Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


WOULD A 92ND GOAL HAVE HELPED?

Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps has been named the 2012 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, the AP has announced.

Phelps, who won six more medals at last summer’s London Olympic Games to bring his career medal haul to 22, including 18 golds, got 40 votes in balloting by 100 U.S. editors and broadcasters to out-poll basketball’s LeBron James, with 37, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, with 23.

Phelps joins track’s Carl Lewis as the only Olympic-related athlete to win the AP honor twice.  Golfer Tiger Woods and cyclist Lance Armstrong have won the award four times each, and basketball’s Michael Jordan is a three-time winner.  [December 20]

Comment:  The elephant not in this room, of course, is Argentina and FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, whose 91 goals for club and country in all competitions during the calendar year broke the 40-year-old record of 85 set by West Germany and Bayern Munich poacher extraodinaire Gerd Muller.

The AP has been doing this since 1931, and it has rarely looked beyond its own shores, let alone smiled on a soccer player.  This is a group of sports editors and sportscasters that in 2000 voted on the best 100 athletes of the 20th Century.  The only soccer player was Pele, who was No. 15–six places below female multi-sport standout Babe Didrikson Zaharias.  No Alfredo Di Stefano.  No Ferenc Puskas.  No Eusebio.  No George Best.  No Franz Beckenbauer.  No Johan Cruyff.  No Zico.  No Michel Platini.  No Diego Maradona.  No Roberto Baggio.  (For the record, at the top of the AP heap was Babe Ruth, followed by Jordan, Jim Thorpe, Muhammed Ali and Wayne Gretzky.  The race horse Secretariat came in 81st.)

But before outraged soccer fans here throw up their hands, there’s this story, released a day before the Phelps announcement, by the same Associated Press:

BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Argentine journalists don’t think Lionel Messi is the country’s best athlete for 2012.

Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez was awarded the title of “Olimpia de Oro,” given to the South American country’s top athlete in voting by the Circulo de Periodistas–or association of journalists.

Martinez defeated Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. earlier this year in their WBC title fight.

Barcelona star Messi, who has had a record-breaking year with 90 goals, didn’t even finish second in the voting.  That went to Sebastian Crismanich, the taekwondo  fighter who won Argentina’s only gold medal in the London Olympics.  Messi finished third.



DOCTOR SOCRATES

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, one of the stars of the 1982 and 1986 Brazilian World Cup teams that dazzled but ultimately disappointed, died at a Sao Paulo hospital of septic shock resulting from an intestinal infection.  He was 57.  His survivors include a wife and six children

Socrates captained the ’82 Brazil side that, needing only a tie to advance, lost a second-round match to Italy, 3-2, in Barcelona to become one of the greatest teams never to win a World Cup.  Socrates scored a brilliant goal in that game, and an even better one in a group-round victory over the Soviet Union.  Among those who exited with him were Zico, Falcao, Serginho, Oscar, Toninho Cerezo and Leandro.

Socrates scored 22 goals in 60 international appearances.  The midfield maestro’s club tally reads 207 goals in 396 matches, 172 of them for Corinthians, for whom he starred from 1978 to 1984.  He later played one season each in the late ’80s for Fiorentina, Flamengo and Santos.

Socrates was a true Renaissance man.  He studied medicine during his playing career and went on to practice in his hometown of Ribeirao Preto.  Politically active, he founded an opposition movement to Brazil’s then-ruling military government, and he became a popular soccer columnist and TV commentator.  At the time of this death, he was working on a novel.  [December 4]

Comment:  The 1983 South American Footballer of the Year and a member of Pele’s FIFA list of the top living players of the 20th century, Socrates is probably best remembered by a younger generation as the older brother of star midfielder Rai, a member of the 1994 World Cup champion Brazil team who was ignominiously deposed as skipper four years later. 

In his time, Socrates was the face of Brazilian style between the post-Mexico ’70 sag and the embrace of the Dunga-style grit and guile that produced world championships in 1994 and 2002.  At 6-foot-4, he thoughtfully surveyed the field from a high perch and would pry open an opposition’s defense with a wide variety of tools, most notably his trademark back-heeled pass.

With Brasil ’14 fast approaching, what’s disappointing is that the hosts, with luck, may win the next World Cup, but they won’t embody The Beautiful Game, they won’t do it with any player as elegant, as thoughtful as Doctor Socrates.