HERE

> FIFA Decision Boosts U.S.’s Chance to Host 2026 World Cup. Andrew Das for NYT. READ HERE
About

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett believe that soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972. Visit MeninBlazers.com, “Like” us on Facebook, follow the show on Twitter and Instagram, or email us at MeninBlazers@gmail.com.
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