He has become a familiar sight at Real Madrid¹s press conferences before its Champions League matches: next to the Special One sits the Silent One, a former player whose list of honors rivals that of the coach (it includes a World Cup and European Championship success), and whose presence adds even more stardust to the Real Madrid name.
DOHA, Qatar -- It was like that moment at the end of a courtroom drama when a decisive witness is unexpectedly called, dramatically turning the outcome of the case on its head. Suddenly, the mood changed completely; suddenly, the verdict did not seem quite so clear cut. As a piece of PR it was a masterstroke. As a reflection of the impact a single man can have it was hugely revealing; a case study in convincing. For all the technical, objective criteria, for all the logical thinking, personality can still persuasive. Especially if you chose the right personality.
What's the best word in sports? There's vigorous competition for the worst word in sports. When an Olympian wants to podium, I reach for the Imodium. I'm not a fan of batters plating base runners, either. (Plate, as a verb, belongs in restaurants, where you plate meals -- and crumb tables.) Thanks to announcers who can't say "tired," I suffer from fatigue fatigue.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Zinedine Zidane, France Zizou gets our Player of the Decade nod, barely beating out Ronaldinho, who also won two World Player of the Year awards this decade but didn't have anything approaching Zidane's longevity at the top of the global game. No player since Diego Maradona has provided as much joy to viewers who love the artistry of soccer. Case in point: France's stunning upset of Brazil in the 2006 World Cup quarterfinals, in which Zidane rediscovered his mojo on the game's biggest stage. (Bonus points for scoring the greatest goal of the decade in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen.)
It's the classic "offer you can't refuse" -- the tipping point at which anything becomes possible. Manchester City's $145 million bid for Kaká is a shot into unknown territory. It roughly doubles the previous world-record transfer of $65 million, set 7½ years ago when Zinedine Zidane left Juventus for Real Madrid.
So Cristiano Ronaldo has won the Ballon d'Or as European Footballer of the Year (though, in fact, it's a bit of a misnomer: Any professional in the world is now eligible). And, barring an Act of God, he'll win the FIFA World Player Award as well.
VIENNA, Austria -- OK, so I've tried my best. I've held my tongue throughout this tournament. But, the fact is, I've had it. I've had enough of people telling me that Miroslav Klose and Karim Benzema are overrated donkeys because they haven't had a good Euro 2008. Or that David Villa is now the best striker in Europe (heck, he's not even the best striker on his national team). Or that Andrei Arshavin is the second coming of Zinedine Zidane.
He's captain of Brazil, has a World Cup winner's medal and more than 60 international appearances to his credit. But even so, Gilberto Silva is surely one of the reasons that Arsenal is set to complete another season without silverware.
I don't know about you, I'm a little MLS-ed out. And I say that only as the overwhelmed editor of the SI.com soccer section; the fan side of me is still Major League Stoked. I honestly have never been this excited about our own American league.
1. Arizona speed-control cameras have caught Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart going over the legal limit four times this offseason, including three times in March alone. Coupled with Leinart's dalliances with the likes of Paris Hilton, authorities are charging him with being a cliché. (Fast cars, check ...)