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Robbie Fowler and Rafael van der Vaart in Monaghan and more of the week's best sportswriting

Get stuck into some of our favourite pieces from the last seven days.

Sean McCaffrey Sean McCaffrey Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

He brought underage teams from United, Liverpool, QPR and Ajax over to play in Monaghan. Robbie Fowler, Rafael van der Vaart, Wes Brown and more all had afternoons in what must have seemed beyond the back arse of nowhere, playing a crowd called Oriel Celtic for God knows what reason. Sean McCaffrey was the reason. One night he was teaching our centre forward a move where he would get the ball with his back to goal, feint to go one way and roll the centre back the other. At one point, when they were both getting ratty, he stopped the play and said: ‘Look, John Aldridge is retiring and Ireland have nobody to take over from him. If it’s going to be you, you need to get this right.’ We were 15 years old in a cold gym in Monaghan town and he was talking about playing for Ireland. None of us took over from Aldridge or anyone else, but that wasn’t really the point. His point was that the world is out there. Go get it.

Malachy Clerkin pens a beautiful tribute to the late Sean McCaffrey for the Irish Times.

Bundled-up street vendors hawked bright-orange ‘Perfect Fuckin’ Season’ T-shirts and Fuck It, There’s Always Next Year’ hoodies. Homemade signs ranged from ‘Johnny Manziel was the best player in the NFL’ to ‘They tried’ to ‘I have no words’ to a Steelers logo printed above the legend ‘If this flag offends you, it’s because your team sucks.’ A gigantic ’2017 Preseason Champs, 4-0′ flag flapped in the frigid breeze. A half-frozen rock band powered through Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’, the lyrics altered to better accommodate a climactic chant of ‘Pittsburgh sucks! Pittsburgh sucks!’ as a dude in a Santa suit with ‘Sad Santa, 0-16′ printed on the back tossed candy into the crowd. A competing nearby sound system pumped out jams including ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Started From the Bottom’, and, most intriguingly, ‘Like a Virgin’. Paper-bag masks were, as always, a popular motif. Everyone was frozen stiff, and nobody seemed to be in a bad mood. Maybe it’s self-aggrandizing to attribute this downtrodden-but-jubilant attitude to Cleveland fans specifically and Browns fans even more specifically, but it sure felt particular to us in the moment — a badge of honor pinned to a hair-shirt snowsuit of perpetual tragedy and humiliation. Let us have this.

– For The Ringer, Rob Harvilla comes to terms with a winless season for the Cleveland Browns.

Britain Soccer League Cup Pep Guardiola Source: Dave Thompsom

The team had been relegated the previous season, failing to win any of their final 10 games. Things were stale and there was disbelief that Guardiola even wanted the role – turning down the more prestigious position as head of the academy. Luis Enrique and Eusebio have since used the job to progress their careers but that was only viable after Guardiola. He disbanded the C team and merged the two groups. He allowed a limited number of older players to join the squad and brought added professionalism. Fines were introduced. In-depth opposition scouting, practically unheard of at that level, became commonplace. It quickly became apparent that the B team was better run than Frank Rijkaard’s first team. Ten years on, it is the attention to detail that stands out for the players who formed part of Guardiola’s first squad.

Adam Bate of Sky Sports tells the story of how Pep Guardiola’s journey as a coach began.

Three years before his death, Foster Wallace included the parable in one of his most widely-read pieces of writing. Yet it carries fresh resonance when said with quiet force by a young basketball player who stands apart from many of his contemporaries – to the extent that there have been numerous articles in which an unnamed NBA executive apparently suggested that Brown might be ‘too smart’ for the league or ‘his own good’. Brown was the No3 pick in the 2016 NBA draft and now, in his second season with Boston, he is a key figure as the Celtics arrive in London this week as the leading team in the Eastern Conference. We’ve already spoken about Brown’s desire to learn new languages and his interest in books and chess — while he loves playing the piano and listening to grime artists from east London. Even more intimately he has relived the death of his closest friend Trevin Steede in November. In the two games after that devastating loss Brown produced inspirational performances, which he dedicated to Steede.

Donald McRae talks to Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtic about race, the NBA and the death of his best friend, for The Guardian.

Imago 20180109 Mikaela Shiffrin Source: Imago/PA Images

My presumption was that her excellence was innate. One sometimes thinks of prodigies as embodiments of peculiar genius, uncorrupted by convention, impossible to replicate or reëngineer. But this is not the case with Shiffrin. She’s as stark an example of nurture over nature, of work over talent, as anyone in the world of sports. Her parents committed early on to an incremental process, and clung stubbornly to it. And so Shiffrin became something besides a World Cup hot shot and a quadrennial idol. She became a case study. Most parents, unwittingly or not, present their way of raising kids as the best way, even when the results are mixed, as such results usually are. The Shiffrins are not shy about projecting their example onto the world, but it’s hard to argue with their findings. “The kids with raw athletic talent rarely make it,” Jeff Shiffrin, Mikaela’s father, told me. “What was it Churchill said? Kites fly higher against a headwind.”

The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten on Mikaela Shiffrin, “the best slalom skier in the world”.

In addition to a life of fatherhood, painting, and teaching, Maybin has added the balancing act of being a public face at a crucial time. Yes, the money is the reason we’re here. The children are the forefront of this charge. But if he stops checking Twitter, will the kids lose funds? Will J.R. Smith, whose camp is calling him right now, send the food these kids really need? Would Chris Brown, who Maybin met at Art Basel a few times, post about this online? That’s unknown, but what he’s doing has seemingly yielded results. Bart Scott, the 11-year veteran, sent money. Adam Jones of the Orioles, Torrey Smith of the Eagles, and, yes, Brown, all donated, some calling Maybin personally. There is no obligation for black athletes to give to troubled communities, but many do. Some donate money. Some donate time. Some donate platforms and voices. There are no perfect protesters; there’s just a need to have consistent ones, especially when no one is watching.

Tyler Tynes of SB Nation spends a day with former NFL player Aaron Maybin in the wake of his viral moment that helped give Baltimore school kids heat in the middle of winter.

How the US could become the Dublin GAA of the soccer world

‘I love playing for Ireland but you have to really want to be there. I had no motivation to go again’

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