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What to do with Robin Van Persie

Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie recently tossed a significant chunk of kindling into the smoldering fire that threatened to become a raging blaze when he said he wanted to actually stay at Old Trafford for two more years, even going so far as vouching for his often maligned manager David Moyes. In one of his statements that was drenched in defiant sarcasm, Van Persie told United Review: “Last time I checked my head was still attached to my body, so I’m the only one who knows exactly what I’m thinking.” He’s right you know. His head is attached to his body. Good, glad we cleared that up.

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He’s also correct on the latter count. RVP is the only one who knows exactly what he’s thinking because, well, the last time we thought we knew what was rattling around his cranium, he professed to be a Gunner for life. Truth is, he was in top form under Sir Alex Ferguson, helping the Red Devils to the Barclays Premier League title with world-class play. The afterglow, however, quickly dimmed and RVP was said to be unhappy with Fergie’s retirement. From there, the trap door seemed to open up under the Dutch national team captain, swallowed up by injury, disappointing results and Moyes training tactics. His simmering status finally came to a boil when he was substituted for Danny Welbeck in the victory over West Brom. The body language didn’t just speak volumes.

It was at a deafening decibel in surround sound, all the while the team appeared more balanced with Welbeck in there the rest of the match. The synergy that was hoped for with Wayne Rooney hasn’t materialized this season. It’s far from the partnership shared by say, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge that was on display in Sunday’s win. What they have resembles an Indy car with an engine that purrs. RVP and Rooney are lurching along in a lemon. The timing of Van Persie’s comments are most curious, coming at a critical juncture for the club. They can be looked at as a money grab, but Manchester United might be better served if he goes.

There are reports the Red Devils are targeting PSG star Edinson Cavani, a costly maneuver that would prove to be beneficial. Problem is, it’s highly doubtful the club will just fork over an armored truck filled with money to Moyes, the same man whom RVP gave a vote of confidence to. Moyes may not even be back as manager following the debacle versus Liverpool. As for RVP’s exit, it would certainly help ease some of the financial and perhaps emotional burden attached to him. At the very least, it saves everyone from getting another anatomy lesson.

DIssecting Johnny Football

Current analyst and former quarterback Ron Jaworski should be expecting a large satchel of thank you cards on his doorstep from several TV and radio producers any day now. Since expressing an unpopular belief that Johnny Manziel shouldn’t be drafted in the first three rounds of this upcoming draft, his comments are providing plenty of fresh fodder for debate shows and sports radio across the country.

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By taking the contrarian stance, he opened himself up to being scrutinized, picked apart and second-guessed, much like Manziel himself. Jaworski is a self-proclaimed football junkie, pouring over hours and hours of tape, so there is some heft behind his credibility, although some would argue he lost some of it by saying Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Jaworski admits that he hasn’t seen a lot of Manziel, watching only five of his games at Texas A&M. At the moment, he’s the only analyst who’s taking the stance that Manziel is not a franchise quarterback. I still think Manziel is a transcendent talent that should be taken in the first round, but if I did have any doubts about Manziel, it would be over whether he can stay in the pocket, go through his progressions and complete a pass in the tightest of windows.

No matter if you’re Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson, you can’t rely on your legs forever. At some point, you have to stand tall and make the throws. The read-option wasn’t as successful this year as it was the previous seasons because defenses caught on to it. Manziel is a master at ad-libbing, but he’s open to getting crushed as we saw with RG3. He would need to bulk up more to absorb hits and perhaps more importantly, be smart. That last part is key because he was able to slither out of sticky situations, but that was in college. In the NFL, everybody is bigger, stronger and faster. At least, we have some time to dissect him. Thanks Jaws.

Finally, Michael Sam

There will come a day when an athlete announcing he’s gay won’t make the needle on the wow-meter budge. Until that time arrives however, the news of Michael Sam coming out as gay to The New York Times is causing that very same needle to go bonkers.

His unprecedented, yet courageous step may result in him being the first active gay player in the NFL. What Sam did on Sunday night was not just open the door for other football players in his same position. He busted it wide open causing the hinges to come flying off. Turns out the secret he shared with the world wasn’t a secret at all at Missouri. It was well-known for quite some time, which speaks to an environment filled with humanity, sensitivity and understanding. His teammates clearly didn’t mind nor did they care, unless someone comes forward and says otherwise.

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Sam is a very good football player. So good, in fact, he was named the Defensive Player of the Year in arguably college football’s toughest conference, the SEC. Sam is projected to be a mid-round draft pick in April’s NFL draft. By making this announcement, Sam is sending a message of refreshing candor to talent evaluators and general managers around the league: This is who I am. I have nothing to hide.

Since absorbing the news, social media exploded with mostly encouraging words from other NFL players and fellow athletes. This is not to say that the journey will be easy for Michael Sam. No, not by a long shot. It will be a trek dotted by sign posts of intolerance in a testosterone driven environment. That’s the harsh reality. The feedback that Peter King of SI.com got from anonymous GMs serves as a reminder. Some supported Sam’s move, while others thought it would be too much of a distraction. Sam is not naive. He absolutely knows the implications that accompany his announcement. Sam will need to be drafted by a team appreciative of his talent, possessing strong, veteran leadership that won’t see this as a big deal. The day can’t come soon enough when this is nothing more than a footnote. An expected reality that is a total non-story.

