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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

I always measure my level of happiness against that evidenced by the narrator in Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. This weekend, with the FA Cup's barren smattering of sparsely attended, low-grade offerings, she probably edges it.  

1. The games are less meaningful football, more flotsam and jetsam. Draw strength, Dear Reader. As bad as your 2017 might be, Liverpool’s has been even worse. Tune in to see if Jurgen Klopp can jump start his squad’s suddenly flaccid front five against Wolves [Saturday 7:30 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1] ahead of Wednesday’s titillating clash against the potent musculature of cantering league leaders Chelsea. Antonio Conte’s team will themselves work up a minimum of sweat against mid-table Championship sparring partner, Brentford [Saturday 10 a.m. ET on FOX Sports 1]. Fresh off their League Cup wonders, Southampton, a footballing regenerative miracle that we almost take for granted, will face up to Heather O’Reilly's Arsenal and fancy their chances [Saturday 12.30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1]. Even typing about these games makes me feel lackluster. Note to FA Cup organizers: Get Rod Stewart to Do The Draw in his inimitable style for the next round! He might be our only hope...

2. This is definitely the weekend for some experimentation and footballing polygamy. Prepare to dabble in some Africa Cup of Nations. Savor La Liga with football’s Big Three: Messi! Ronaldo! Ray Hudson! And fill yourself up at the all-you-can-eat Bundesliga Buffet that hides deep up Fox Sports' Nether Regions.  

3. The closing of the Transfer Window 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 31 offers delights of the nerve-fraying, dripping tap variety. A climax stuffed with mostly false hope. Unless you are a fan of either Hull or Sunderland. Two teams who are behaving as if they are battling for the No. 1 Pick in the Draft as opposed to resigning themselves numbly towards relegation. Among the storylines to watch: Will there be a resolution to the life-sapping Dimitri Payet saga? Might Boy Wonder-Turned-Cautionary Tale Anthony Martial experience life on loan? And what moves, if any, Tottenham, Arsenal, or Liverpool make? Their actions, or lack thereof, will reveal the true extent of their goals for the rest of this campaign.

4. I was sad this week to learn of the passing of Gene Olaff, the 96-year-old Hall of Fame Goalkeeper who had been U.S. Soccer’s Oldest Living Player. His life story is a tribute to how far and how fast the sport we love has developed in the United States. Our written tribute is HERE. JW and Lexi made THIS VIDEO, which captures his memory. May his story live on. RIP.  

5. After being glued to live broadcasts from Washington, D.C. last Friday and Saturday, I watched the movie Mustang on Netflix. Trust me. It is sensational. The best thing out of Turkey since Arda Turan. Current mood: listening to this tune on repeat: "I Will Never Stop Grieving For You, My Wife" from Zombia Prison Project. You will rarely hear so much emotion packed into three minutes eight seconds unless Arsenal are playing Burnley and Jon Moss is the referee. 

6. Thrilled to see Christian Pulisic, U.S. Soccer’s Luke Skywalker, extend his contract with Dortmund through June 2020. There is no better place for him to develop his skills than at the youth talent-soaked club. And Dortmund retain a marketing asset for the U.S.-facing audience that even Bayern lack.

7. Thanks to @HobokenSpurs for sending in Chant O’ the Week. This plaintive tribute to Granit Xhaka, replete with keyboard mood accompaniment. I also found this old school English Ministry of Information film on “Hedging” reassuringly mesmerizing. GFOP @jpring07 sent it to me and asked, “Do English manners require everyone to work with a pipe?”

8. WARNING: THE MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW IS BACK. THIS WEDNESDAY! 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN after Manchester United vs. Hull City. Fake News! Liverpool Lover Carli Lloyd guests. Carli also taped a remarkable pod. It is a must listen for any young athlete who dreams of glory. Fresh off her second World Player of the Year award, Carli was on fantastic form when she came down to the Crap Part of Soho. LISTEN HERE
 
 
To Tweed,
 
On behalf of
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan
 


I. Chelsea’s Title Chase (and Where to Eat in London) with Graeme Le Saux

He’s one of Jersey’s favorite sons. Not that Jersey. This one. Graeme Le Saux knows a little something about English football, making 327 Premier League appearances for Southampton, Chelsea and Blackburn, helping bring the latter a title in ‘94 - ’95. These days Graeme plays the Goose to Arlo White’s Maverick on NBC’s Premier League coverage (Sorry, Lee Dixon, you’re Merlin). We caught up with Graeme via phone this week to talk about Chelsea’s title chase, his favorite gantry in the Premier League, and his (very) short stint working in the kitchen of a high-end London eatery.

