Ferguson. Moyes. Mancini. Scholes. Barbara Walters. The greats say good-bye and heads roll at season's end. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett dissect the decapitations and even find time to debate the origins of pie with special guest and Manchester City lover Marc Stein.
During what would be a doomed FA Cup final performance at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, Manchester City fans sang for their doomed manager, Roberto Mancini. The divisive Italian still had a place in the hearts of the club's supporters, even if he had fallen out of favor with City's relatively new front office regime (the transplanted Barcelona duo of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain) and, most important, the club's chief executive, Khaldoon Al Mubarak. When Wigan's Ben Watson headed in a 90th-minute goal to give the undersupported, underfunded underdogs an FA Cup victory that pretty much justified all the "romance of the Cup" propaganda that goes along with the competition, the world (at least the football-watching world on Twitter) rejoiced.
Seemingly the only people cheering for "the people's club" (as City is known) were the people who had always been doing so — the fans who had been born or bred into fandom. Manchester City will finish second in the Premier League this season. They won the league last season, and finished third the season before that. Yet there is still a sense that, despite truly outrageous amounts of money spent by City's owners, outside of their core fan base this club isn't loved. Or perhaps better put, they are not admired.
This wasn't how things were supposed to go. There were blueprints in place to build Manchester City into a global football giant, equal in stature, if not quite historical significance, to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and their neighbors, Manchester United. After bombing out of the Champions League and losing the Premier League some time around Valentine's Day, the FA Cup was a last chance for City to put a silver lining on an underwhelming season. Considering how well-documented Manchester City's attention to detail is (they famously have 30-page color-coded documents about 15-year-old prospects), things had gone quite off the rails.
Regard the Rooney. Here he is, above, in a photograph taken last January, in the act of kissing, or grabbing, his Manchester United badge on his Manchester United jersey, in front of some Manchester United fans, at Manchester City's stadium, the Etihad, in an act that probably made Manchester United fans delirious, and Manchester City fans want to go full Filomena on him. He's Wayne Rooney. He's here to score goals and make people crazy. And he's all out of goals.
In case you were busy finally piecing together why the Buffalo Bills' mascot is a Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a battle of reigning Cy Young winners, David Price's Rays upended R.A. Dickey's Blue Jays, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Blue Jays, preseason favorites in the hypercompetitive AL East, now sit at the bottom of the division with the second-worst run differential in baseball. Meanwhile, something deep stirs within Cito Gaston, and he rises to dust off the ol' Blue Phone, the one wired straight to the Rogers Centre, awaiting a call that he knows is coming soon.
The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a comfortable 5-1 win as they won their first playoff series since the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. "I guess fives are Wild," said Marian Hossa, who had two goals for the Blackhawks, after the game. When met with silence, Hossa explained, "In my native Slovakia, we have a game called poker in which sometimes, in smaller less serious games, some cards are deemed wild and can be used in a number of different hands. One might say 'Fives are wild' in Slovakia, meaning they can replace threes or fours or any other card. I was referencing that situation, and also the fact that we were playing the Wild and we scored five goals, which is wild." Hossa then furrowed his brow and promised to stop trying to make references that Americans cannot understand.
I left Manchester 10 years ago, after 14 years of living in the city. Through that entire time, Sir Alex Ferguson has been the manager of Manchester United. And in a few weeks' time, he won’t be.
Perhaps it's that final symbolic severing of a particular connection to a city I didn't stick with that's the reason I’m sitting in my office in Brooklyn feeling surprisingly maudlin this morning. When I moved to Manchester in the late 1980s, Ferguson, along with Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, was already one of the iconic faces of the city, and for me that iconography has grown more distinct with time and distance.
There are casual Manc acquaintances from my time there who I haven’t seen in years, except in the odd pixelated glimpse of filled-out faces or shots of their children (filtered by Facebook and my own squinted puzzlement as to who they are and where I know them from). But cutaway shots of Ferguson "reacting" have been a continual part of the texture of my life, wherever I’ve been in the world. The loss of that saddens me, regardless of how I, a non-United fan, might feel about the phenomena he reacted to. Over time, I came to experience watching Ferguson at an affective level, somehow distinct from the narrative of games. Knowing he'd be animated on the touchline was like knowing the color green existed.
