Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
11/27/2006 10:58:00 AM
My Sportsman: Fabio Cannavaro
Fabio Cannavaro (top) was the glue that held the Italian national team together as it won its fourth World Cup in Germany.
By Mark Bechtel
There are plenty of valid reasons for naming someone Sportsman of the Year. Most of the candidates put forth have melded athletic accomplishment with achievement off the field. It is, after all, called Sportsman of the Year, so being a good sport can rightly be considered a prerequisite.
We as fans are fond of telling ourselves (and anyone who will listen to us wax poetically on the nature of competition) that the beauty of sports isn't in the winning and the losing. It's in watching finely tuned specimens who are capable of making things we can only dream of doing look routine. It's in seeing two combatants duke it out and then shake hands like gentlemen afterwards. It's in the seldom-used guy on the end of the bench who plays for the love of the game.
Which is BS.
Sure, those things are nice. But we watch sports -- I mean, we really watch sports -- because we want our team to win. Be nice if you can, guys, but win.
So this year, I'm picking Fabio Cannavaro, the captain of the Italian World Cup soccer team. Now before you get the wrong idea, Cannavaro isn't a bad guy. He's a nice man who does good things in his community. He doesn't headbutt people. He has never been accused, publicly at least, of harming any pets. But none of that has anything to do with why he's my choice. I'm picking him for one simple reason: On the biggest stage in the world, he was the best player. He won. Big time.
For reasons I still don't completely understand, Cannavaro wasn't even named the best player in the tournament. France's Zinédine Zidane was, though the votes were cast before he tried to embed his noggin in Marco Materazzi's chest. During the group stage, Zidane's form ranged from acceptable to putrid. He turned it on in the round of eight with an inspired showing against Brazil, when he comprehensively outplayed everyone on the pitch, most notably Ronaldinho.
Cannavaro, on the other hand, was a rock from the opening whistle. It's not easy to describe the play of a central defender in any way that will excite people. Cannavaro doesn't do any fancy dribbling and he never shoots (he's scored one goal in 105 games for Italy) -- in short, he's not SportsCenter material.
But watch him in person, when you can see the whole pitch and the way he commands it, and you begin to understand why he's regarded as the best defender in the world. He's never out of position. He anticipates plays so that he rarely has to make a flashy, last-gasp play; nine times out of ten, he's got things covered. And that one other time, he'll just swoop in and break up the play with a perfectly timed tackle. In Germany, the Cannavaro-led Italian defense allowed two goals: an own-goal against the U.S. and a soft penalty against France in the finals. That was it.
Cannavaro has played magnificent football for years, but he saved his best performance for the most important competition of his life. If you want some idea of how much pressure the World Cup generates, think of the Super Bowl and multiply it by 10. And this year there was a little added pressure on the Italians. A scandal back home in their domestic league involving allegations of match-fixing and influence-peddling threatened some of the country's top sides.
It was a full-blown crisis, and it was blowing up right in the middle of the Cup. The scandal left so many fans of the Azzurri bluer than usual. So they pegged their hopes on their national team, skippered by a 33-year-old whose club team was staring at the prospect of massive penalties.
For Cannavaro to shine with that many eyes on him -- with that many hopes on him -- makes him the Sportsman of the Year in my book.
Wow. What nonsense. Yes, Cannavaro had a great World Cup. And granted, most people in America watch the World Cup and base their entire opinions about the sport on these few games. But what about their club careers? What about their level of play over the course of an entire season? Do we judge NBA players by what they do in the Olympics, or how they perform in the NBA playoffs? Of course the WC has more meaning than Olympic basketball, but professional soccer players play non-stop for nine months, and at the end of it all, are expected to show the same level of performance in the World Cup. Any true soccer fan will tell you that, inevitably, the World Cup ends up consisting of a bunch of tired, injured professionals (who never play together) just trying to find some consistency and teamwork. Sadly, the quality of play is vastly inferior to what one sees week in-week out in the top domestic leagues (English Premier League, La Liga, or even Serie A).
Cannavaro is a fine defender to be sure, but he was not even the best player on his club team last season (Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta). Coming in to the WC, Alessandro Nesta was considered by most to be Italy's best defender, not Cannavaro. And his form since the World Cup for his new club Real Madrid has been at best mediocre, and at worst downright embarassing. Sadly, Cannavaro will win the World PLayer of the Year award too, though there are a number of more worthy candidates (Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, and Samuel Eto'o to name a few).