MiB: You’ve spoken with Antonio Conte since he took the Chelsea job, and have gotten a sense of the kind of person he is. How has he been able to adapt to the Premier League in a way that Pep Guardiola has not?

GLS: Antonio Conte gives me the impression that he’s a very honest, fair manager, who is happy to confront issues head on, confident in his own opinion. He’s very experienced in dealing with big players, and what he’s done brilliantly is treat everybody fairly. As Pep is finding out, you can have the most incredible CV and philosophy on the game, but ultimately you’ve still got to work with a group and be flexible with them, in terms of your own philosophy. That’s where Conte has been ahead of everyone else.

MiB: The Diego Costa situation. He’s injured. He’s had a bust up with Conte. He’s off to China. All these rumors, yet he’s back in the team and scoring on the weekend. How damaging can this be to team chemistry?

GLS: It can be very damaging. It really can. But I think Conte’s leadership has really helped. And Costa must’ve explained himself to the players, or they would have held him accountable for wanting to leave at such an important stage of the season, if it was true. When he scored against Hull, the whole team went over and celebrated with him. For me, that suggests they’ve accepted whatever he’s said behind closed doors.

MiB: If one of these teams in the chasing peloton were to challenge Chelsea, who do you think it could be?

GLS: Tottenham. Their fundamentals are so good and they came so close last year. That pain serves as good fuel for this season. When I look at Arsenal, I still think they’re not a team with the resilience to keep plowing through the football calendar and come out with more points than Chelsea. Liverpool gives us a lot of excitement, because they score a lot of goals, but there are defensive liabilities. To lose to Swansea the way they did last weekend, with the game tied at two and all of the momentum, that’s damaging for a title run. Manchester United have found some fantastic form, but they fell so far behind at the start of the season. To make up that deficit would be a miracle.

MiB: Now to the important stuff. What’s the best gantry in the Premier League and why?

GLS: Oh my word. Let’s be honest, it’s not like choosing between a Rolls Royce and a Bentley. They’re all quite rudimentary. I’m thinking, probably which ones are the least cold and best position. I know Spurs are redeveloping their ground, but I like their current gantry because you almost hang over the pitch. Everton’s is fantastic as well because you’re stuck out from the middle tier, so you’re connected to the pitch. Either of those would be my pick.

MiB: Best restaurant near Stamford Bridge. What are we ordering?

GLS: One of my favorite restaurants in London is The River Cafe. It’s run by a fantastic chef Ruthie Rodgers. It’s about 10 minutes by car from Stamford Bridge on the River Thames. I’ve actually done a shift in their kitchen when I was a player at Chelsea. I told them I was tired after a game and they said, “You don’t know what tired is. Come do a double-shift in the restaurant.” I took them up on it and worked in the restaurant one day. They had me doing all the dirty jobs. By the end I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get my boots back on. For a dish, they do the most amazing beef with split olives and ragù lentil. It’s phenomenal.


II. ‘Give us a Pint of White Wine’

This week, on the Pod, Rog and Davo broke down, in some detail, Big Sam’s thought process when ordering his favorite drink: a pint of white wine. That’s white wine. In a pint glass. Listen to the whole discussion HERE. It lead to a separate conversation about how many milliliters are in a bottle of wine. We went with 375 milliliters, which was, apparently, an alternative fact. Fortunately, we had GFOP Spencer in San Francisco to set us straight.

