Wednesday, July 16, 2008
"Tomorrow, the player will be in Milan for the medical, and to sign the contract which will tie him to Milan until June 30th 2011."
This announcement brings to an end months of speculation over the Brazilian's future.
He had been on the outer at Barcelona pretty much since El Clasico in December, with his private life, his fitness and his bulging waistline making more headlines than his performances on the pitch.
Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, always one to back him given what they had achieved together, had to drop him due to his dropping fitness levels, and once Pep Guardiola was announced as the new coach in early May, a summer exit for the two time World Player of the Year was only a matter of time.
Chelsea and Milan were the early frontrunners, with the player himself expressing a desire to team up with Luiz Felipe Scolari once again last month. However, Big Phil was not too keen, and Manchester City subsequently came into the fray.
But with Chelsea out, there was only going to be one winner, and that had been clear for two weeks now. City had a superior financial offer for Barca, but as with many things these days, the player's will had the final say and a deal was struck with Milan after intense negotiations between Adriano Galliani, Joan Laporta and Roberto de Assis.
During his five years in Spain, Ronaldinho won two La Liga titles (2004-05, 2005-06), one Champions League (2005-06), the World player of the Year award twice (2004, 2005), and the Ballon d'Or (2005).
He leaves on a low, but when the dust settles, he will go down as one of the best to ever play for Barcelona - as much for what he won as for the way he heralded a new era for the club following the collapse of Real Madrid's 'Galactico' policy.
Some of his best displays also came on the biggest of stages - a sensational left footed strike against Milan in the Champions League in 2004, two more against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge that almost saw Barcelona through single handedly later that season, and then that sublime assist for Ludovic Giuly at San Siro a year later - which guaranteed Barcelona's progress to the final.
However, perhaps the crowning moment was his stunning showing at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2005, when he got a standing ovation from the Real Madrid fans after two goals and a mesmerising display of football in a 3-0 win.
The challenge for Milan now will be to get the player back to peak fitness, before we even speak of form. He still has the magic in his feet as we saw from his two goals on his return to football a couple of weeks ago, but whether he can roll back the years and offer the Rossoneri the kind of service he did to Barcelona, remains to be seen. His ability against rigid Italian defenses will also be tested to the limit.
It will also be very interesting to see how he fits into the team, and whether Ronaldinho, Kaka, Alexandre Pato, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf (who has openly opposed this move) can play together.
Barcelona, in the meantime, are expected to announce the signing of Aliaksandr Hleb, with Arsenal seemingly having given the nod following the signing of Samir Nasri from Marseille.
STATELINE, Nev. – Unlike most NFL players, Aaron Rodgers can’t wait for training camp to begin. Even as he lives it up this weekend at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, the Green Bay Packers’ new starting quarterback is itching to embrace the dorm life, two-a-days and monotonous meetings that men in his profession typically dread.
Most of all, as he closes his eyes at night, Rodgers flashes ahead to the games he’ll get to play come September, when he expects to become the first Packers player other than Brett Favre to start at quarterback since 1992. As Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy made clear Saturday – just as they had last month privately to Rodgers, before the news broke that Favre had decided to end his four-month-long retirement – a new era has begun in Titletown.
The Packers now are Rodgers’ team, and the fourth-year passer literally can’t wait until the July 27 reporting date for the team’s training camp at St. Norbert College.
“I’m going out there a week early, if that tells you anything,” Rodgers told Yahoo! Sports on Saturday in his first extended interview since Favre requested his formal release in a letter the Packers received Friday. “I’m just excited about that first night’s sleep in the dorms, going out and practicing the next day and all the things that will follow. I knew at some point my time would come, and it looks like we’re getting close to that.”
As for Favre’s change of heart, and the Packers’ decision to deny the legendary passer’s request to be released so that he could play for the team of his choosing, Rodgers insisted he is not getting caught up in the melodrama.
“I’m only worried about things I can control,” he said. “I can’t control any decisions that he might make, so I’m not worried about it. Brett and I haven’t talked, so I can’t tell you where he’s coming from. And really, I’m not even thinking about it, and it doesn’t (add any additional pressure). There’s pressure on every quarterback in the NFL. Every team expects Super Bowl or bust. I know I need to get myself ready to play, and that’s pretty much all that matters to me.”
