The Athletic FC: Brady can’t throw Birmingham a lifeline; inside Real Madrid’s Liga triumph

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Hello! Seven Super Bowls and 649 touchdown passes — but Tom Brady couldn’t save Birmingham City.

Coming up:

😬 Brady and Birmingham suck up relegation

🕰️ Carlo Ancelotti’s timeless genius

💁 Messi: how may I assist?

🆕 Moyes on way out of West Ham, Lopetegui agrees terms

Birmingham down despite ex-NFL star’s help

The flood of box office investors in English football shows no sign of drying up. Over the weekend, news slipped out that actor Will Ferrell had acquired shares in Leeds United.

Add him to a celebrity circle of minority stakeholders at Leeds that features Jordan Spieth, Michael Phelps and Russell Crowe. Not a bad dinner party. These arrangements suit all sides. Celebrities are keener than ever to dabble in ownership. Clubs don’t mind boosting their coffers or profiles, especially in the United States where publicity is king.

So it was that Tom Brady randomly popped up at Birmingham City as a minority owner last August. Birmingham are a proud club, one of England’s oldest, but their global appeal is limited. In PR terms, bringing the NFL’s most decorated player on board was an extraordinary catch.

Brady’s the winner’s winner but on Saturday, while he was watching Formula One in Miami, Birmingham dropped the ball. The club were relegated to League One, England’s third tier. Not exactly the field of dreams — and most certainly not the Premier League.

Managerial meat grinder

The main mover and shaker at Birmingham is American financier Tom Wagner. He holds majority control and unlike the owners City have been used to over the years, he has money and a vision. He’s simply had a terrible start.

Brady is said to provide advice on nutrition and recovery practices — bread-and-butter for an NFL quarterback — but his presence at Birmingham sounds more than a little ceremonial.

Tom Brady, Birmingham City

Brady meets the Birmingham City mascots in August (Photo: Cameron Smith/Getty Images)

Relegation is the consequence of some dire decision-making. Birmingham changed manager so many times that six people — including caretaker coaches — took charge of a game this season. The first of them, John Eustace, was sacked in October while they were in a Championship play-off position.

Not a sexy-enough name, apparently.

Wayne Rooney was sexier, in a reputational sense, but as Eustace’s replacement, he imploded. Then Birmingham got slightly unlucky. Having turned to a safe pair of hands in Tony Mowbray, he fell ill. Gary Rowett saw out the final few matches — a coach City sacked in 2016.

All in all, a textbook shambles. And the worst of it? On Saturday, Eustace kept Blackburn Rovers up at Birmingham’s expense. Wagner and co walked into this one.

Brady is not the only retired NFL star licking his wounds (his weekend did actually get worse, by the way, at his ‘roast’). JJ Watt’s first season as an investor at Premier League side Burnley looks likely to end in relegation, too.

Brady attended his first Birmingham game eight months ago. I happened to be there for it. Without being unkind, the area around the club’s St Andrew’s stadium is not exactly St Tropez and St Andrew’s itself is not the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium. Brady in town with his designer threads and blue shades was like a mirage.

Year one in England has been a very harsh lesson for him and Wagner. There’s been no equivalent of the Hail Mary touchdown pass.

Real dominance: Bellingham, box midfields and title celebrations

0503 MadridTitle 1 scaled

(Oscar J. Barroso/Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Europa Press via Getty Images. Visual design by Eamonn Dalton)

Real Madrid are La Liga champions. That might not strike you as much of a newsflash.

Just the 36th domestic title for them and, potentially, a 15th Champions League/European Cup in the offing this month. It’s what they do — but it wasn’t what they were doing last season. You forget now how far they trailed behind Barcelona in the league. And how viciously they were dismantled by Manchester City in the Champions League.

Carlo Ancelotti had an escape route. He could have gone to coach Brazil, but he dug in, built a sublime box midfield, turned Jude Bellingham into Europe’s best and rapidly got past Real’s failure to sign Harry Kane.

Real winning trophies is no fairytale, but in all Ancelotti’s time, this season is not far off his finest hour.

Haaland history lesson

Erling Haaland spent weeks listening to people slating his finishing, so he answered back on Saturday with four goals for Manchester City against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

He then took a bite out of one of his critics, Roy Keane, who had described Haaland, on Sky Sports, as looking “like a League Two player” and a “spoiled brat” for his unhappy response to being substituted. “I don’t care much about that man,” Haaland replied. Touche.

There’s history behind this. When Keane was a player for Manchester United, he engaged in a bitter feud with Haaland’s father, the former City midfielder Alfie. It ended in a notorious piece of retribution by Keane. The younger Haaland might be picking up the baton.

Messi magic: One game, five assists and a goal

On the subject of headlines you’ve seen before, Lionel Messi is doing bits in MLS. Except this is different. Inter Miami rinsed New York Red Bulls, winning 6-2. Messi assisted five of the goals and scored the other. All inside 81 minutes.

The pick of the bunch? Probably Miami’s third goal, where Messi takes four Red Bull players out of the game by threading a pass through the tightest of spaces for Matias Rojas to dink home.

That’s the most assists in an MLS game ever and the most assists in a single MLS half ever, not to mention the most goal contributions over 90 minutes.

Ridiculous… but that’s Messi.

Around The Athletic FC

  • Everton, despite two points deductions, are safe from relegation. Top job. But their proposed takeover by Miami-based 777 Partners is hitting the buffers. You really do wonder where this is going.
  • Manager corner: Ange Postecoglou needs the season to be over, with Tottenham’s players squaring up to each other. Better vibes for Mauricio Pochettino as Chelsea frazzled West Ham United — but Hammers boss David Moyes is running out of road. Julen Lopetegui looms large behind him.
  • Manchester United’s ‘gap’ midfield is a cause celebre. Everyone’s getting at it. Crystal Palace will try tonight in their Premier League match (3pm ET / 8pm UK, USA Network, Sky Sports Main Event).

Quiz Answer

On Friday we asked which two names were absent from this list: Raul, Ruud van Nistelrooy, ???????, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski, ???????

Congrats to the clever clogs who went with Thierry Henry and Thomas Muller, completing the roll of men who have scored 50 or more goals in the European Cup/Champions League.

(Top photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images)

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