Manchester City v West Ham United - Premier League

The new fan’s 2014/15 guide to picking a new Premier League club


Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game.

[MORE: Interactive team selector from NBC’s Premier League All Access]

But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. They had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further adieu, I submit to you my 2014/15 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team.

source: Getty Images

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Tottenham, Chelsea
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Gooners… they are everywhere. From Piers Morgan to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of celebrity fans and it seems impossible to go to a soccer gathering without meeting an Arsenal supporter. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. With Mesut Ozil last year and Alexis Sanchez (and more?) this year, the Gunners are looking for a title fight.

2. Aston Villa
Last championship: 1980-81
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Villians
Location: Birmingham
American players: GK Brad Guzan
Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (championship)
Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Calgary Flames
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Great slogan, cool color scheme and some solid players: there are far worse teams to select than Aston Villa. Conceptually, Villa as a strong English side is appealing on a few levels and there’s history to prove the Birmingham team deserves a winner, but manager Paul Lambert has struggled as much as his predecessors and almost had the ignominy of seeing his club relegated for the first time in its history. He’s on the hot seat, and the return to health and form of Christian Benteke is a massive concern.

3. Burnley
Last championship: 1959-60
Years in Premier League: 2/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Clarets
Location: Lancashire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Blackburn Rovers (championship)
Comparisons: Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Chiefs
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The Clarets have enjoyed local support regardless of what league they’ve fallen into — a headline on a bio I looked into was labeled ‘Decline and Near Oblivion’ — and fans know what they are up against in attempting to survive a season in the Premier League. Still this is a 130-plus year-old club with a rich, rich history. Rooting for Burnley to stay up is a hobby most PL buffs could get into… can you?

source: Getty Images4. Chelsea
Last championship: 2009/10
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, QPR
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins
PST’s Premier League season preview

Team’s loaded. LOA-DED. They have four EPL titles and some Champions League glories as well, and look fit to build on that this season. Maniacal genius Jose Mourinho enters season No. 2 with his own cast of characters, a process that began in earnest with the pick-up of midfielder Nemanja Matic last January. Here’s what I said last year, “Honestly, if the Blues put the pedal to the floor this year, they have the talent and depth to put up some record-setting or tying marks in wins, goals, goals allowed… everything.” That was wrong, but it hasn’t changed for this year; The addition of Diego Costa makes them a viable contender for the PL title and Europe.

You could do worse than choosing a club in London, as it is an incredible city to visit. Aside from my distaste for John Terry, they are a decent choice. Chelsea is going to be good — if not great — for a long, long time.

5. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 7/23
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: New Jersey Devils, Memphis Grizzlies
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Palace is a truly intriguing option. They seem to be a real working-class London club, a statement backed up by the management of Tony Pulis. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Australian mid Mile Jedinak is a great man to have in the middle of the park, and the addition of Brede Hangeland will make them even harder to play against this season.

6. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: GK Tim Howard
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos
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It’s hard not to like Everton, especially under borderline genius Roberto Martinez. Provided Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman don’t drop off, and we see continued development for Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, Everton will compete again for a UEFA Champions League slot. With a classy kit/color scheme and a fun rivalry with Liverpool, they are a good choice for new fans. Plus…. American World Cup hero Tim Howard is their longtime starting netminder.

7. Hull City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/23
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Kingston upon Hull
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Grimsby Town, Scunthorpe United
Comparisons: Toronto Raptors, Cincinnati Bengals
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Hull under Steve Bruce is an interesting club in that you really never know what you are going to get. The Tigers ran to the FA Cup final and gave Arsenal a scare before ultimately going down to defeat. They’ve already used their first European run to get into the playoff round by beating Trencin, and now have a winnable set-up against Belgian club Lokeren. They are true underdogs, not only in Europe but in England. If you can put up with owner drama — Assem Allam wants to change the team’s brand — you can probably enjoy rooting for a smaller club like Hull.

8. Leicester City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 9/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Orioles
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Leicester — or Lie-cester, as Ted Lasso would say — rolled through the Championship last season on 102 points, more than any team outside of Newcastle in the past decade. The Foxes are four-time FA Cup and three-time League Cup winners, and I personally dig the ‘Foxes’ nickname. Forty-six of their 108 seasons in football have been in England’s top flight, and it would be cool to see Leicester stick around for a while.

source: Getty Images9. Liverpool
Last championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers
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Really, it’s fair to call Liverpool the most storied club in the EPL, both title-winning (they have 18) and horrific (their supporters have been involved in two of the biggest tragedies in football history). Like Manchester United, now is a time to jump on board the Liverpool train if you want to join a big club. Liverpool has its return to the UEFA Champions League this year and came oh, so close last season before slipping up in the season’s penultimate fixture. And now, with Luis Suarez gone, perhaps there’s less villainy to choosing the Reds.

10. Manchester City
Last championship: 2013/14
Years in Premier League: 18/23
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels
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Manchester City is a cluster of fun. They have great money, talent and depth, and if you like Oasis you’re in even more luck (The Gallagher Brothers are massive fans). If you pick Man City now, you’re joining a good deal of perceived bandwagoneers — rightly or wrongly — but if baby blue is your hue, don’t let anyone convince you it’s any worse than choosing any other of the giant clubs in the world. Soccer’s money now. We have to deal with it. The reigning champs and winners of two of the last three, City will be a big club for a long time barring unforeseen advances in energy manipulation. Also consider that there will be a natural connection to NYC FC in MLS.

