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MiB is driven by a belief that Soccer is America's Sport of the Future.
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FA Cup weekends can feel like eating a bar of dietetic chocolate. Particularly this early in the competition. This coming from an Ipswich fan whose team capitulated to League Two Portsmouth in a third round replay last week. I keep telling myself, such suffering makes you a better human being.

While we brace ourselves for the inevitable weekend of Rebecca Lowe withdrawal and attempt to treat it with a crate of Guinness and playing Jordan Morris on EA SPORTS FIFA, we look at the FA Cup as a chance to catch our breath and brace ourselves for Monday's Madness of Transfer Deadline Day, one of our favorite days of the season (much more on that below from Rog). NBCSN plans a three-hour Transfer Deadline Day special Monday from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. ET. Watch to see if any Premier League teams go in for Kyle's quiff. 
 
And then a full slate of midweek Premier League games ensues. Highlight: Leicester City vs. Liverpool [2:45 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBCSN].   

A chance to re-evaluate the big questions once again: Just how far can this Leicester City go? How concerned should we be about Jurgen Klopp's mental stability?

LTD, 
Producer JW: @JonoWilly

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
Rog @rogbennett
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer Lexi: @tannneal
Producer Zip: @notorious_Z_I_P

PS. The FA Cup spares you from our show this Monday. The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW returns with a new episode Monday, Feb. 8th at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. And late next week, we’ll have a Pod special with West Ham-loving author Irvine Welsh.
 

I. Dominic Monaghan Panic Room Interview

Dominic Monaghan was our scheduled guest on The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW Monday, but Winter Storm Jonas prevented him from getting to the Crap Part of SoHo for taping. So he dropped by Tuesday for an extended Panic Room interview. “The Lord of the Rings” star, Drive Shaft bassist and host of Travel Channel’s “Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan” is a massive Manchester United supporter. And he regaled us with what is now our favorite Ryan Giggs story of all-time. He also warned us about the dangers of watching football with Viggo Mortensen. Watch our entire interview with Dominic HERE.
 


II. Rog on Transfer Deadline Day

It may not be a Premier League weekend, but clubs in Britain will be busy. The January transfer window closes Monday at 11 p.m. GMT. Rog wrote an essay about the madness of one of his favorite days of the season.

The Premier League is always built on narrative, fantasy, and hope. Never more than this season. But for the last 36 hours of the window that sporting Telenovela goes into overdrive: every football fan believes in leprechauns, dodos, unicorns and a top four finish as the emotions of surprise, boredom, fear, love and hate collide on a cliche ridden day in which the terms:

“Come and get me plea.”

“Derisory offer.”

“Waiting for the fax to come through.”

“Dream come true to return to my boyhood club.”

Run rife.”

Read Rog’s entire piece HERE.
 
 

III. Three Questions With GQ Senior Editor Daniel Riley  

We tried to get Cristiano Ronaldo for this edition of Three Questions. Turns out he’s busy. While that interview didn’t pan, we are thrilled to feature a man who spent the day with CR7, and penned GQ’s Body Issue cover story on the Real Madrid and Portugal star [READ HERE]. In this edition of Three Questions, GQ Senior Editor Daniel Riley provides some BTS from his time with the world’s most popular athlete, and explains why he believes Ronaldo will end up in MLS. 
 

MiB: What did you do to research Ronaldo? What did you read, watch in preparation for the piece?

Daniel: I always try to read absolutely as much as possible. Ranging from old interviews in local press to bigger pieces in larger American or European publications. Even the most innocuous reports can have some great, weird moments smuggled away. For some historical context, I read Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga (which I’d highly recommended to any person who’s skimming this deep down into The Raven). And then even those sort of cheesy biographies that you see in bookstores and airports (especially in Europe), that are basically clip jobs at book length – those can be great for something like this, since you just kind of want to maximize exposure to things he’s said in the past. I’m not a soccer writer, so a lot of this was just trying to rapidly bring myself up to speed to feel mildly qualified to write a not-bullshit statement or ask a remotely original question. (Interviews with experts like Rog provided an immense lift on that front, too.)

The reporting and writing also happened to coincide with the release of the CR documentary, Ronaldo.  Those kinds of self-serving projects can sometimes be wildly underwhelming, but this one spends tons of time shining a light around his private world. You’re with his family, with his friends, in his house. Definitely check it out if you’re curious what life’s like off the pitch for players at the top of the fame pyramid.

MiB: One thing that didn’t make the cut for the story that you wish you would’ve been able to fit in.