Few first-round draft picks have spent as much time waiting for their chance as Rodgers, who is the 21st century sports world’s poster child for enforced patience. He launched his pro career by squirming nervously in front of millions, enduring an infamous 4½-hour stint in the green room on draft day in 2005. Projected as the possible No. 1 overall selection, the former Cal star was passed over by the San Francisco 49ers, who instead chose Alex Smith, and an uncomfortable and incomprehensible free-fall commenced.
When the Packers finally took Rodgers with the 24th overall selection, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue offered private words of encouragement on the dais that have stuck with Rodgers to this day.
“He called my name and we shook hands and I held up the Packers jersey, and then he told me, ‘Good things happen to people who are patient,’ ” Rodgers recalled Saturday. “I believe it, now more than ever.”
Rodgers’ success never has seemed to come easily. He played one season at Butte College, a junior college near his hometown of Chico, Calif., and wasn’t attracting interest from Division I schools until Cal coach Jeff Tedford came to scout teammate Garrett Cross. Enlisted to throw to the tight end, Rodgers impressed Tedford during the workout and earned a scholarship offer. He didn’t become the Golden Bears’ starter until several games into his sophomore season. Rodgers’ record-setting junior campaign ended with then-No. 4 Cal losing out on its first Rose Bowl berth since 1959 because of a controversial Bowl Championship Series outcome affected by a late shift in the polls, followed by a disappointing defeat to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
After that, Rodgers declared for the draft. He mostly has watched during his first three seasons as Favre extended his record streak to 275 consecutive starts. But Rodgers impressed McCarthy and Thompson with his progress heading into 2007, and when Favre suffered an elbow injury after performing poorly in the Packers’ pivotal showdown with the Dallas Cowboys last November, Rodgers played brilliantly (18 of 26, 201 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions) in relief and nearly pulled out a comeback victory.
Though Favre had a terrific season in ‘07, he struggled in the Packers’ defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game at Lambeau Field. After Favre’s emotional retirement news conference last March, Thompson and McCarthy began preparing Rodgers to take over as the starter. Later that month, according to a report in Friday’s Wisconsin State Journal, Favre told the GM and coach he was ready to end his retirement and return but later reneged on the deal. At that point, the decision was made to move forward with Rodgers as the starter, and in April the team drafted two quarterbacks, second-rounder Brian Brohm and seventh-rounder Matt Flynn, as backups.
On Saturday, Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “Aaron Rodgers is our starting quarterback” and conceded he wasn’t sure how the Favre situation would play out. Earlier, Thompson and McCarthy told The Associated Press that they wouldn’t grant Favre’s request to be released and that the veteran quarterback was welcome to rejoin the team as a backup. A more plausible scenario is that the Packers will attempt to trade Favre over the next two weeks, thus allowing him to continue his career while avoiding the prospect of him playing for NFC North rivals Chicago or Minnesota.
Even if Favre were to return to the Packers, creating what surely would be an uncomfortable situation, Rodgers insists he won’t be fazed.
“We’ve got a first-class organization,” Rodgers said. “Ted has done a great job building our team through the draft, and coach McCarthy has done a great job with the day-to-day stuff. We’ve got a great group of players. I’ve been there the whole offseason and have been hanging out with guys away from the stadium and building a great rapport with my teammates. It’s a great situation.”
Rodgers said he has received supportive calls and text messages from numerous teammates over the past couple of days, including offensive linemen Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton and wideout Greg Jennings. He also has shown his leadership skills by actively mentoring Brohm and Flynn, a stark contrast to the chilly reception he got from Favre after joining the team.
“I’ve been trying to be as open as I can possibly be,” Rodgers said. “I told both Brian and Matt from the start that if they have any questions, they should come to me and I’ll help them in any way I can. Because making them better is making our team better.”
Though Rodgers wishes his golf game was in better shape, he thoroughly enjoyed his experience in Lake Tahoe. On Friday night he cracked up while watching comedian Frank Caliendo, a Milwaukee native, do his deadpan impression of announcer John Madden gushing over Favre during a private show at Harrah’s Casino. After the show Rodgers spoke privately to Caliendo, then joined Baltimore Ravens quarterback and Cal predecessor Kyle Boller at a blackjack table.