(Youtube)

 

The Other Gruden

By now, we’ve all opened up our eyes and realized that Gruden was indeed the one espousing the virtues of building confidence in his players at the Redskins introductory press conference. No, not THAT Gruden. You know, the OTHER one, Jay, who sounds almost exactly like his famous brother Jon. No disrespect to Jay at all, but he may not even have been the Redskins first choice within the Gruden family for the top job.

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Some have gone so far as to question whether he would’ve been offered the gig had his name been, oh say, Gates. We’ll never know, but the reality is Jay is the 8th coach in 16 seasons under owner Dan Snyder. My colleague at NFL Network Jeff Darlington, who first broke the news, worked to see if Robert Griffin III had much input in the hiring process. That’s also an unknown at this point.

One thing is for certain: Gruden will need to develop a seamless synergy with the franchise’s young quarterback.. and pronto. He just got to D.C. and Gruden already is campaigning, reiterating that RG3 is the starter, so he’s off to a good start from that respect. The lack of a cohesive, trusting relationship was a major reason why Mike Shanahan is out of a job.

Gruden’s hiring was a sign that the team wanted an offensive mind to develop and nurture Griffin. Gruden tutored Andy Dalton in Cincy, where fans are wondering whether the red-headed QB was just limited or Gruden didn’t prepare him well enough for the rigors of the playoffs. Still, he managed to improve the Bengals offense in each of his three seasons as offensive coordinator, so we’ll see what he does with RG3. His first order of business though, is to get his young signal-caller to buy in to the Gruden Way, otherwise he’ll be following Shanahan out the door.

49ers-Saints Thoughts

The 49ers and Saints are carrying suitcases that will be a little heavier than normal with all the winter gear stuffed in them. Philadelphia got slammed with a winter blast and AccuWeather is showing that it will likely be minus 51 degrees at kickoff in Green Bay. That’s colder than it was during the Ice Bowl.

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As the NFL ponders the inclement weather pummeling the Northeast and the chances it impacts the Super Bowl, it should really think about reseeding the playoffs in the future. Critics will say the Eagles and Packers earned that right to host a game after winning a division title, which under the current format is true.

They will also say that the Saints are upset because they don’t play well outside of the Superdome. Also valid, but re-seeding would result in better match-ups and rewards the teams that are steady on the way to strong winning records. In the AFC, not much would change if you simply went with the better records.

It would also put pressure on teams like the Chiefs. If they knew there was more to play for like say a higher seed, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have rested starters versus the Chargers. It remains to be seen if the league will do any tweaking, but I better they’re taking notice. It won’t help the 49ers and Saints much now. They’re too busy searching for thermals.

Luis Suarez Takes Out Opponents

Luis Suarez had yet another opponent crying out for mercy as he put his knee on their throats, not literally of course, although it would be plausible to leap to that reaction given his recent checkered past on the pitch, whether its allegedly hurling a racist comment or munching on an opposing player’s limb.

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Suarez toyed with a disheartened Cardiff side by assisting on one goal and knocking home two others, bringing his BPL total to a whopping 19 goals in 12 matches, an unprecedented scoring binge the likes we have not seen. He’s on a staggering pace for 60 at the moment and wouldn’t doubt him seizing the achievement. Think about the dent he would’ve made had he not been suspended for biting Chelsea’s Ivanovic.

The overall total would be far greater. His play against Cardiff showed his determination in and around the box, never giving up and constantly moving. As a result, Liverpool is now on top of the table. Suarez caps off an unforgettable week in which the Uruguayan also inked an extension. In the summer, he seemed destined to be anywhere other than Liverpool, making the agreement all the more unthinkable, but the club did the smart move and in turn, gave it more control if someone were to seek out his services. When his head is right, like it is now, he’s a potent striker in top form that can’t be slowed. Cardiff found that out.

US Soccer Headed In The Right Direction?

Since I wear multiple hats, and one of them involves the other football or as most of the world knows it as futbol, I should mention that I spoke with US Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann following his 4 year extension that also includes the title of Technical Director. He obviously believes it was good to get it out of the way to bring some stability in preparation for the World Cup.

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US National Team products Carlos Bocanegra, Cobi Jones and Brian McBride all agreed that this was all part of Klinsmann’s plan and there’s no lingering distractions in the coming months. They believe US Soccer is headed in the right direction at the moment. As Bocanegra correctly pointed out to me, there’s really no other viable candidate out there to take over.

Whether Klinsmann actually coaches until 2018 remains to be seen, but a scenario where he’s just the Technical Director is quite possible. The timing of this extension is a bit curious considering it was done before what will be a brutal World Cup for the US, but as Jones reiterated, contracts are made to be broken. So if the team does poorly, then it changes things.

There were reports circulating that Switzerland and Tottenham were interested in the German, which may have hastened the signing. Klinsmann also told me that he’s already faced logistical challenges in Brazil waiting 8 hours for his flight in Salvador. A harsh taste of what’s to come for the US National Team that not only faces a Group of Death, but 9 thousand miles of travel in extreme humidity. If Klinsmann’s bunch makes it through all of that, the extension will be worth every cent.