In the course of a few days last week, from a London pitch to a Zurich boardroom, the world saw the best and the worst that global soccer has to offer. The men who play the game have seldom presented a talent like Lionel Messi, the 23-year-old Argentine dribbling dervish who led Barcelona past Manchester United 3--1 in a UEFA Champions League final for the ages at Wembley Stadium last Saturday. Meanwhile, the men who run the game sank FIFA's reputation to an alltime low, conducting a farce of a presidential campaign that saw both candidates face corruption investigations and delivered, in the end, the same result as ever: Incumbent Sepp Blatter emerged as the only man standing ahead of Wednesday's scheduled election.
Thank goodness for Messi's Barcelona, which has to be considered one of the greatest teams of all time after dominating the Spanish and Champions leagues with a breathtaking passing attack. The world's soccer fans had endured a stretch of disappointing big games—including last year's World Cup final—but Bar√ßa and Man U delivered a classic. The English champions came to play, not just to defend, and even took a 1--1 deadlock into halftime, but Messi's brilliance reigned in the second half. So scared were United's defenders of Messi's ability to beat them on the dribble that they gave him space to unleash a leftfooted thunderbolt that gave Bar√ßa a 2--1 lead. Then it was Messi who broke Nani's ankles on the play that led to David Villa's trophy-securing strike.
In a modern game dominated by brawn and athleticism, Messi is the most special of outliers, a player of ordinary size whose skill, vision and chutzpah are taking the sport to a new level. But Barcelona has other weapons too, including Xavi, the majestic Spanish string-puller whose inside-out pass created the first goal against Man U. By the end of the onslaught, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was convinced. "In my time as a manager, it's the best team we have ever faced," he said of Barcelona. "No one has ever given us a hiding like that."
FIFA, for its part, reached new depths last week. Blatter's lone presidential challenger, Mohammed bin Hammam, of Qatar, pulled out of the race and was suspended along with FIFA vice president Jack Warner for their roles in allegedly offering up to $1 million to Caribbean soccer officials in exchange for election votes. (Both men denied the charges.) FIFA's ethics committee also cleared Blatter of accusations that he knew of the alleged bribes but failed to report them. In the end, last week's executive expulsions appeared far more likely to have been the result of a preelection power play than an indication that FIFA is serious about policing corruption. The most sensible response at this point would be for the national associations that care about fighting corruption, including England and the U.S., to leave Blatter's FIFA altogether.
On May 25 Mariano Rivera of the Yankees made his landmark 1,000th appearance in pinstripes, the most ever by a major league pitcher with one team. Here is a quick look at where that puts Mo in terms of staying power.*
*Athletes played the most games with one franchise in their respective sports
The Oprah Winfrey Show
Reality shows that never came to reality
With news that the Mavs' Shawn Marion is taping a reality show pilot, The Ladies of My Life, about his mom and three sisters, the TV experts at the Onion dug up six sporty reality pitches that (thankfully) will never make it to air:
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Tim Duncan looks through every government work form in Duncan My Taxes and explains how to properly fill each one out on a state-by-state basis.
Pete Sampras passes on his tennis knowledge in If You Hold Your Racket Even a Millimeter Off, It Will Affect Your Backhand Dramatically.
How many food items can one man use to show the advantages of a good pulling guard to his grandkids? You'll find out on It's a Madden Madden Madden Madden World!
I Am Juan Miranda sees the Diamondbacks' first baseman go to great lengths in attempting to explain exactly who he is.
In Animal Kingdom's Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby winner gives a glimpse into his glamorous life of eating oats, running and sleeping standing up.
FELIPE TRUEBA/EPA (MESSI)
AY LEO MIO! Messi's goal was a welcome distraction from Blatter (below) and FIFA's mess.
SALVATORE DI NOLFI/EPA (BLATTER)
[See caption above]
GEORGE BURNS/HARPO PRODUCTIONS/AP (WINFREY)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (STOCKTON)
RICHARD MEEK (HOWE)
JAMES DRAKE (YASTRZEMSKI)