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 Nurnberg, 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
If Sanneh were 25 instead of 31 his market value might be several
times higher than the $2.5 million transfer fee Nurnberg 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."
July 7, 2002
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.
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.
Germany Public enemy No. 1 of U.S. soccer fans, the mirthless
former East German earned his status with a vicious mugging of
Claudio Reyna in the 1998 World Cup, then took down Reyna again
during Germany's 1-0 quarterfinal victory this year. That
postgame handshake with Reyna didn't fool anybody, Jens.
Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Mexico
Mexican captain Rafael Marquez got the boot late in the
U.S.-Mexico second-round match, but it was the maniacal Blanco
who should have seen rojo earlier for a wealth of offenses,
including kicking and feigning a punch at a prostrate Pablo
Luis Hernandez, Mexico
After this serial diver with the silly headband earned a yellow
card with a ridiculous flop in the box during the 2-0 loss to
the Americans, Sam's Army--the U.S. rooting section--serenaded
the former Los Angeles Galaxy player with chants of "L-A Re-ject!"
Hugh Dallas, Scotland
The referee in the U.S.-Germany game missed an obvious penalty
when Torsten Frings's forearm prevented Gregg Berhalter's shot
from crossing the German goal line. Dallas later said he saw the
play clearly and didn't see Frings commit a penalty, but in that
situation the call is made nearly 100% of the time.
Beasley Caught on Tape
Oh, What a Relief It Is
Not content to turn heads with his play during the World Cup,
U.S. midfielder DaMarcus Beasley left viewers around the globe
with something else to remember from the loss to Germany. As the
20-year-old Beasley was warming up on the sideline late in the
first half, he paused (uh, oh), adjusted his shorts (don't do
it!) and (eewwww!) urinated.
The world TV feed caught the act on tape, and replays were shown
around the globe. (In England, the BBC added a strategically
placed soccer ball to obscure the X-rated bits.) Said the bemused
Beasley when informed of his newfound notoriety, "What, are they
gonna fine me? When you gotta go, you gotta go."
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.
Germany Put on a one-man show and dragged his team to the final.
Tony Sanneh, U.S.
Came out of nowhere to be a rock on defense and a threat on
Rio Ferdinand, England
The world's most-in-demand center back is being eyed by
Outplayed linemate Fernando Hierro to help the Spaniards reach
Roberto Carlos, Brazil
The relentlessly forward-thinking wingback played fine defense
Yoo Sang Chul, South Korea
Peerless holding mid set the tone for co-host's magical run to
Papa Bouba Diop, Senegal
Top-level showings proved his game-winner against France was no
Displayed verve and imagination that were all too rare in this
Theatrics aside, his ruthless artistry and five goals were
Hasan Sas, Turkey
Fearless finisher for surprise semifinalists.
Came full circle after the nightmare in '98 to reclaim his place
atop the sport. --G.W.