As any Liverpool fan with a good memory will be happy to tell you, English football did not start with the Premier League's 1992 formation. It can sometimes feel that way; the league is rather proficient at self-mythology, so much so you'd think an achievement like, say, Tottenham's double-winning 1960-61 side played football in another dimension. But there are decades of legendary players, dynasties (yes, Liverpool), and shocking anomalies (Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest, for instance) that came before Sky Sports and the Illuminati conspired to create the sports-entertainment juggernaut that is widely regarded by people who don't watch La Liga and the Bundesliga as the best football league in the world.
But was there English football before Sir Alex Ferguson? That's actually hard to recall. The Manchester United manager retired today with 13 Premier League titles, two Champions League trophies, five FA Cups, and four League Cups. He is, unscientifically, the greatest manager or coach in modern sports history. No other leader has been so successful for so long, and been so adaptive while seeming, at least on the surface, to be so unchanging. When football players were carb-ing up with pies before matches, sneaking halftime cigarettes in toilet stalls, and putting together a decent lager buzz almost before the final whistle of a match, Ferguson was there. And when players started having their every movement monitored by Prozone, ate nothing but whitefish and green veggies, and tactical chalkboards started looking like a prop from the set of A Beautiful Mind, Ferguson was there. He's won on cold, rainy nights in Wigan and on "that night in Barcelona." In 27 years at Old Trafford, he has managed some of the greatest players in the history of football, including Roy Keane, Bryan Robson, Cristiano Ronaldo, Peter Schmeichel, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, and Paul Scholes. He also managed Bebe.
It hasn't been the finest vintage, this Premier League season. But most football fans agree, they will drink anything if the price is right. Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham all got what they needed over the weekend, even if there were a string of rather uninspiring 1-0 victories. In this week's podcast, the Blazers consider them all, with Michael taking particular glee in Chelsea's late win at Old Trafford.
The pod then takes a somber tone as ESPN's Sir Ian Darke joins from the road to reflect on his past three years as the voice of English football in America, while Roger offers a couple of ideas for his farewell sign-off. Until next week. Dominate.
In case you were busy stirring up debate, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
LeBron James was a near unanimous choice for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, securing 120 of the 121 available votes. About Last Night is all about starting debate, not shying away from controversy, and being real with the audience, so we salute the brave soul who decided that Carmelo Anthony had a better season than LeBron James. Unfortunately, that voter, who remains anonymous as of press time, didn't go far enough, placing James second on his ballot. That's no way to start a real debate about value in the NBA! For those interested in engaging in the debate, the official ALN MVP ballot (which was submitted to the NBA in the hopes that they would include it, though ALN is, despite much public pressure, still denied a vote) will be revealed at the end of this column.
The Chicago Bulls, again playing without Luol Deng, who was suffering the aftereffects of a spinal-tap procedure gone awry, still managed to close out the Brooklyn Nets, 99-93, to set up a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. Now I know a lot of people in Chicago are up in arms about whether Deng and Derrick Rose should be playing at less than 100 percent. Here's my thing: I don't think any Chicago Bulls should be playing. Carlos Boozer's steadfast refusal to sit out games is an affront to sports, and he should not be allowed to continue any longer.
In case you were busy on eBay trying to unload your Tim Tebow Jets jersey, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The San Antonio Spurs dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-82, to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. Lakers center Dwight Howard, who was ejected from the game after getting two technical fouls, said after the game, "Gotcha! Oh, man, that was hilarious! Classic Howard. I was all like, 'T me up! I totally want to never play basketball in a Lakers uniform again,' and they totally did! Joke's on them! I'm pranking people left and right! L.A. is Prank City!" When asked if this meant he was going to re-sign with L.A., Howard's demeanor quickly shifted. "Absolutely not," he said. "This has been the worst year of my life."
Stephen Curry drained six 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets 115-101 in a pivotal Game 4. "Do I feel threatened by Curry? Absolutely not; my legacy is intact," said TNT analyst Reggie Miller after the game. Miller then wiped the steam off his bathroom mirror and examined his temples. Were they grayer than the day prior? "Perhaps," Miller said to himself, "but that just means you're getting wiser. More mature. And some punk kid in Oakland can't take that away from you."
