Lionel Messi is going to miss up to two months after the Barcelona forward tore his hamstring in a game against Real Betis over the weekend. Messi has battled hamstring injuries throughout his career. In fact, his career is something of a medical miracle. As a child, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Barcelona signed a young Messi and paid for his medical treatment. Since then? Well, you know ...
Ah, the Champions League group stage draw. The first day of the year when we can wave good-bye to the sheep-slaughtering also-rans of former Soviet states and welcome the titans of Europe back to continental play. It's also the first day of the year when we get to debate how unlucky certain teams got by determining whether there is a proverbial Group of Death in the competition, and which group that might be.
This summer's European football transfer window has featured the usual telephone whispers and hysterical about-faces that one can expect from a three-month spectacle fueled by secrets, lies, roughly translated radio interviews, and unimaginable amounts of money.
These are the stories we read about during summer to pass the time while clubs are touring the world, playing friendlies. These players will be sold, or they won't. It's all basically bullshit until it actually happens. But one of these stories — the transfer of Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara — has risen above gossip and rumor. It involves old Barca manager Pep Guardiola, current Barca manager Tito Vilanova, Bayern Munich, the Brazilian club Santos, the Brazilian superstar Neymar, his dad, Johan Cruyff, old friends, political bickering and maneuvering, personal accusations, lines crossed, and grudges held.
In case you were busy deleting everything interesting from your Facebook account before Graph Search goes live, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
LeBron James reached a major milestone Wednesday night, becoming the youngest NBA player to reach 20,000 points in a 92-75 Heat win over the Golden State Warriors. James broke Kobe Bryant's previous record scoring pace by over a year. "I'm just trying to secure my legacy," James said, "and I'm very fortunate that Kobe doesn't have a chance to put this record further out of reach."
On Saturday, Real Madrid will play Barcelona in El Clasico. The prize, ostensibly, is the Spanish Primera Division title. (If Madrid wins, they go seven points clear of Barca; lose and their lead shrinks to one.) Jose Mourinho will gesticulate. Pep Guardiola will walk around the technical area in a suit woven by actual angels. Lionel Messi will pinball around the pitch and Cristiano Ronaldo will make lots of sarcastic faces. But the match could very well be decided by Real Madrid's Pepe.
When Pep Guardiola took over as manager for FC Barcelona in 2008, he brought a little-known gangly 20-year-old midfielder named Sergio Busquets with him from the Barcelona "B" team. At first he appeared surplus to requirements, as the team was already well served in his position with experienced internationals Yaya Touré and Seydou Keita. By the end of the season, Busquets had played so well that the team sold Touré to Manchester City and Keita moved to the periphery. Busquets has been lauded by his teammates, with defender/midfielder Javier Mascherano calling him “the perfect player” and Spain national team coach Vicente Del Bosque saying, “If I was reincarnated as a footballer, I would like to be like Busquets.” While Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Andrés Iniesta deservedly get most of the credit for Barcelona’s historic run (13 trophies since Guardiola took over as manager), a good portion of the team’s success can be attributed to Busquets’s quick passing and effortless transition play, helping Barca go from defense to attack. But Busquets is also an accomplished cheater who lives to get opponents red carded and win questionable penalties. He is a full embodiment of the club, both sides of the Barcelona coin.
England abolished beheading as a method of execution for traitors in 1973. As a method of execution for Chelsea managers? Not so much. Running a soccer team for Roman Abramovich is like being a high-profile death-row inmate convicted on a shaky case. Right down to the final moment, your supporters are hoping, protesting, staging vigils, reviewing evidence. Injustice is decried; websites are thrown up. Doesn't matter. Sooner or later your moment arrives, a finger lifts in a shadowy stateroom, and the ax comes down.
Current Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo, unlike previous Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, is only a caretaker, but then all Chelsea managers are only caretakers; some of them are just aren't told. (Noted Chelsea fan Drake tried to warn them!)
False: It is incredibly likely that no English clubs will advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Arsenal have an insurmountable deficit to make up against A.C. Milan and Chelsea will have to play out of their skins to stop the rampaging counterattack of Napoli. With the two Manchester clubs already going out of the competition in the group stage, it would be easy to conclude that England's stranglehold on the Champions League is loosening.
