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A-Rod, the Don and the week's best sportswriting

Also featuring a look at football’s racism problem.

Put your feet up, sit back and enjoy some of the week's best sportswriting.
Put your feet up, sit back and enjoy some of the week's best sportswriting.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

1. HE BURROWS DOWN into his hooded sweatshirt, slumps down into his padded chair, tries to blend into the background, and it works: For once in his life he actually manages to not draw attention to himself. But then the professor stands up and starts to say something truly – insane. Something that threatens to ruin everything. On the first day of every new class, the professor says, I like to go around the room and have my students tell a little about themselves, so right now let’s have each of you say your name, what you do for a living, and a bit about why you decided to enroll in Marketing 644.

JR Moehinger took a closer look at Alex Rodriguez in ESPN the magazine as the shamed Yankees star gets set to return to baseball.

2. He is placing the ball on the penalty spot, clear in his head what he needs to do next. He backs away and studies the goalkeeper, looking for something that might betray his intentions. But in Ronnie Simpson’s face he sees nothing except the hint of a smile – a smile! – and something else he has never seen in his short but glorious years in the game, years that have already brought him two European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, three Serie As and a well-deserved reputation as one of football’s pre-eminent goalscorers. In Simpson’s demeanour he sees the kind of certainty that makes him blink, makes him think that this guy in front of him might – just might – save his penalty.

The Scotsman’s Mark Atkinson retells the story of how the 1967 European Cup final was won.

3. America is addicted to violence; America is addicted to football. We look up and find ourselves at a strange moment. Our anxiety about the individual violence committed by NFL players, and to them, now receives greater public attention than many of the various forms of mass violence endorsed by our politics. It is easier to attack the Patriots than to attack the crimes committed daily in the name of patriotism. But sports have always been that way: a glorious distraction.

Nathaniel Rich examines the horror and the glory of the NFL for the New York Review of Books.

4. I don’t suppose we can ever get to terms with how downright shitty people can be towards each for all kinds of reasons – whether it’s race, religion, politics or the countless other excuses they use to behave without any manners or decency – but there’s something particularly cretinous about a group of people who come together under the banner of a football club owned by a Russian, managed by a Portuguese man, with players from all over the world happily, giddily, declaring their racism as if it were a badge of honour.

Arseblog has its say on the racist Chelsea fans who stopped a black man from boarding a tram in Paris. 

Source: Nintendo

5. My consciousness splits into two, and my surroundings spring into focus. Roars from real and canned crowds mingle, and my body, huge and hairy, bursts out of a barrel as an announcer’s echoing voice counts down from three. When he yells “GO,” my invisible bonds break, and I’m free to face my opponent: an adorable, squealing dinosaur whose tongue deals out death. On both sides of the floating, flower-strewn platform where we’re about to trade blows, existence ends in a nothingness that will soon swallow one of us. The dinosaur’s dainty hands are dwarfed by my powerful fists, but he’s dangerous and determined not to die. He, Yoshi, is the master of Super Smash Bros., and I, Donkey Kong, have come to make him surrender his secrets. Far away, back in our actual bodies, our fingers twitch. The battle begins.

Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh reports from the Super Bowl of ‘Super Smash Brothers’.

6. At best, it was a clumsy choice of words from Sacchi but, while others have perhaps been more politically correct in their statements, the issue of foreigners in the game on the peninsula has always been a divisive one. Twelve years ago this month, the appearance of Mauro Camoranesi in Italy’s line-up for a friendly against Portugal reopened a debate that has been regularly aired in Italy for decades. The winger, who played for Juventus at the time and was born in Argentina in 1976, was making his international debut and in turn becoming the first oriundo to play for the Azzurri for 40 years.

Arrigo Sacchi and Italian football’s ethical dilemma about foreign players is discussed by Greg Lea in The Guardian.

7. Memories of that flight, and the several days that followed, are as hazy as the view out his plane window. The black SUV, waiting at William P. Hobby Airport, to ferry him downtown; the conference room at Toyota Center, where club executives told him, “We’ve been looking for you”; a deep breath; the arena floor, ringed by more than 3,000 people, who turned a regularly scheduled fan appreciation event into a tent revival; another deep breath; his first practice as a Rocket, when he instructed new teammates to tuck in their shirttails, ignoring their sideways glances; the opener in Detroit, where he signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension less than an hour before tip-off, then hung 37 points on the Pistons. The team’s general manager, seated near press row at The Palace, declared a few decibels louder than he intended: “That’s why we f—— got this guy!”

Lee Jenkins writes in Sports Illustrated about how James Harden became the NBA’s unlikeliest MVP

8. A predator of Falcao’s ilk would relish playing alongside Fellaini in a ‘big man, little man’ combination, with Fellaini accepting the physical challenge and Falcao free to pounce on knockdowns in the penalty area. Currently, Falcao is displaying the appetite for the physical battle, but he is simply too small to threaten defenders as Fellaini does.

Mark Ogden examines if Manchester United’s Falcao experiment can be salvaged in The Telegraph.

9. Five weeks before his 50th birthday, Michael Jordan sits behind his desk, overlooking a parking garage in downtown Charlotte. The cell phone in front of him buzzes with potential trades and league proposals about placing ads on jerseys. A rival wants his best players and wants to give him nothing in return. Jordan bristles. He holds a Cuban cigar in his hand. Smoking is allowed. ”Well, s—, being as I own the building,” he says, laughing.

Wright Thompson tells ESPN that, even at 50, Michael Jordan has not left the building.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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