Cannavaro for sure. It's nice to imagine as an American that are domestic leagues has the best athletes in our all too many sports ... but that is biased and ignorant.
Soccer/Football is played and watched by billions ... most of the world but us. Cannavaro commanded the best team on by far the world's biggest stage (actually SuperBowl times 500 is more accurate). He did so in an entertaining and powerful way. It has to be Cannavaro!
Well all those who say tha Cannavaro didn't deserve this award just don't know what they're talking about. Yes he had a great World Cup but if you see his performances as an individual during last season they were impeccable to say the least. And i'm not a Juventus fan!!! Also to be able to defend the way Cannavaro defends requires as much talent as that needed for Ronaldinho and Henry to create their magic!!!!
Defenders are just people who don't have enough skill to play real positions like midfield and forward. They (and goalies) are not real soccer players. Plus, did you see how John Carew had his way with him. Whether you like it or not Zidane is the sportsman of the year (or his understudy Ribery).
Cannavaro came through for the Azzurri on defense throughout the entire World Cup, but ultimately it was the work of guys like Pirlo that delivered Italy its fourth world cup. In futbol, defense is vital, but the limited offense is what wins games. Had it not been for Pirlo's beautiful assist at the end of the Germany game, the Italians might have lost a penalty shootout to Germany and would have had to settle for third at best. It was not just that single play that makes Pirlo a better candidate for Sportsman of the Year, but it was his all round attitude and performance on the greatest stage in all of sports. He was the biggest reason Italy won and he is possibly the most underrated player at the '06 WC.
Fabio's form prior at Juve this year was spectacular and he did nothing to tarnish his stellar reputation with his flawless display at the Cup. While he has dropped a bit in form at Madrid, he is not the only "Galactico" that is suffering in that new system. Henry and Ronaldinho had lackluster at best WC's, while Eto'o didn't play since his country didn't make the tourney. Ronaldinho has been spotty at Barca since La Liga and the Champions League kicked off, so don't give me the garbage about form after the Cup. I would not argue with Henry and Buffon as choices, but at least give Fabio his due. I doubt if you remove him from the Italy back line they do even remotely as well. Like it or not, the World Cup, and the player's performance in it, goes a long way at the awards' season. With that in mind, Cannavaro came up huge and lead a team struggling with scandal at home to the biggest prize any footballer could win. Well deserved, Captain!
hope fifa doesnt have anything to do with this hard. you're rewarding some based on their play during wc, which was only 6 games is crazy. cannavaro is good defender but not the best, also he played on a team that cheated they're way to win serieA, should say alot.
Cannavaro deserves the award for his stellar play. He anchored a team of cheats and floppers who were handed games against the United States, Australia, and France by biased officials, but did not himself take part in such shameful football. Thierry Henry, however, is the epitome of a great player and will hopefully be recognized in the future.
Honestly, I'm aghast that people are now even saying how he's not the huge factor in Italy's 4th title. I guess that pretty much tells you the objectivity of some people. Did he or he did he not provide the leadership needed for that campaign to be successful?? Who was Gigi's wall in the WC?? And to say he's done nothing before Germany is just f*cking stupid. He was spectacular with Juventus. A club who still let him some goals and quite a lot too even with Gigi Buffon as GK but one they've acquired Cannavaro's services, it's considerably lessened to at least a half of what was previously conceded. Honestly, some poeple who are commenting here need to at least watch more football matches outside of EPL!
All this talk about how Cannavaro played before or after the World Cup means nothing. He is being considered for Sportsman of the Year only because of his performance in the WC where he performed beautifully. As a former soccer player (and defender) I was in awe watching Cannavaro in the WC and his superb ability to anticipate plays and break them up. One thing that separates all exceptional atheletes from the crowd is their ability to make what they do look easy , as if they aren't even putting in 100% effort. That is how Cannavaro played in the biggest and most gruelling tournament of any sport in the world this year.
All those who talk about one deserves it more then others need to understand that this happens in ALL of sports. Yes, certain players get shafted but thats sports in general. Complaining about it doesn't any to change the voter's minds. As for the talk of Italy cheating their way to the title.... please. Every gets calls that go their way, everyone flops. its fifa's rule to call it more often then it does. If anyone were to get the award other the Cannavaro it should be Buffon. The man single-handly took over in both club and WC matches. In order to win with the so-called cheating, you have to stop the other team from scoring. Yes the cheating can work here too but if you look back he did have goals scored on him too. Everyone needs to stop with the whinin bout who should and shouldn't. It happens.