Spencer Writes:  A standard bottle of wine is 750 milliliters or 26.39 (imperial) ounces. An imperial pint is 20 ounces or 568.26 milliliters. So Big Sam's order is just about dead on 75 percent of a bottle. Obviously pint glasses are smaller here than in the U.K. Most shaker pints in the U.S. - those used to mix cocktails - are actually 14 ounces, but that's a whole other issue. As if things weren't confusing enough, the size of a fluid ounce is actually different in the U.K. vs. the U.S.! Was not aware of that prior to this research. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be one to get between Big Sam and his pie and 3/4 a bottle of wine.


III. Togga Fantasy Football, Transfer Window Edition

Togga Head of Content and GFOP John Wallin Writes: With the transfer window slamming shut in four days, the biggest names to change teams are not among the biggest names in football. But fantasy football is driven by numbers, not names. Today, we look at four players affected by the transfer window and break down how you’ll want to approach them moving forward.

Dimitri Payet (MID) - West Ham to outcast. The 29-year-old is signed with West Ham through 2021. That did not stop him from demanding a transfer, and manager Slaven Bilic from freezing him out of the first team as a result. Payet has made four appearances in the Perfect XI this season and is one of the Top 5 overall players in fantasy points. But until his future is sorted - and he's won back his manager's trust - he unequivocally cannot be in your fantasy XI.

Gabriel Jesus (FWD) - Palmeiras to Man City. In his first appearance for City the Brazilian nearly scored, nearly assisted and saw a goal ruled offside. Not bad for nine minutes. Before you rush to include him in your XI remember that he is 19 years old. Pep has shown patience breaking younger players into the side (see 21-year-old Leroy Sane), so it’s hard to imagine Jesus getting consistent minutes. He may score a couple of all-world goals, but it will be nearly impossible to predict when they come.

Morgan Schneiderlin (MID) - Manchester United to Everton. The one-time Saint reuniting with manager Ronald Koeman is great news for FPL managers. Schneiderlin isn't much of a goal threat, but like new teammate Idrissa Gana, he earns points with his defensive acumen. For Southampton in 2014/15 he averaged 3.7 tackles won and 2.6 interceptions per match. That's better than defensive stalwart N'Golo Kante this year (3/2.5). He’s a sneaky differential play against bottom-half defenses.

Luciano Narsingh (MID) - PSV to Swansea. Swansea are riding the high of beating Liverpool at Anfield, but that win didn't paper over how poor the Swans have been. Even after beating the Reds, Swansea have a negative 25 goal differential, three worse than cellar dwellers Sunderland. All that said, Narsingh recorded a combined 14 goals and 15 assists in his last two Eredivisie campaigns. The right-footed attacker is versatile and can lineup on either wing or as a forward. He should join Icelandic talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson in the starting XI as soon as he is healthy. Again, a nice outside-the-box differential play.

A reminder to all GFOPs, it is not too late to sign up for the Men in Blazers’ Togga Fantasy League. Join HERE. It is a weekly game that resets every round of Premier League games. Each winner gets a special MiB fantasy patch. And the season long winner gets to hop on the Pod with Rog and Davo to discuss their triumph.


IV. GFOP Football Travelogues

In the last issue of The Raven, Producer JW recounted his festive period Premier League pilgrimage. We asked GFOPs to submit football travelogues of their own. Your creativity never ceases to amaze us. We are forever indebted. A taste of a few of our favorites below.

GFOP Matt Coccoluto chronicled ticket challenges from his journey to Turin to watch a November 2015 Champions League tie between Juventus and Manchester Cih-tey.

Matt Writes: Getting tickets to a game in Italy is no easy task for an American, but I had a contact courtesy of some friends who went to see Juventus the season before. I messaged the contact months in advance and he explained that I needed to send $125 via PayPal and a copy of a photo ID. Identity theft be damned, I wanted to go. Fast forward to the day of the game. Upon my arrival, my contact told me that the ticket is going to cost me another 100 Euros, the exact amount I have in my wallet. He said I'll be refunded my initial amount later. I had made it too far to not watch this game. I handed over the money. While everyone was being handed tickets, the guy in charge points me to an old Italian man and tells me that I need to follow him into the stadium. He hands me a plastic ID card, which I realize is someone's season ticket with their photo on it. I am taken through security by the old man before getting to the ticket turnstile. There, he takes the ticket scans it, pushes me through and walks away. I'm now standing on the concourse alone, with no assigned seat and no cash. I ended up taking in the game in the stairway of the Curva Sud. Juve put on a solid performance and when Mario Mandzukic hit the back of the net, I found myself embracing random strangers in a sea of screaming, singing and cigarette smoke. Juve won 1-0 and despite being tired, hungry, and cashless, I was wide awake on the train back to the hotel, still abuzz from knocking off the biggest item on my bucket list. No, I never did get reimbursed my original $125. It doesn't matter. I would do it all again.
 