I think this is more a matter of coincidence than a sea change. United played key late group stage matches during a slump, City had the toughest group, Arsenal were probably punching above its weight class and Chelsea have forgotten how to punch altogether.
The money is still in England. The European football applecart might be getting upended by relative minnows like Napoli and FC Basel, but rest assured, we will likely see some of the better players on those clubs plying their trade in England next season. Follow the money and you'll eventually wind up in the Premier League.
What's At Stake: According to Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff, not a whole hell of a lot: "It's only a game and nothing more than that." Maybe, but as games go, it's the premier matchup in the entire sport. The best two club sides on the planet, the best two players in the world (Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo). Look, these things rarely work out the way we want them to. Last season Real and Barca played twice in La Liga and competed against one another in the Copa Del Rey and Champions League. By the end of it the players, coaches, fans and neutral spectators were staggering around, like revelers making a daybreak exit from a party that got a little too real. The matches were cantankerous, scrappy and cagey. We all needed a break.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Nobody is going to call the Colts stiff competition (or competition, really), but Julio Jones played Sunday like a robot sent from the future to destroy us all. His falling catch in triple coverage is not something humans should be able to do.
2. Andre3000, rapper
Just so we're all clear if you make the album Stankonia and then show up on the new Drake album with the line, "Now that both of us are colorblind, ’cause the other side looks greener/Which leaves your turf in a Boise State, can’t see a play or the team," chances are you will find yourself very, very high in a power rankings list called Rankonia. Just FYI. Take care.
3. Drunk Falcons Fans
To finish off the ATL's grip on the top three, Rembert Browne, an Atlanta native and the Doris Kearns Goodwin of celebrity softball, brings this to our attention. Sayeth Rem: "Blue Laws Repealed! Sunday Alcohol Sales in Atlanta! Church Parking Lot Tailgates Galore! MATTY NATTY ICES FOR ALLLLLLLL."
4. Lenny Dykstra, investment consultant As suggested by our human frailty editor, David Jacoby. Dykstra is the "face" of one of the craziest sports-related stories you're going to come across all year. Dykstra was supposed to fight Jose Canseco in Hollywood this past weekend in an event that was organized by a Broomall, PA. man who is "no longer allowed to legally promote fights in Pennsylvania after pleading to charges of promoting without a license and fight-fixing" AND a Nigerian-born Internet mogul. This fight didn't happen and now Dykstra is saying he never even agreed to get into the squared circle with the one-time Bash Brother.
I'm personally shocked at all this. A fight promoter accused of fight-fixing? A Nigerian internet mogul? Stock market guru Lenny Dykstra? Jose Canseco? The table was set! All they had to do was eat the meal. Can't believe this didn't go off without a hitch.
5. Marcelo Bielsa, manager, Athletic Bilbao
For those who don't actively follow South American or Spanish football, a) what's wrong with you? and b) meet this genius. Bielsa, a one-time Argentina national coach who led Chile on a breathtaking World Cup run last summer, is now guiding the Basque team Athletic Bilbao.
After a rocky La Liga start, the eccentric tactical genius, who employs little-used formations like 3-3-1-3 and drills his players to play aesthetically beautiful and athletically demanding football, has righted Bilbao's ship and over the weekend he offered up a managerial masterclass against Barcelona, drawing with the La Liga and Champions League winners in what might have been the best football match of the European season, to date. Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona boss called the match, "un canto al futbol," an ode to the game, and said of Bielsa, "I would have liked to have played under him: he is different to everyone else."
7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles might be slumping, but at least they have someone who can do this.
8. Pius Heinz, 2011 WSOP champion You gotta love a sport where the trophy presentation is actually a dude putting on a bracelet in what looks like a Birdman video. Nice work if you can bluff it.
9. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Got to love the visor. Got to love him because he's a man and he's 40. Got to love him because he teaches you how to Gundy.
But you mostly have to love him because after beating Kansas State this past weekend, in the shadow of the Game of the Century, Gundy had the stones to say, "I'm not so sure they shouldn't have been watching our game."
10. Yao Ming, college student
The average student height at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University just got a little taller. Sometimes it's important to remember that this guy was the absolute best. Yo! Yao!