Finally someone is writing something with sense. Fabio Cannavaro was pure magic and seeing the French press getting all bent out of shape because the Ballon D'Or didn't go to Henry makes it even more tastier. Italy was the best team in the world cup. In the true sense of team and out of that team was a star. His name Fabio Cannavaro. Nobody passed him during the World Cup and his performance for Juventus was second to none. Two things to say, Grazie Fabio and Forza Azzurri!!!!
Let me know when you come up with some compelling argument for Cannavaro outside his performance in the World Cup. Last time I checked it was Sportsman of the YEAR, not Sportsman of the month. Cannavaro has no loyalty to anyone but himself (as evidence of his fleeing Juventus) and has looked slightly better than a college level player for Real Madrid. Do your research before writing your articles.
It would be fantastic for Cannavaro to win the SI Sportsman, but it won't happen, as SI is an American publication, and they'll give it to someone who is deserving, but also more popular in the US/Canada.
Yes to the victor the spoils but in terms of total impact adn leadership, my nod goes to Jens Lehmann. Consistent all year period. He displaced Kahn for the #1 jersey as the host nation and justified it by anchoring a successful campaign many were doubting. He also led an underacheiving Arsenal side to the CL Final helping set a new defensive record along the way.
A true leader gets his players to beleive in themselves...not only did he get Arsenal & Germany to punch above their weight, he was able to make beleivers out of the german public!!! and the worldwide arsenal support!!!!...not your typical glass half full crowd!!!
A lot of people here are just random EPL watchers. Fabio Cannavaro has being one of the best players in the world since Euro 2000. He has been amazing since he left Parma to Inter and then onto Juve. In fact Alex Ferguson always wanted him. His performance at the WC was amazing in that he lost is defensive partner to injury (Alessandro Nesta) and one of his friends at Juve to an attempted suicide (Pessotto) but still he was unflappable wether playing alongside Barzagli or Materazzi, there defense might usually bend but it never ever broke. Nuff said.
Cannavarro to me is a very very great defender, but take a break here look at the Italian team during the world cup. Does the performance of Cannavarro surpass that of Buffon or Pirlo? It is a hard question to grind. Thierry Henry has never been so close to winning this award,his was a complete year both at club and natinal team level.But sorry, the big loser here is not Henry, the big loser here is no one else but Samuel Eto'o Fils. He missed the world cup, did not win the African Nations cup but guess what. He was the top scorer in Spain, Champions League winner, Man of the Match for the finals, Champion of Spain, Highest goalscorer for the nations cup and out of the field he took the fight against racism in football field to a complete different level. Yes Samuel Eto'o all the way baby.
Cannavaro is what a captain should be. He was the Italian version of Tom Brady, Derek Jeter. Players who may not put up the big numbers but produce when their teams need them to produce. He was masterful playing every minute of every game at the World Cup.
In the Final he had an amazing game shutting down the French attack. When Zidane headbutted Materrazzi, it was Cannavaro who settled his angry teammates down, gesturing to many of them to clear the area around the incident and the referee.
He was a captain for the ages.
Italia World Cup Champions **** 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006 ****
I'm an Italian and slightly more than a casual soccer fan. You didn't have to be a fan to see that France outplayed Italy in pretty much the entire match. Buffon is great and all, but Cannavaro single-handedly prevented France from winning that game. After Zidane pouted away Cannavaro stood watching the penalties with a poker face of stone. Say what you want about defenders not being real players, but when it comes to professionalism, sportsmanship, and being a captain, Cannavaro is the epitome of class. Over a billion people watched Cannavaro earn Italy a fourth star.
Well, I'm an Italian too and I can say that Cannavaro made an excellent seaso also in the club, with Juventus, but there were also other players (Buffon,...) or like Francesco Totti who was able to return after 3 months to play soccer, a great soccer... And I think, that if you want to name a great sportsmen, it needs also some loyalty to the club and yes, Juventus made mistakes and they were in a crisis but that Cannavaro changed club, while Buffon and others stayed- says a lot.
Right on the mark as usual! It's pretty easy to tell the true fans that understand the game from the part-timers who invariably dismiss any 0-0 draw as boring. For those of you in the latter category, here's another analogy - a soccer central defender is much like an American (and no, that's not a coincidence) football offensive lineman - odds are high that without Larry Allen, the 92, 93, and 95 trophys might be residing in another city and those same odds strect to astronomical that Mr Payton's record wouldn't still be standing - yet most give the lion's share of the credit to others.
Keep up the honest, if not always popular, insights!