The Great Ones
Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo are the two greatest soccer players of my generation, guys who made the remarkable normal and each one capable of taking a team on their back and winning the biggest of competitions. Both had a definitive moment in a World Cup final where they basically willed their teams to win (Ronaldo in '02, Zidane in '98) and won countless times in their domestic leagues. They are older now, and certainly not as good as they used to be, but both today showed they still have flashes left in them as they are on their way out - it was great to watch them shine for what might be the last time on the world stage. They are the only two men to ever win three seperate FIFA World Player of the Year awards and are always going to be tied together in my memory.
It's hard to remember now, nearly 10-12 years later, the young explosive Ronaldo, the one with the speed, balance and power combination that would have made him one of the greatest running backs of all time if he had grown up in the United States. In the mid-90's with Barcelona and Inter Milan, he was the best player on the planet and maybe the best pure goal scorer who had ever lived. He would emberass multiple defenders with a bewildering array of moves, and had that heartless finishing ability that never left a chance wanting. 47 goals in 49 games in his last campaign with Barcelona is simply remarkable, a testament to his unwavering nose for the goal. As he has aged (and put on quite a bit of weight) that pure explosive speed that always seems to remind me of Gale Sayers has left him, but the quick feet and eyes in the back of his head for oncoming defenders is still there. Watching today's goal where he deftly stepped around the keeper and slotted it home with the opposite foot he made the move with was vintage Ronaldo - you could almost see him at his prime in a Barca shirt leaving the keeper sprawling in the dust without the ball in sight. Ronaldo was O Fenômeno (The Phenomenom) at 17, and it hasn't quite faded out yet.
Zidane, the one who looked like he was 40 at 20 because of the bald pate and the ever present 5 o'clock shadow. The one who held the keys to the engine of France's golden generation and brought the first ever Cup home to Paris after a scintilating performance in the '98 final where the distributor took on a new role putting two balls in the net to secure the title for France. If Ronaldo would have been a running back, Zidane would have been a quarterback - with the awareness to always hold off the defense around him while picking out his teammates with pinpoint accuracy. Zidane's teams always won, that was a common theme. Players made entire careers out of finishing chances generated out of the midfield by him - and then when it was needed most he could come up huge himself (the full volley winner in the '02 Champion's League Final was just ridiculous). Zidane is possibly the most clutch athlete I have ever seen in any sport, he was just spectacular on the largest of stages. Watching him today running the French attack and holding off his retirement for at least one more match, including scoring a terrific goal in stoppage time was vintage.
Enough soccer, I promise - the PAC-10 mascot rankings tommorow!