11. Manchester United
Last championship: 2010-11
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots
PST’s Premier League season preview

Now is an okay time to get on board with Manchester United and not just feel like you’ve jumped on a bandwagon. You’re a new soccer fan, and the team was a relative shambles last year. New manager Louis van Gaal has a great resume and the club is and will be loaded. United has England’s best talent (Wayne Rooney) and Holland’s captain in Robin van Persie. It will take just a couple great signings, center back and physical midfielder, for an immediate boost back into UEFA Champions League competition.

source: Getty Images12. Newcastle United
Last championship: 1926-27
Years in Premier League: 21/23
Nickname: Magpies
Location: North England
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills
PST’s Premier League season preview

Call them a combination of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, as Newcastle is a rich club that has only been the bridesmaid for years upon years. One of the biographies on the team’s history — and a great read at that — is entitled “Fifty Years of Hurt” (Yup). My goodness have they had hard luck and heartbreak along the way. This club has taken an absolute beating yet continues to find ways to rebound, most recently with a decent performance during their return to the top flight in 2010/11. It’s a miserable team to support, let’s be honest, but head butting manager Alan Pardew has a slew of new talent this season, and is set to tease his fans with another Top 10 run.

13. Queens Park Rangers
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Hoops, The R’s
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brentford, Chelsea, Fulham
Comparison: New York Mets, Brooklyn Nets
PST’s Premier League season preview

Harry Redknapp guided the club into the Championship and then back into the Premier League in two years time, though his big budget and playoff success were bigger components than consistency. The opinionated boss should have no trouble adapting his veteran club to the Premier League, but could face problems if he struggles to do so. In talking to a QPR blogger for a piece I’m working on, he maintained that Loftus Road is the “most vocal ground in the country” on its best days, and that the club’s jersey is the best going. Judge for yourselves, but a London club, as stated before, does provide great travel opportunities.

14. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 16/23
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Athletics
PST’s Premier League season preview

A club that has seen major glory, including an FA Cup win, but also been through the depths of despair following a relegation and administration allllllll the waaaaaay down to League One… now into a third-straight season in the Premier League. But wait!! The Saints have sold a bevy of their young talent and move forward with a bunch of question marks. Many are tabbing them as relegation favorites, but experienced players like Fraser Forster and Shane Long have joined an influx of new PL talent for manager Ronald Koeman. Hold on, this will be an interesting year to ride the St. Mary’s Express.

source: AP15. Stoke City
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return 2008-09)
Nickname: Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
American players: DF Geoff Cameron, MF Brek Shea
Biggest rivals: Port Vale
Comparison: Green Bay Packers (without the titles), Portland Trailblazers
PST’s Premier League season preview

Loads of respect for the fans of Stoke, a club that has smartly moved up the Premier League pecking order. Moving from Tony Pulis to Mark Hughes carried a few bumps in the road, but the Potters were really moving by the end of last season. Bringing in defender Phil Bardsley and Barcelona attacker Bojan Krkic help both ends of the pitch, while they carry under-the-radar players Marko Arnautovic and, yes, the USMNT’s Geoff Cameron. As a new fan, you can adopt Stoke City and feel pretty decent about not hopping the major club bandwagon but also not worrying about falling out of the league.

16. Sunderland
Last championship: 1935-36
Years in Premier League: 14/23
Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats
Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear
American players: FW Jozy Altidore
Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs
PST’s Premier League season preview

There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with a good manager in Gus Poyet, but it’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last season. American forward Jozy Altidore can still play a big role in their season, and their new relationship with DC United is also cause for raised American eyebrows. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).

17. Swansea City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/23
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Location: Wales
American players: MF Kristian Scott (reserves)
Biggest rivals: Cardiff City
Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns
PST’s Premier League season preview

A big time rugby area, Swansea is also indicative of the a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They’ve played a good deal of free-wheeling football and I certainly wouldn’t mind supporting the Swans under Garry Monk, a longtime club man who kept the team alive last season. Sure, they dealt with a bevy of training ground drama, but Swansea has the feel of a club that could stay up for a while.

18. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: GK Brad Friedel, DF DeAndre Yedlin (next season)
Biggest rivals: Arsenal
Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys
PST’s Premier League season preview

Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, a cool-albeit-goofy logo and they play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well. Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players: Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela among them. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his American backup, Brad Friedel. There’s really a terrific tradition in North London and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

19. West Bromwich Albion

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 9/23
Nickname: Baggies, West Brom
Location: West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton
Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers
PST’s Premier League season preview

I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:

“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support… Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”

source: Getty Images20. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 19/23
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers, Oakland Raiders
PST’s Premier League season preview

The Irons are forever blowing bubbles, but in recent years have had to worry about blowing their season. West Ham is a proud club that has played some boring soccer under boss Sam Allardyce. To be fair, their last few seasons have featured injuries to big purchase Andy Carroll, and this year they’ve added Enner Valencia to what should be an okay attack should Kevin Nolan stay in form, healthy and unsuspended.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

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When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.