Daniel: On any celebrity story here, we go back and forth on the question of how much behind-the-scenes machinery we think the reader cares to hear about. I find that stuff endlessly fascinating, though I totally understand that many people don’t care to know, for example, about Ronaldo’s ridiculous team of reps. On this day, they were mostly women, speaking several different languages and really sort of dictating every element of the production of the photo shoot, the interview, the videos, the access - basically everything, in a general sense, that had to do with these outside agents (aka Team GQ USA). In a word these women are tough, man. I remember them as each being six-foot-four, frighteningly attractive, and capable of impaling weaker beings with their eight-inch stilettos. One of them was smoking pink cigarettes. Another, while barking instructions, just kept shouting: “He is the most famous person in the world! Stay with me! Stay with me!” in heavily-accented English. Their job is basically to keep the uncountable people who want a piece of Cristiano Ronaldo at bay, to allow him to move through the world with limited friction, so that he can focus on football and family. In Europe, there are endless demands for his time and attention (obviously), and they do, frankly, a really good job keeping people like us the hell out. Point being: I could’ve written - and would certainly read - an entire story about that team of hired guns.

MiB: In the piece, Ronaldo says playing in America is something he “considers.” Did you get the impression it’s something he seriously considers. Or was he just offering lip service and playing up for his audience.

Daniel: Oh man, this is so tough to answer. Even in the window between our time together and publication, he came out and said all sorts of other things and was linked to several other clubs. Manchester United. PSG. Even Barcelona. It’s wild. I do believe he’s gonna end up in MLS, though, and here’s why: He really loves America, he really really loves Miami, and - and this can’t be nothing - his son, Cristiano Jr., is enrolled in an American school in Madrid. Sure, that could just mean the education’s better, the focus on English is more emphatic. But there are too many reasons it would make sense - maybe not next year, or the year after, but, I’d say after a few more years of this (arguably) post-peak phase of his career in Europe.

MiB: What preconception about Ronaldo that you held coming in was changed by the experience of spending time with him?

Daniel: Without question his relationship to his son. This is one of the truly craziest things in world sports: The most famous athlete on earth is raising a son all by himself, and no one - not even the most shameless reporters in England - can seem to crack the case of who the mother is. That sort of single-parent story in sports is just so often flipped that I had my doubts heading in that it could really be just be the two of them together in that house. But sure enough, the day we were together, there’s Cristiano with Cristiano Jr. in tow, having popped over from their house to the house (in the same gated community) where the shoot and interview took place. They had this deeply magnetic rapport. Cristiano Jr. was always just out of frame, kicking a ball around behind the photographer or laughing at the fact that his father was posing half-naked with this Brazilian supermodel. They did everything together that day, they do everything together most days. CR7 seems to be forging a little mini-me, which is a whole other possibly strange thing, but mostly I was blown away by how authentic that arrangement seems to be. (I guess I expected a similar kind of team as CR surrounds himself with to be helping raise his son.) I’d argue it’s the most interesting thing about him, and it added all sorts of depth to this guy who doesn’t often do much to project three-dimensionally.

MiB: Best meal you had in Madrid.

Daniel: There are a lot of great restaurants in the city, but #1 on this trip was the bocadillo I ate before heading into the Bernabéu for a Saturday afternoon match. Crunchy Spanish bread with thinly-sliced Ibérico ham. Stupidly simple, but could eat one every day.


IV. Juan Mata Knows. #PieDontLie

It’s hard to imagine us loving cuddly Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata more than we already do. And then he drops this gem to United’s Website: “On a day like this one, which is grey, rainy and cold, it’s nice to have a pie like a meat pie or beef pie, whatever you call it. If you go to an English restaurant in somewhere like Wilmslow or Knutsford, there are some nice places there and you can have a nice beef pie. I like them.” You can read the entire interview, which, unfortunately, is only partly about pie HERE. Thanks to GFOP @El_Hamine for sharing with us.


V. A Young, Footballing Poet (Not Named Dele Alli)

Football and poetry. These are a few of our favorite things. America SCORES is an after-school nonprofit that promotes these two passions with students at more than 175 public and charter schools across this country. Every year, the organization holds a National Poetry SLAM! in which fourteen budding Mark/Langston Hugheses perform their original poems in front of a live audience in New York City. This year’s 10th anniversary celebration will be held at the SVA Theatre April 11.

In this edition of The Raven, we are honored to feature the work of Jalen S., a fifth grader at PS 125 here in New York City.

The Life of A Problem
by Jalen S.