The Battle for Third and Fourth is now officially under way. On Monday, Manchester United and their ragtag ensemble wrapped up their 20th league title in impressive fashion (move over, Don Nelson, the mad scientist officially resides at Old Trafford). Still, few headlines were devoted to Sir Alex & Co.'s accomplishment. Earlier in the weekend, Liverpool's Luis Suarez once again proved there was still plenty of crazy left in England's top flight when he gnawed on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in the course of a 2-2 draw. In this week's pod, Michael and Roger review the implications for Liverpool and their American owners as well as what's in store for Suarez's 72 pearly whites.
The Men in Blazers revel, as always, in their weekly telegrams from GFOPs across these fine lands, inquiring about footballers' peculiar sweating habits and how to best consume a midgame pint or five, and end the pod with breaking news about the Men in Blazers National Team. Courage.
In case you were busy because no one at the game of Celebrity you were playing could get Lark Voorhies, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Chris Paul scored his team's last eight points, including an acrobatic runner with 0.1 seconds remaining, as the Los Angeles Clippers edged the Memphis Grizzlies, 93-91, to take a 2-0 lead in their playoff series. "I don't know how he does it," Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game. "Seriously. He seems to have a really good understanding of floor spacing and leadership. Is there like, a book he read? Because if so, could anyone tell me the name of it so I can throw it on my Kindle? It would be greatly appreciated."
The Chicago Bulls evened up their series with the Brooklyn Nets with a 90-82 win at the Barclays Center. The Barclays Center is not to be confused with Bar Clay Centre, also located in Brooklyn, which allows patron to both paint their own pottery and sample delicious Belgian ales. Team officials denied rumors that Nets guard Deron Williams, who went 1-for-9 in the loss, mixed the two up before the game. But afterward, there were a suspicious number of shoddily constructed clay trophies strewn about the Nets locker room with "Wurlds #1 PG," and "Chris My Paul," scrawled on them.
In case you were busy scaring little children by reciting Mariners hitting stats from the past decade, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the NBA playoff picture after an 86-70 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. But don't worry, people of Salt Lake City, you still have a critically acclaimed production of the classic musical West Side Story playing through April 21 at the Capitol Theatre. The Salt Lake Tribune raves, "This touring production of the 2009 Broadway revival hits on most cylinders."
Who will be taking the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs? Why, it's the Los Angeles Lakers, who not only qualified, but in beating the Houston Rockets 99-95 in overtime, were able to snag the seventh seed in the West. "It's quite an achievement," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni after the game, "that a team no one believed in overcame all the odds to make the playoffs. If you had told me when I took over this team that was stuck in a mire that we would be seventh in the West " D'Antoni then drifted off and shook his head, before Lakers center Dwight Howard tiptoed up behind him and dumped a small cup of red Gatorade over his head.
In case you were out demanding that Red Lobster serve you a never-ending pasta bowl, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a thrilling conclusion to the NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, to win their first NCAA title in 27 years. Reserve forward Luke Hancock was named the Final Four's MOP after his 22-point performance in the title game. When asked if he saw his performance coming, Hancock responded, "I mean, how can you see a thing like this coming?" before Michigan's Trey Burke came up from behind to congratulate him on the win. Unfortunately, Burke's intentions were misinterpreted by a security guard, who immediately removed Burke from the stadium.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's good fortunes continued as he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. Pitino, who'll be inducted alongside Gary Payton, Bernard King, and Jerry Tarkanian, among others, also saw his horse Goldencents win the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. Pitino's great week didn't end there, as he was invited to two separate parties at the Louisville Discovery Zone this coming weekend, both of which are rumored to be supplied with both Pizza Factory pizza and Carvel ice-cream cake.
When this slipped out late last week, it barely picked up much traction because, well, it seemed weird. Plus it surfaced on Friday, and Friday is where news goes to die.
Manchester United has hired a sound engineer to improve the atmosphere at its home ground, Old Trafford. They want it to be louder. This is the stadium where fans were once famously dissed by Roy Keane for enjoying "prawn sandwiches" more than actual football.
The move is actually not that weird. It's smart. Or smarter; smarter in the way that Billy Beane was smarter. That's because relatively recent academic literature is littered with papers studying the impact of social pressure on outcomes in sports. And two conclusions are inescapable. First, economists really like studying soccer. But more importantly, home teams in front of large, hostile crowds have a distinct advantage. And it's not for the reasons you might suspect.
(That's assuming you suspect home teams win because visiting teams have trouble playing in front of large, hostile crowds. According to the data, that's not what's happening.)