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Soccer
Grant Wahl
July 08, 2002
The World At His FeetAfter a sparkling World Cup, U.S. defender Tony Sanneh is suddenly a wanted man
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July 08, 2002

Soccer

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Best of the Best

There are no Beckhams or Tottis on SI's All-World Cup squad--in this most improbable tournament, a player had to prove his worth on the field to make our team.

GOALKEEPER

Oliver Kahn, Germany
Put on a one-man show and dragged his team to the final.

DEFENDERS

Tony Sanneh, U.S.
Came out of nowhere to be a rock on defense and a threat on attack.

Rio Ferdinand, England
The world's most-in-demand center back is being eyed by Manchester United.

Puyol, Spain
Outplayed linemate Fernando Hierro to help the Spaniards reach the quarterfinals.

Roberto Carlos, Brazil
The relentlessly forward-thinking wingback played fine defense too.

MIDFIELDERS

Yoo Sang Chul, South Korea
Peerless holding mid set the tone for co-host's magical run to semifinals.

Papa Bouba Diop, Senegal
Top-level showings proved his game-winner against France was no fluke.

Ronaldinho, Brazil
Displayed verve and imagination that were all too rare in this Cup.

FORWARDS

Rivaldo, Brazil
Theatrics aside, his ruthless artistry and five goals were breathtaking.

Hasan Sas, Turkey
Fearless finisher for surprise semifinalists.

Ronaldo, Brazil
Came full circle after the nightmare in '98 to reclaim his place atop the sport.

The World At His Feet
After a sparkling World Cup, U.S. defender Tony Sanneh is suddenly a wanted man

Now that the World Cup has ended, it's time for soccer's Silly Season, when European clubs open their checkbooks and plunder the rosters of lesser rivals. This year's market is livelier than usual for American players after their run to the quarterfinals, and no Yank is a more surprisingly hot commodity than defender Tony Sanneh. Eight European clubs, including English powers Arsenal and Newcastle United and Italy's Lazio, have made serious inquiries about the St. Paul native, who was the American revelation of the Cup.

The most remarkable part of Sanneh's rise has been how he seemingly turned overnight from a dubious defender with shaky ball skills into a world-class stopper who was also dangerous on the attack in the tournament. Sanneh credits a confidence-building switch from right back to sweeper last spring at FC N�rnberg, his club in the German Bundesliga. "A lot of people say, 'You really surprised me. I didn't used to like you at all,' " he says. "Well, people are quick to form opinions—until you're on a stage like the World Cup, where opinions don't matter so much."

If Sanneh were 25 instead of 31 his market value might be several times higher than the $2.5 million transfer fee N�rnberg was demanding. (He recently finished the first season of a three-year, $2.7 million contract.) But, says U.S. coach Bruce Arena, "Tony's a young 31. He's also a great athlete, which will allow him to last longer in the game. Physically, mentally and technically, he looks like he's only beginning to peak."

Sanneh started the first three Cup games at right back—his overlapping run and cross to Brian McBride for the third goal against Portugal was a thing of beauty—but he was even more versatile in the last two games as a center back who defended mercilessly and picked his spots to move forward. Though Arena says Sanneh's future on the national team most likely is at center back or holding midfielder, most of Sanneh's club pursuers envision him as a rightside defender.

Sanneh's success proves that American minor league soccer can produce top talent, even if it takes awhile. A striker at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and in two seasons with the Milwaukee Rampage and Minnesota Thunder, the 6'2", 190-pound Sanneh was spotted at the 1996 MLS combine by Arena, then the D.C. United coach, who converted Sanneh to a rightside midfielder. With D.C., he displayed a knack for performing in big games, scoring goals in the first two MLS Cups, and in '98 he was picked up by the Bundesliga's Hertha Berlin.

Sanneh has adapted comfortably in Germany, where he learned the language and became part-owner of a Berlin pub called Leibniz. This fall he plans to introduce a clothing line called UGLY Wear (an acronym for U Gotta Love Yourself). "It doesn't matter if people don't like the way I play or say I'm ugly," he says. "It's all about being comfortable with who you are."

And, not least, about showing that late bloomers can be just as valuable as 20-year-old phenoms when it counts most.

Favorite Villains
No Thanks for The Memories

The U.S.'s breakout World Cup shed light on an overlooked aspect of the developing American soccer culture: U.S. fans are starting to cultivate a hatred for certain opposing figures, the way Boston Celtics fans despised Bill Laimbeer. Here are our nominees for top villains.

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