Manchester United are not allowed to compete in the World Cup, probably because all the other teams are scared. So what to do this summer? Some of you will doubtless have national ties to one side or another, but for the rest of you searching for somewhere to lay your hat, here is one United-centric reason for each of the teams competing in Brazil. (This is part two. Part one is available here.)
In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
Orson Welles in the Third Man, there, promulgating one of the great European myths. For the Swiss did not invent the cuckoo clock. All the signs indicate it was invented in Germany, and first took off properly in the Black Forest around the middle of the 18th century. The Swiss didn't get involved until the end of the 19th century, when some innovator from the land of Toblerone stuck the mechanism inside a model Swiss chalet.
Why mention this? Well, the cuckoo was not invented in Switzerland, just as it wasn't invented in Manchester. Solidarity to our Alpine brothers.
Yes, Antonio Valencia's had a difficult season or so. But there are rumours that he might be nudged into a more central role with his national team, which means the viewing public may get a chance to find out exactly what that weird growth on the end of his not-right leg is meant to be. Not an opportunity to be missed. Plus he tried to pull Raheem Sterling's head off the other day, so kudos.
You know how Patrice Evra is a magnificent human being who, despite being overworked in his later years by a club who should really have found a way to alleviate his workload in order to preserve his effectiveness, remains a magnificent human being? Replace the word club with country there.
Okay, so TBB hasn't managed to find a specific, United-based connection to the Hondurans. But, and it's important, Honduras play their football while wearing a shirt that has, in lieu of a badge, a large H. This kind of innovative, amusing simplicity demands affection.
Only three Argentines have ever played for United, and two of them, Gabriel Heinze and Carlos Tevez, rather ruined their reputations upon departure, the one attempting to move to Liverpool, the other making a spectacle of himself at City. But the third ... ah, the third. Juan Sebastian Veron, owner of one of the most sensual right feet in the history of football. The player who was meant to raise United to a new level, to elevate domestic dominance into continental superiority. The player who ... well, didn't, much to everybody's general disappointment.
Still. He was a great player. And they were all fucking idiots.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
After Croatia and Chile, this is another nation that boasts a midfielder who will, if he plays well, have United fans alternately purring in appreciation and mewling in despair. Miralem Pjanic, currently with AS Roma, was heavily linked with United last January but ended up signing a new contract with the Italian club. He is very, very good at all the important things, and he takes sexy free kicks.
Carlos Queiroz! As I live and breathe! How the devil are you? Still playing ultra-cautious football, qualifying for World Cups, and looking like an talk-show host who secretly maintains an extensive sex dungeon? Yes? Good, good.
For Chelsea, Jon Obi Mikel is a tidy, safety-first, possession ticker-over of minimal interest and moderate achievement. For Nigeria, however, he sometimes plays in a more free-roaming, attacking role. Sometimes he runs with the ball. Other times he shoots. He has, rather amusingly, scored more goals for his country than he has for his club. So watch Nigeria, and watch Mikel, and chuckle over the fact that Chelsea paid about £14m for this engaging, interesting, attacking midfielder ... and then turned him into a footballing accountant.
No German has ever played first-team football for United, and given Louis van Gaal's apparent distaste for Toni Kroos, that might be the case for a while. However, Germany third-choice keeper for the tournament is Hannover 96's Ron-Robert Zieler, who as well as having indecisive parents was a trainee at Old Trafford from 2008-2010. While in the country he spent some time on loan with Northampton Town, who are of course the team against which George Best scored a record six goals FA Cup goals in 1970. So that's two sort-of reasons to root for die Mannschaft, as well as one good reason to talk about George Best even though he never went to a World Cup.
Those of you that like to live in the past can dwell on Cristiano Ronaldo if you want. Those of us that live in the now, however, know that it's all about Nani. No, he's not as good as his compatriot, but he'll be significantly better-rested. Keep an eye out for Bill Carvalho's pencil moustache, too, which David Moyes thought was the solution to all United's midfield problems.
Any enemy of Luis Suarez is a friend of ours.
Pop quiz! Name the three Americans to have represented Manchester United. Tim Howard is one, yes. And Jonathan Spector is two, very good. And number three? No? Ed McIlvenny, of course! How did you not get that?
Admittedly, McIlvenny's United career isn't among the most illustrious, amounting to precisely two appearances in August 1950. But when it comes to the World Cup, his pedigree is second to none. As the USA geared up to face the mighty England in Belo Horizonte in their opening game of the 1950 World Cup, McIlvenny, born in Scotland, was awarded the captaincy on the basis that he was British. He led his part-time, odds-very-much-off side to a famous 1-0 win over Stanley Matthews and friends, a result which still stands as perhaps the World Cup's greatest upset.
Dark horses by general acclamation, a good tournament for Belgium will likely mean a good tournament for both United's representatives. Marouane Fellaini has retained his first-team place, with Marc Wilmots extremely critical of David Moyes's management over the last season. And Adnan Januzaj, though his debut was stripped of its official status, looked impressive as a second-half substitute against Luxembourg and should see action. So if they do well, then Januzaj gets to come back from his holidays having had a lovely time, while Fellaini comes back looking a tempting purchase for somebody. Anybody. Please.
In 1982, Algeria attended their first World Cup in Spain. They were brilliant, their 2-1 defeat of West Germany still stands as one of the competition's finest shocks, and they were done over by the Germans and Austria, who played out a meek and mutually convenient 1-0 German win in the knowledge that this result would send both teams through and the north Africans out. Anschluss, screamed the press.
Since then, all final group games have been played simultaneously. The following year, however, Algeria played a friendly against United, which must have been some small consolation. TBB hasn't been able to find out precisely when, where and why the game happened, but brief highlights are below. Algeria look pretty good:
Andrei Kanchelskis had a slightly funny run, didn't he? When he had the ball, he seemed to set and slightly hunch his shoulders, meaning that his arms, rather than pumping away at his sides, stuck out from his body a bit as they wiggled around. Not that it ever seemed to slow him down, and those broad shoulders — stronger, perhaps, than a traditional wingers' — did an excellent job of keeping defenders from the ball.
With Park Ji-Sung having finally hung up his third lung, you'd think that there might be no direct United-Korea connection to enjoy these days. But oh! How wrong you would be! For just yesterday United signed a new South Korean heavyweight presence. Cho-A Pharm, the club's Official Pharmaceuticals Partner in Korea and Vietman, don't just have "an on-going commitment to product innovation". Oh no. They also have "a desire to be an industry-thought leader". Glory glory!
Groups A, B, C and D are here