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Deadline day ends David Moyes’s honeymoon at Manchester United

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If David Moyes wasn’t so respected, people would be talking about his team’s last two performances.  After 11 years at Goodison, though, Moyes had earned most people’s benefit of the doubt. Others may have been assuaged by his role as Alex Ferguson’s hand-picked successor. Regardless, Moyes had enough cachet to defuse debate. Only a handful of people wondered aloud whether Ferguson would have found a way to get full points last Monday or if Manchester United would have been held at arm’s length at Anfield were Ferguson still coaching.

But United’s first three games, as a whole, have been underwhelming, particularly considering only Paul Scholes is absent from the squad that won last year’s Premier League. The opening night victory at Swansea was impressive in totality, questionable in parts, but followup performances against Chelsea and Liverpool were uninspiring. If it wasn’t for what now seems like a honeymoon period, people would be openly debating whether the conservative tendencies that served Moyes so well at Everton have already cost him points at Manchester United.

It’s not exactly a fireable offense. Far from it. Throughout the corse of a season, most managers make decisions that cost their teams points. The best eventually make up for it with their good calls. Regardless, we discuss those performances, particularly when the manager in questions is running the most famous club in England. And while there have been some critiques of Moyes’s first three games, they’ve been meek. If he hasn’t gotten an outright pass, he’s at least received the benefit of the doubt.

That’s the context for Monday’s debacle. Given how disappointed Manchester United fans will be, it’s difficult to see that benefit of the doubt lasting, even if Ed Woodward (United’s executive vice chairman) deserves some of the blame. In the face of the Ander Herrera embarrassment, the inability to get Fabio Coentrao’s paperwork sorted out, having to pay over Marouane Fellaini’s original buyout, as well as the failed fixations on Cesc Fábregas and Leighton Baines, United’s transfer window reads like a list of failures neophyte management would make at their first clubs. It’s certainly not the type window fans are used to.

source: APManchester United, at a minimum, is well-run. They’re usually decisive. They’re usually effective. When they decide to do something, it usually gets done. Question their years without buying a midfielder, wonder why they paid too much for Dimitar Berbatov, or what they’re doing buying players like Bebe. Their judgment wasn’t always impeccable, but under Ferguson and David Gill, they were able to do what they wanted.

Sometimes it was unfair, almost to the point of being ruthless. The price they paid for Robin van Persie was so cheap opposing teams’ fans complained the system was biased. When they sold Cristiano Ronaldo, they got 41.3 percent more than the previous world transfer record – a huge, almost inexplicable leap. They even got under Daniel Levy’s skin in the Berbatov deal, frustrating the Spurs chairman with a last-minute (albeit expensive) swoop. Add in their 13 titles in 21 seasons, and at least within the British Isles, United tends to get what they want.

Now, in their first transfer window without Gill and Ferguson, that’s all changed. Now the club’s negotiating with phantom agents in Spain. They’re getting played by Bill Kenwright. They spend most of the summer drooling over a midfielder who’s only two years into his tenure at his hometown club, and given the chance to get a Portuguese international who wants away from Real Madrid, they’re undone by administrative errors. Though United eventually landed Fellaini, Woodward and Moyes’s first window is destined to be defined by their failures.

This is not what United fans are used to. They’re not used to seeing Arsenal land Mesut Ozil and Spurs spend around $150 million while they’re left frustrated. They’re not used to being out-foxed by Everton or being undone or seeing the type of paperwork errors that befall clubs embarrass their team. That these are new management’s first major decisions leaves fans right to wonder whether the last three weeks are the aberration or the rule.

The razor-thin silver lining to this mess: Manchester United’s last two, tepid results are now an afterthought. But when the team returns to the field on Sept. 14, the honeymoon will be over. The frustration, embarrassment, and lack of confidence emanating from Monday’s failures mean the benefit of the doubt is gone. On field performance and off field decisions are entirely different things, but with United fans thrown into a new, unfamiliar state of doubt, they won’t give their new manager pass. Not anymore.

Between fake agents, paper work problems, and being forced to pay above a player’s buyout, Manchester United had one of the most memorable deadline days of all time. Don’t expect Red Devils’ fans to forget it any time soon.

Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, buys $725 million Texas ranch

Jeff Fisher
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Well, Arsenal fans, you know that big splash in the transfer market you were hoping for? Umm, this is awkward.

[ MORE: Leicester fan set for huge bet win ]

Okay so maybe the majority shareholder of the Gunners, American billionaire Stan Kronke, isn’t directly responsible for pumping Arsene Wenger‘s transfer war chest full of money but imagine if he’d offered to give Arsenal $725 million rather than buying this incredible ranch in Texas?

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Kroenke sealed the deal for the legendary Waggoner Ranch in Texas — the largest ranch within one fence-line — and he now owns over 865,000 acres of land which easily placed him among the top 10 largest landowners in the USA.

That land also equates to three times the size of the City of Los Angeles which is the city, coincidentally, that Kroenke has just moved his Rams NFL franchise to from St. Louis.

SO, what do you get for $725 million at the Waggoner Ranch? 14,000 cows, 500 horses and 1,100 producing oil wells to start with. It also lies in six counties, has 30 cowboys on the property and 120 employees overall.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

What would you get in the soccer world for $725 million? Well, Wenger could probably sign Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo plus pay their wages and still have some cash left over.

Don’t get carried away though, Arsenal’s sustainable business model has seen them rise up the rankings in Forbes’ rich list and there will be no haphazard spending anytime soon. Much to the annoyance of every super-ambitious Arsenal fan out there.

That includes you, Piers Morgan…

Here’s a few pictures of what Kroenke has just bought. Preseason tour to Texas for a but of lassoing with Alexis Sanchez, Mr. Wenger?

Solo: USWNT finding new identity ahead of Olympic qualifying opener

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With the U.S. women’s national team set to kick off their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on Wednesday (Watch live, 8:30 p.m. ET online via Live Extra) against Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, goalkeeper Hope Solo knows the reigning World Cup and Olympic champs will have to reinvent themselves.

She’s been here before.

[ STREAM: Olympic qualifying live ]

Following the retirement of several key players — Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny among them — after their 2015 World Cup win in Canada, Jill Ellis’ team has been trying to create a new identity over the past few months.

It’s something that’s easy to say but a lot tougher to do.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been on this team for quite some time and I’ve heard many times ‘let’s create a new identity. We have to find our own identity, this team moving forward,” Solo said. “It’s something I’ve heard quite a bit but it’s never easy to do. We’ve lost some big name players, a lot of players have retired. We have young players coming in and the Olympics are right around the corner. We have to find a way to play to the best of our ability with some older players, brand new players and everybody in-between. It’s not easy but it is not foreign to us.”

Despite all the upheaval the USWNT are still the favorites to win their fourth Olympic gold on the spin at Rio 2016 this summer.

Placed in Group A for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2016 Olympics — the top two teams from the eight-team tournament advance — alongside Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the U.S. should breeze into the knockout rounds where they will likely face old foes Canada in the final.

Remember, over the next 11 days you can stream all 15 games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra with up to four games also shown on NBCSN.

Here’s the full schedule as Solo and Co. aim to seal their spot in the 2016 Olympics with minimum fuss.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.