Soccer said farewell to one of its all-time greats last week when Ronaldo announced his retirement. Brazil was awash with reflections on the career of the man with more World Cup goals than anyone else -- and Ronaldo was asked to contribute. Where would he place himself in the pantheon of Brazilian strikers?
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Contrary to what you might have heard, the world will not end on Monday night. The sun will rise on Tuesday morning. And there is life beyond the clásico.* It's just that right now, it doesn't feel like it -- it feels like nothing else matters, like no other games exist, like no other teams do. Every year Barcelona versus Madrid, already the biggest club game in world soccer, seems to get bigger. Even the old title seems worthless now. Derby? No thanks, this is the clásico. It's even moved on from that. Now it's the Super Clásico. Carry on like this and soon we'll run out of superlatives.
Shhhh! Stop. Stay very, very still. Listen carefully. Prick up your ears and you might just catch it: a faint rustling in the bushes as it ducks and dives its way through the darkness of Padre Damián Street, scavenging. If you're really lucky, you might even hear its characteristic call breaking the still air in the dead of night, escaping from somewhere in the shadow of the Santiago Bernabéu:
Last year, reaction to Real Madrid's decision to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars, described by some as club president Florentino Perez's Galacticos 2.0 project, was mixed. There was no doubting the quality -- at least on paper -- of the new signings, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Xabi Alonso, from Kaka to Karim Benzema, without forgetting valuable "foot soldiers" like Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Esteban Granero. At the same time, the moralizers had a field day over the sheer amount of money spent while others weren't sure whether Manuel Pellegrini could meld all the big egos into a cohesive unit.
MADRID -- Mesut Ozil mostly mumbled. The media mostly handled his presentation with predictable immaturity. There was little to grab, so reporters clutched at familiar straws when Ozil was unveiled as a Real Madrid player on Wednesday. He is the last of the summer signings at the Santiago Bernabéu, and the most exciting -- at least until he opened his mouth and his translated voice crackled through channel six on the headsets.
The real giant of the World Cup isn't Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka or Lionel Messi -- it's Namibia, a four-ton orphaned elephant with serious dribbling skills and a placid temperament unlike many of the stars on the human fields.
In a month's time comes the lone FIFA date for international fixtures before the end of the European season -- the only time teams preparing for the World Cup have the opportunity to be at full strength, with all their players available.
What do the following have in common: keeper Vincenzo Fiorillo (Sampdoria), fullback Francesco Renzetti (Genoa), center-half Giuseppe Bellusci (Catania), midfielders Fabio Sciacca (Catania) and Andrea Poli (Sampdoria), and strikers Abel Hernández (Palermo), Guido Marilungo (Sampdoria) and Alberto Paloschi (Parma)?
If this summer's transfer window is any indication, we can look forward to one of the most exciting European seasons in decades. With the three most expensive transfers in the history of the game recently made for amounts previously unimaginable, the stakes are higher than ever.
Spend some time in the inner sanctum of AC Milan's high-security hotel floor, and you'll see soccer royalty up close and personal. Up walks Ronaldinho, the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year, with a smile and a "Bom día." Here comes Clarence Seedorf, the four-time Champions League winner, with a handshake and tales of meeting Nelson Mandela.
It has been a weird summer of transfers. Most of Europe's top leagues kick off next month and yet, with a few exceptions (Real Madrid and, to a lesser degree, Juventus and Bayern Munich), there hasn't been too much going on. The window won't close until Aug. 31. In the meantime, here's an attempt at making sense of it all, with 11 questions facing 11 big clubs:
It seemed the 2008-09 season was barely seconds over before AC Milan turned just about everything on its head. Bad enough Captain Courageous, Paolo Maldini, has finally (at the age of almost 41) opted to retire, but next season, the Rossoneri will also be without two key figures of recent seasons: coach Carlo Ancelotti and Brazilian ace Kaká, who have left for Chelsea and Real Madrid, respectively.
JOHANNESBURG -- Pedigree matters. If it didn't, we might not have witnessed what happened at Ellis Park on Sunday, an unstoppable rally that gave Brazil the Confederations Cup title in a 3-2 win over the U.S. (RECAP). Heck, when was the last time you saw a team come back from two goals down at halftime in a major final? (Apart from the 2005 Champions League final, that is.)
Like many fans, my editor used the word "impressive" when he asked me to write about Brazil at the Confederations Cup. And it's hard to argue with the results. The Seleção won their three group-stage games by a combined 10-3.
There are some people who, I guess, are just not meant to be liked. Maybe they don't fit with what we expect, or perhaps there's something about them that prompts us to judge them more harshly than others. Or maybe they just don't look right.
Nine years ago, Florentino Pérez walked into the game and ushered in a new era. Call it "the Galáctico Age," call it "the Zidanes y Pavones experiment," call it the destruction of conventional wisdom, call it what you like.
Like just about everything that has to do with AC Milan, the extenuated January saga relative to Manchester City's failure to buy the club's Brazilian ace Kaká for a reported $145 million started and ended with the Rossoneri's all-powerful owner: Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
There's a lesson soccer teaches again and again: Never place too much importance on the results of friendlies. They can be very deceptive, and they're always forgotten once the competitive action gets underway.
Thanks to Dimitar Berbatov's 90th-minute winner at Bolton last weekend, Manchester United is back on top of the Premier League for the first time this season. Yet it was the 17-time English champions' crosstown rival, Manchester City, who hogged the global spotlight last week.