GFOP Kelly Penn flew to the U.K. with his wife and infant son to see his beloved Chelsea play Peterborough in the FA Cup Third Round, only to realize he forgot something quite important: his son’s match ticket.

Kelly Writes: The ticket office manager's suggestion was that my wife and I go to the match (which was about to start) while our baby stay outside. This suggestion was idiotic and I told him as much, though he would not budge. It was in this moment of pity and doubt that a steward who had overseen and overheard our discussion stepped past and whispered, "Mate, grab your missus, follow me." Without another word, we were shown three vacant seats near the Shed End corner flag. I loved every second of watching my team play. We won 4-1. Best of all my son loved the game, clapping and smiling throughout. I think the memory that I will cherish the most will be that of watching my son watch my team.

And, finally, GFOP Sam Kelly went to see the 2014 FA Cup final between Arsenal and Hull City. He got lost on the walk to Wembley, ducked into a McDonald’s, and ended up with a Premier League Pen Pal.

Sam Writes: At McDonald’s, an older gentleman and his 25-year-old son noticed my Arsenal shirt and offered to give me a ride to the stadium as they were attending the game as well. In fact, the father had missed only 40 home Arsenal fixtures in 40 years of supporting the club. Sportsmanship only dreamed about by an American supporting a British club. A month later, I received a package from them containing a Brian Talbot signed photograph, a Santi Cazorla signed photograph, seven newspapers from London (all of which had full length articles covering the match or front page pictures from it) and six Arsenal pins. All this to say, my first experience at an official Arsenal fixture was brilliant on so many levels and worth every penny.


V. America SCORES Soccer Library

America SCORES is non-profit organization that promotes football and poetry with students at more than 175 public and charter schools across North America. Last fall, the MiB staff took a field trip uptown to referee a few America SCORES football games. While our performances were Mike Dean meets Clatts, we were blown away by the opportunities the organization provides. Now we’re looking to get involved on the reading side. We plan to send football books that make their way to the CPOS to the team at America SCORES. We urge GFOPs with spare football books to do the same. Anyone who sends us a picture of themselves stuffing a book into an addressed package gets a patch. What’s that sound, you ask? It’s Rog packing up a truckload of Everton literature to mold young minds. All books can be sent to:

Holly O'Donnell
c/o DC SCORES
1224 M Street NW Suite 200
WDC 20005


VI. #PatchAtThePark

This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark features submissions from some optimal seats at the Etihad for City v. Spurs, the Women’s March in D.C. last weekend, and the Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois (Honest Abe would’ve supported Spurs). But our favorite comes from GFOP Alan Rhodes, who boarded NASA’s 747SP SOFIA, the largest flying observatory in the world.
 


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.
 
 
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 break down the cut and thrust draw between Manchester City and Spurs, welcome Diego Costa back to the Chelsea side and talk about a bonkers end to Arsenal vs. Burnley. LISTEN HERE.

Good Reads

> The Making of Tom Davies - the Everton Teenager with a Style All His Own. Chris Bascombe for the Telegraph. READ HERE

> New Logo and Identity for Juventus by Interbrand. Brand New. READ HERE

> Guardiola’s Courage Will Be Rewarded in Long Run. Ken Early for the Irish Times. READ HERE

> Chapecoense: Emotional Scenes at Brazilian Team’s First Game Since Plane Crash. Mani Djazmi for the BBC. READ HERE

> Why Are Southampton So Good at Talentspotting. Ian Ladyman for the Daily Mail. 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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