“This is a great week up here,” Rodgers said. “But I’m eager to get back to Green Bay and get things going.”
He is especially eager to help the Packers, who had the league’s youngest roster in ‘07, erase the memories of the disappointing defeat to the Giants in subzero temperatures last January. Standing on the sideline, Rodgers recalled, “I was freezing. It was ridiculous. Miserable is pretty much the best word. I was miserable, and just about everybody in the stands was, too – especially after we lost.”
Rodgers knows the only way he can win over the fans in Green Bay is to win games, regardless of how Favre’s situation plays out. Replacing a legend won’t be easy but he has been preparing for this moment for a long time, and he swears he has no regrets about the patience it required.
“My road to where I am now has been very fulfilling,” Rodgers said shortly before entering the clubhouse at Edgewood-Tahoe, where he’d just completed Saturday’s second round. “I put in a lot of hard work in high school just to get noticed, and when I got to Cal I waited in the wings behind a really good quarterback (Reggie Robertson) before I got my turn. Obviously, I knew when I was drafted I was going to have to wait a while because I was behind a Hall of Fame quarterback who is one of the greatest guys ever to lace ‘em up.
“I knew at some point I’d get a chance to play. I always hoped it would be in Green Bay. I’m so ready.”
MILWAUKEE - says he's tempted to show up at the Green Bay Packers' training camp just to call the team's "bluff."
In the second part of an interview with Fox News, the 38-year-old quarterback said he knows his arrival in camp would cause a media circus, but that might not stop him. Packers players are scheduled to report July 27.
"It's tempting just to, as everyone said, you know, call their bluff or whatever," Favre said, according to an excerpt provided to The Associated Press. "I think it's going to be a circus in itself already, whether I go there, whatever."
The interview on the show "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" was to be broadcast Tuesday night.
Favre, a three-time MVP, says he feels "a little bit" bad for would-be successor Aaron Rodgers and insists he doesn't want to be a distraction to his teammates. Or are they his former teammates?
"I like my teammates," Favre said. "I had a lot of fun with them. I have talked to numerous guys throughout this whole ordeal. I wish them the best, I really do. I hold nothing against those guys. We had a lot of fun together. We had, it was an amazing year last year. I don't want to make it any worse than it is."
And right now, it's pretty bad. Favre and the Packers appear headed toward a messy divorce after Favre demanded his release last week.
The decision blindsided the Packers.
"This is an ongoing situation," team spokesman Jeff Blumb said Tuesday evening. "We're working through it, and we're going to do the right thing."
Team officials have been careful not to criticize Favre, instead laying out a detailed timeline of their offseason dealings with him. The team hopes that fans would understand why the Packers wouldn't be willing to abandon their offseason plans with Rodgers just because Favre changed his mind.
After retiring in early March, Favre told the Packers he was having second thoughts and was ready to return a few weeks later. General manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy had made plans to take a private plane to Mississippi to seal the deal on Favre's comeback, only to have him change his mind again and stay retired.
Favre conceded that the latest in his long line of reversals on his football future has been tough on Rodgers, the Packers' first-round pick in 2005.
"The one thing in this, I do feel bad for Aaron a little bit," Favre said. "I think he'll do a fine job, to be totally honest with you, I do. He has been injured. I mean, the two injuries are not his fault. Couldn't control. I know this has been tough on him. I think he'll do a fine job. And this has nothing to do with him, this whole deal."
That said, Favre doesn't seem inclined to take a back seat to Rodgers.
"We'll pay you $12 million, but you've got to hold the clipboard and ball cap?," Favre said. "That's probably better for them as opposed to letting me go somewhere and me coming back. Then their legacy, the management, would, you know, could be in jeopardy."
Thompson has said the Packers do not plan to grant Favre his release. And while Thompson said Favre could return to the Packers if he applies to the league for reinstatement, it would be in "in a different role than he was" because the team had committed to Rodgers.
Thompson and McCarthy also have said they are concerned about Favre's legacy, but Favre said that's his problem, not theirs.
"You don't worry about my legacy," Favre said. "And, you know, it's a bunch of bull. It's all it is."