A bully takes action against you
A victim receives the agony
The bully annoys you and
The victim is miserable
Bullies destroy victims’ lives
But we must stand up and speak up
Victims become demotivated
But we must keep fighting
To abolish bullying

To read more America SCORES poems, check out the organization’s annual magazine, Kicker!.


VI. Football Fansite Profile: This is Anfield

This week’s Football Fansite Profile features a staff with journalistic agility in spades. To cover Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool is to never know if your lede will hold until the final whistle officially blows. This is Anfield has provided content and interviews for the Red Half of Merseyside since 2001. We spoke to the site’s co-founder, Matt Ladson, about its evolution, the emotional rollercoaster of last weekend’s game against Norwich, and everyone’s favorite Teutonic Care Bear.  

MiB: Give us some background on This is Anfield. The who, what, when, where and why it began. And how it's grown since its inception.

This is Anfield: Two of us started the site back in 2001 - before a lot of Premier League clubs even had official websites. It's amazing how much the internet has changed since then, with social media changing the whole spectrum! This Is Anfield is still run by the same two people who started it 15 years ago, myself and Max, but we have a lot of help nowadays! I attend games now as media, while Max has a season ticket in the Lower Centenary stand.

We have over 1.7 million followers on social media and there's a dozen of us who regularly update the site, working literally around the clock - it's a pretty big task with Liverpool always having something in the news!

MiB: Talk us through how you experienced this past weekend's 5 - 4 win at Norwich.

TIA: I actually didn't go the Norwich match (mostly because it's a bloody long way from Liverpool and the roads to that part of the country take forever, so thanks to TV making it an early kick off, great idea...). So I watched from home and like most fans found myself laughing at the abysmally brilliant scenes that played out!

Football's meant to be fun so I'd rather concentrate on the positives - but, my god, our defending is abysmal!

MiB: This season's most surprising storyline at Liverpool is ...

TIA: That's a tricky one. I think most of this season for Liverpool has been pretty predictable; we all knew Benteke wouldn't fit in; we all knew Rodgers was on borrowed time and should have been sacked in May; we all know our defence is absolutely woeful; and we all know that without Sturridge we struggle for goals.

Perhaps the most surprising storyline this season is that the owners actually acquired a manager of the calibre of Jurgen Klopp. Most fans, and even media who I spoke to, expected (feared) that when Rodgers was sacked the club would struggle to attract a top calibre manager and go for another 'work in progress' rather than a manager with European pedigree. The mood around the whole club on the day Klopp was unveiled was like nothing we'd experienced in years, there was a huge sense of optimism and feel good factor.

MiB: The one thing I would change at Liverpool is ...

TIA: The transfer/contract strategy. I'm not somebody who is critical of the mythical 'transfer committee' (because what Liverpool do is not that different to what other clubs do, contrary to the myth the media perpetuate) and actually the best signings in recent years have been 'committee signings'.

What I'd change though is the approach. I'd stop the emphasis on signing young potential and sign more proven quality - players who can impact the first XI now, not in 3 or 4 years - by which time the best players have got itchy feet and moved on because we've won nothing. It's a recurring cycle.

Giving long-term contracts to the likes of Simon Mignolet and Martin Skrtel is hardly what the club need to be doing, like they haven't learn from previous high earning underachievers that then prove difficult to shift.

MiB: Look into your crystal ball. How does the rest of the season play out for Liverpool?

TIA: Hopefully by the time you're reading this we've secured a place in the League Cup Final. We'll win that, as Klopp's side have a tendency to perform better in one-off games, and the new manager winning a trophy within his first six months will provide further momentum and feel good.

I'm not so confident about the FA Cup game against West Ham - which could mean yet another game via a replay. So far we've played the most games possible this season, with the replay from the 3rd round. So players returning from injury cannot come soon enough (hint, hint, Sturridge).

If Sturridge does somehow return from injury, I can see us pushing higher in the league and there is a *slim* chance of a top four finish. But it's far more likely that a good Europa League run would materialise, winning that would be huge, adding that winning know-how and, of course, a route back into the Champions League.

With the new Main Stand this summer, hopefully a big signing or two under Klopp's influence, being back in the Champions League would really set up next season nicely.


VII. #PatchAtThePark

This issue’s #PatchAtThePark submissions come from West Ham (#WeatHamsvs. Man City at the Boleyn Ground; Goodison Park, which longtime GFOP Jason Kennedy visited during his recent Transatlantic trip; and the USWNT’s 5 - 0 victory over Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium in sunny, no snow San Diego. We also received a patch (in the form of a Men in Blazers National Team Jersey) all the way from Singapore.

