Holden update, Ballon d'Or pick, Sounders' fan vote, more Mailbag
Kudos to Lazio's Miroslav Klose, who fessed up after scoring a goal on a handball
Shame on the French for honoring Zinédine Zidane with a statue of his headbutt
Cristiano Ronaldo, not Lionel Messi, would lead my list of Ballon d'Or favorites
Before we jump into this week's Mailbag ...
To Lazio striker Miroslav Klose, who did something remarkable in Wednesday's Italian league match against Napoli. In the fourth minute of a 0-0 game, Klose used his hand to score a goal off a corner kick, and not even the protests by Napoli players could change referee Luca Banti's initial decision to award a goal to Lazio. But Klose fessed up to Banti that the ball had hit his hand, and the goal was removed from the scoreboard. Lazio would go on to lose 3-0, but Klose was the biggest winner of the day.
To the French, who have "honored" their greatest soccer player, Zinédine Zidane, by erecting a bronze statue at Paris' Pompidou Centre of his most infamous moment, Zizou's headbutt of Italy's Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final. Let me get this straight: Zidane scored two goals in the '98 World Cup final *in Paris* and led the French to their first World Cup title, and yet there's no statue honoring his performance outside the Stade de France? But there *is* a statue of the headbutt? Unreal.
Time to open the 'Bag:
When is Stuart Holden coming back to Bolton and the U.S. national team?
Holden's long-awaited return may finally be near. The U.S. midfielder had perhaps the best season by an American in the Premier League in 2010-11, winning Bolton's Player of the Year award, but injuries have repeatedly set him back. In March 2010, a horror tackle by Holland's Nigel de Jong broke Holden's leg, keeping him from being at full fitness for the World Cup. In March 2011, Manchester United's Jonny Evans gave Holden another serious leg injury with a harsh tackle. And just when Holden appeared ready to return in September 2011, a routine check-up revealed knee cartilage damage.
Holden has put a tremendous amount of effort into his rehab, which you know if you follow him on Twitter (@StuHolden). When I asked Holden for a timetable on his return this week via Twitter DM, this is what he wrote back: "Late October or roundabouts looks a good bet!" It's impossible not to pull for Holden, who's now 27 and in what should be the prime of his career. If he can come back and show his previous form, there's plenty of time for him to get back into the national team in time for World Cup 2014.
Who do you think should win this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or award, and what would you make of Barcelona's Andrés Iniesta winning it? Would it be deserved although he didn't have an excellent year with Barça? Who would make your top five for this year's award?
-- Nour Sedki
I wrote a column about the quirkiness of the Ballon d'Or award for SI magazine in June. If I were choosing a top five for who has had the best calendar year in 2012 (not "Who's the best player overall?"), my vote would be:
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid and Portugal.
2. Lionel Messi, Barcelona and Argentina.
3. Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona and Spain.
4. Andrea Pirlo, Juventus and Italy.
5. Didier Drogba, Chelsea and Ivory Coast.
What are your thoughts on how the Sounders are handling the vote to retain or fire GM Adrian Hanauer?
-- Matt Koppelman
I love it. The lowdown: On Oct. 7, Seattle season ticket holders will begin voting yay or nay in a vote of confidence on Hanauer. If he gets less than 50 percent support, Hanauer is out as GM. If he gets more than 50 percent, he stays. It's the first vote of its kind in U.S. sports, and the idea came from the team's part owner, the comedian Drew Carey.
"I was doing a show for the Travel Channel on the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry," Carey told me last year. "In the Barcelona museum I talked to a guard, and he said there was an election coming up. Every four years they have an election for the president of the club. I said, 'Are you kidding me? I'd like to see George Steinbrenner do that. I would love to bring that to the U.S.'"
When Carey first met Joe Roth, now Seattle's principal owner, "All we did was talk soccer the whole lunch," said Carey, who ended up signing on with him to invest in a new MLS team in Seattle. "I spent the whole time telling him about fans voting their president out. ... The fans will do the dirty work for you. I always gave the Detroit Lions as an example: Matt Millen. He was there so long and made so many bad picks, but the Lions' owners didn't care. In my system with the Sounders, the fans could have fired Matt Millen.
"Joe bought into it, and we worked out the system. The vote is every four years. If the fans want to, they can get 20 percent of the members to sign a petition, and then they can have the vote any year they want."
Granted, the stakes of the upcoming vote aren't as high as they could be for Hanauer, who would remain as a part-owner of the Sounders even if he's tossed out as the general manager. Then again, I expect Hanauer will receive a vote of confidence: Seattle has been a tremendous success story in terms of fan interest and on-field success, especially in winning three U.S. Open Cups from 2009-11. The next big hurdle is for the Sounders to win their first MLS playoff series.
With fixture congestion such an ongoing issue, why don't countries do away with competitions like the League Cup?
I've always wondered why the League Cup still exists when there's already a knockout competition like the FA Cup, but I'm told that it's a good money-maker for teams below Premier League level. Still proud to say that I have never seen all 90 minutes of a League Cup game and don't plan to anytime soon.
Do you think Everton can make the top four in the EPL? Any chance they get Landon Donovan on a loan again?
I think it's a tall order for Everton to finish in the top four, not least because the club doesn't have the money that its rivals for those spots have. But I don't think it's impossible. The big problem in recent years has been terrible starts by Everton, but that's not the case this time around. The Toffees are third in the table five rounds in, and if they can stick around for a while the possibility becomes a bit more realistic. As for Donovan, he recently said he didn't expect to go on loan this MLS offseason, but I wouldn't hold him to it just yet. Donovan said the same thing this time last year and ended up going over to make an impact again.
Why do you think there was so much negativity about Columbus hosting U.S.-Jamaica before the match? Glad everyone gave props afterward.
Maybe there was negativity because Crew Stadium doesn't draw very well these days for MLS, or because more modern soccer stadiums have taken its place. But the history of U.S. success in Columbus is real, and the atmosphere for the Jamaica game (a 1-0 U.S. win) on 9/11 was absolutely terrific. What that stadium lacks in bells and whistles is made up for by the human element that knows how to cheer the U.S. team wholeheartedly.
How would Catalan independence impact Barcelona/La Liga and the Spanish national team?
You might have noticed that in a couple recent games the Barcelona faithful at the Camp Nou have dusted off some of the old Catalan independence songs that were in use during the Franco dictatorship in the 1900s. The news these days is that Catalan political leaders have called for fiscal independence from the rest of Spain during the economic crisis, and there was a huge march in the streets of Barcelona in support of it. From a political perspective, full Catalan independence isn't realistically on the table right now, so I don't think you'd see any sort of breakaway in La Liga or with the Spanish national team.
Kansas City-Chicago (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The top two teams in the MLS East square off in the Midwest's soccer mecca. A Chicago win would give the Fire a season sweep -- and first place by a point.
Arsenal-Chelsea (7:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2). The Gunners are off to a good start, and if they can follow up last week's 1-1 tie at Man City with a win over table-topping Chelsea, it might not be crazy to think they can challenge at the top of the league.
See you next week!