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Friday, Dec. 27, 2002

PREMIER REPORT

Roberto Carlos was best player of 2002


LONDON -- As the year winds down we are seeing a plethora of honors being handed out to different soccer players around the globe. Here are my picks for some alternative awards for 2002:

Christopher Davies

Player of the Year

Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid -- with Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Raul (Real Madrid), Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn (Bayern Munich) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester United) completing the top six.

Roberto Carlos has hardly missed a game and his displays have rarely been below very good. When the FIFA Player of the Year and European Footballer of the Year awards were handed out the Brazilian suffered from being a defender.

Yet for consistency, inspiration, commitment and skill, nobody did it better than Roberto Carlos and the Brazilian deserved more recognition.

Most overrated

Ronaldo -- occasionally of Inter Milan and Real Madrid but mostly of Brazil.

He scooped every Player of the Year award but never can so much have been won for so little. Ronaldo has completed just five club games in 2002 and was not even voted best player at the World Cup despite scoring eight goals for winner Brazil -- German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn had that distinction.

Yet in what was a victory for marketing, image and spin-doctoring over reality, Ronaldo's success proved you can, it seems, fool most of the people all of the time.

Gamble that paid off

Eyebrows were raised when FIFA made Japan and South Korea cohosts of the World Cup, but its faith was rewarded with a support and friendship that will stay long in the memory of those who attended the finals.

Returning to the media hotel in Makuhari, Chiba Pref., during the early hours of the morning after the Republic of Ireland had qualified for the second round, the hotel manager had kept all his staff on duty and put out a red carpet -- for the journalists.

Reporters were applauded off the coach and the hotel manager said the first drink was on him, an offer no one could refuse.

Thank you Japan. There may be no such thing as the perfect host but you ran it pretty close.

Biggest World Cup mistake

Arriving at Tokyo Station for an early train to Kobe having had no breakfast, this correspondent decided a familiar looking croissant and less familiar looking Japanese orange juice was needed and pointed toward the food and drink accordingly.

The croissant was excellent but the O.J. was refreshingly cold if, er, strange. Nevertheless hunger and thirst demanded the same again but the orange juice was decidedly off.

The waitress was asked to show the bottle of orange juice -- on one side was Japanese writing and on the other the English word "screwdriver."

Two double vodkas and orange at 8:45 a.m. -- talk about hitting the ground running before boarding the bullet train . . .

Goal of the Year

Surely no other contender?

Zinedine Zidane's stunning volley for Real Madrid as it beat Bayer Leverkusen to win the Champions League.

To score a goal of such beauty in the biggest club game of the season is the hallmark of greatness.

Worst decision

Southampton striker James Beattie came out of a night club after a few hours of refueling and decided to drive his car 25 meters to a kebab shop.

Beattie was breathalyzed, banned from driving, handed 100 hours community service by the court and fined two weeks' wages by the club.

Most inappropriate quote

Southampton manager Gordon Strachan talking about James Beattie, with the player averaging a goal-a-game, after the driving incident. "He goes on these binges."

Most modest quote

"If they sack me it will not be because I am a bad coach -- only because they think I am a bad coach."

-- Louis van Gaal of Barcelona.

Best warning

A fan attended a preseason friendly at Montrose in the Scottish third division. Feeling hungry he went to the food hut and asked the man behind the counter: "Do you have any pies?"

"Not this season's," was the reply.

Best gesture

Niall Quinn giving the proceeds of his testimonial at Sunderland -- the better part of 1 million pounds to charity rather than keeping the cash for himself.

Unfortunate name reversal

The Swedish commentator who called the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gay Shiven.

Geographic mistake

The American commentator who continually referred to Sweden's Freddie Ljungberg and Freddie Luxembourg.

Obvious line of commentary

". . . it looks like Korea are trying to score."

-- Darragh Moloney (RTE, Ireland).

Worst-kept secret

Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson on how to beat world champion Brazil: "There will be a game when somebody scores more than them and that might be the game they lose."

Worst medical analysis

"In some ways a cramp is worse than having a broken leg."

-- Manchester City manager Kevin Keegan.

Silence should be golden

"I've never heard a minute's silence like that."

-- Tottenham manager Glenn Hoddle.

Most honest deed

A punter needed Alloa to avoid defeat to win a tidy sum in an accumulator bet. Trailing 1-0, the scoreline "1-1" suddenly appeared on his television's text and the celebrations began.

Having noted the name of the Alloa goal-scorer, the happy punter sent a case of champagne to him at the club with a letter of thanks.

A week later the champagne was returned with a note "not known at this address."

Upon checking, the punter found out it was an own-goal.

Top Eric Cantona quote

"I don't have much spare time. I think I should have more free time. However, if I do such a lot of things it is because I can't stand doing nothing. I have something in my subconscious that makes me feel I need to do a lot of things. And I love it."

-- From the man who gave us "when the sea gulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown in the sea."

Poor Christmas party venue

Celtic players decided to hold their Christmas party in Newcastle to avoid any possible trouble in Glasgow.

But following the yuletide celebrations in Buffalo Joe's bar, three players -- Joos Valgaeren, Johan Mjallby and Bobby Petta -- were arrested on suspicion of robbery and spent the night in police cells after it was alleged a photographer's camera was damaged.

Neil Lennon was also arrested for a breach of the peace but released without charge. Three others were bailed out to return in March.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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