But our favorite comes from GFOP Wee Boss, who braved the blizzardnado to make a Roger Bennett snowman. Corduroy included.
 
 

VIII. Passing Time in the CPOS

- Davo’s new favorite website. Historical English Football League Tables View Here
- Of Sport and Men: A documentary covering five great sporting events Watch Here
- Cersei Lannister #ShameShameShame reads insults from The Bachelor Watch Here
- GFOP Adam Platt talks veggies on his new Grub Street Podcast Listen Here
- Searching for Wiz Khalifa's ‘Cool Pants’: An In-Depth Picture Investigation View Here
- GFOP Bobby Flay on his favorite restaurants in NYC and where to get a good pint View Here
 

IX. A Supporters Club Story: Buffalo Spurs

Supporters clubs have played a vital role in establishing football’s beachhead on the American sports landscape. Their evolution is fascinating. Two decades ago, they were viewed as bands of sporting misfits who would - more often than not - pay a $20 cover charge for the privilege of filing into a dark bar at obscenely early hours and watching a legal(ish) feed of the game. Fast forward to 2016. These clubs have morphed into communities that pack spots from Atlanta to Albuquerque every weekend, forming extensions of clubs that play thousands of miles away.     

In what we hope will become a regular Raven feature, we profile a supporters club and learn more about their back story, the bars at which they watch, and what makes them unique. We begin in a city that is near and dear to us: Buffalo. With a group of fans who (mostly) love Harry Kane and Rex Ryan in equal measure.  We spoke with Buffalo Spurs founder, Matt Krajacic.
 

MiB: Give us your backstory. How did the Buffalo Spurs come to be?

Buffalo Spurs: I began thinking about starting up a supporters club over the summer of 2013. My interest in forming a club raised after seeing other clubs around the U.S. on Twitter. Since Buffalo didn’t have a Tottenham supporters club, I further investigated how to go about starting one from scratch. The Tottenham supporters club webpage was useful and I was able to contact THFC about my interest. After a few weeks of spreading the word of creating an official supporters club on social media, I had about fifteen people interested in joining. Ever since the Buffalo Spurs were founded in July 2013, we have met for matches at Més Que, a soccer bar and restaurant. Today the club has about forty members across Western New York and we’re still growing.

MiB: Give us a tradition, ritual that is uniquely Buffalo Spurs.

BS: The last two years the Buffalo Spurs have participated in the Buffalo Soccer Council’s Winter Cup. The 5-a-side soccer tournament is held in the typical snow and freezing weather at a local park. We are proud to have won all three times when matched up against our rivals the Buffalo Gooners. The 2016 Winter Cup is two weeks away and we’re looking forward to making it 4-0 against the Gooners.

MiB: 38/38's into the season, where are Spurs in the table?

BS: As much as I’d like to see them lifting the Premier League trophy come May, fourth would be a realistic and deserved place. Pochettino has done very well with the youngest squad in the league and we’re headed in the right direction.
 
 
X. This Week in Blazers

Podcast - Rog and Davo break down Chelsea's 1 - 0 win over Arsenal and Liverpool's bonkers, back-and-forth 5 - 4 win at Norwich. Plus, how long will LvG last after another goalless performance from Manchester United? LISTEN HERE

The MEN IN BLAZERS SHOW (Monday, Jan. 25) - WATCH HERE

Christian Seifert Pod Special - At BlazerCon, Rog was joined onstage by Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert to discuss the secrets behind electric in-stadia atmosphere, Bayern Munich's dominance, and the league's plan to grow in America. LISTEN HERE


XI. "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
 

    

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PODCAST
In this week's podcast, Rog and Davo break down Chelsea's 1 - 0 win over Arsenal and Liverpool's bonkers, back-and-forth 5 - 4 win at Norwich. Plus, how long will LvG last after another goalless performance from Manchester United? LISTEN HERE
GOOD READS

Bob Bradley climbs the global soccer ladder with an impediment: he’s American. James Montague for The New York Times. READ HERE

Are Chelsea and Manchester City stunting England’s future by hoarding young talent? Rory Brigstock-Barron for the Daily Mail. READ HERE

Sell-ons, bench-warmers and fill-ins: The life of Premier League academy graduates. Barney Ronay for The Guardian. READ HERE

Signed with Manchester City 1,240 days ago. On £350,000 a year. Played a total of 0 Games. Jack Gaughan for The Daily Mail. READ HERE

Italy’s famed Palio horsemen decline royal invitation. Gaia Pianigiani for The New York Times. 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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