The interview marked Favre's first significant public comments since informing the Packers he wants to be released. The one thing Favre still hasn't said, however, is that he is completely committed to playing in 2008.
In the portion of the interview aired Monday night, Favre conceded that "the bottom line is, I may not play anywhere." He also said, "If I'm going to play, it's going to be 100 percent commitment."
And in a comment from Tuesday's segment, Favre seems open to playing for another team, but he's not certain.
"I've always been a Packer, always will be a Packer," Favre said. "Will I play somewhere else? Remains to be seen."
Feel free to laugh the next time Green Bay Packers management, both past and present, starts talking about "preserving" Brett Favre's legacy and cherishing Favre's place in the team's "family." It means nothing.
The Packers are about the Packers, and that's fine, even expected, but at least say so from the beginning. Don't pretend you're genuinely concerned about Favre's standing in franchise lore when, in reality, you're more concerned about damage and image control.
Favre wants to unretire. And yeah, it's a bit of a diva-ish thing to do. Tears in March. Text messages in July.
But Favre has earned his share of diva currency, enough for one Get Out Of Retirement card. He's played hurt. He's played with his heart heavy with grief. And he's played for the moment, not the money. There are bits and pieces of his body all over Lambeau Field.
Thompson, the Packers' general manager, doesn't see it that way. His solution -- and remember, the Packers are the self-appointed guardians of Favre's football reputation -- is to announce that one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, the guy only seven months removed from the NFC Championship Game, can return but may be a second-stringer. Think about it: Favre wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard.
Packers management wants it both ways. It says it wants to protect Favre from himself, but mostly it wants to protect Favre from becoming a free agent, signing with the Minnesota Vikings and possibly kicking the Packers' butts twice in the regular season. That's the reason behind not granting Favre his release -- nothing else.
Management says the "finality" of Favre's retirement prompted the Packers to "move forward with our football team.'' But how can you move forward if Favre is still on the depth chart? If you don't want him as your starter, which is beyond astounding, then why want him at all?
Thompson has mixed a football Molotov cocktail. A short pour of Favre. A long pour of Aaron Rodgers. Topped off by Packers teammates and fans torn by their allegiances. Now light and throw.
Favre could make it easy on Thompson by staying retired. Of course, that's what Thompson is counting on: The great Brett Favre would never come back here as a backup. He wants Favre to fold.
But I'd love to see Favre report to Packers training camp later this month. I'd love to see the beads of sweat form on Thompson's forehead as he realizes he miscalculated the situation. Again.
If Favre shows up, Thompson has created an instant quarterback controversy. And by doing so, he has created the beginnings of a divided locker room. You don't think there are going to be pro-Favre guys vs. pro-Rodgers guys on that roster? You don't think the Lambeau crowd will start chanting No. 4's name the first time Rodgers struggles (and he will -- zero starts, 35 completions and one touchdown throw in three seasons)? You don't think Rodgers, Thompson's very first pick as GM in 2005, will be looking over his shoulder pads every time he makes a mistake?
Favre isn't blameless in this mess. He miscalculated, too. And for that, some Packers followers now consider him a whiner, not worth the trouble. Let's hear what they say if Rodgers bombs.
Thompson doesn't really want Favre back, unless it's for ribbon-cutting ceremonies or 20-year anniversaries. He wants the Rodgers Era to begin as soon as possible, preferably with Favre watching from his living room in Mississippi.
But sometimes you make exceptions for the exceptional. Favre has his faults, beginning with his penchant for changing his mind, but he still gives the Packers the best chance to win. Somehow that's been lost in the chaos. If Thompson wants to honor Favre's legacy, then grant him his release. If he signs with the Vikings and beats you, then that's how it goes. After all, Thompson had first crack at him as the Packers' starter.
Or if Favre truly wants to make this an amicable farewell, then he should tell the Packers he won't sign with an NFC North team. The wink-wink understanding might not be officially allowed by the league, but who has to know, right? The more likely scenario: The Packers could manipulate the trade process by making the price reasonable for, say, AFC teams, but cost-prohibitive for teams such as the division rival Vikings, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, or even 2008 NFC opponents Tampa Bay (Sept. 28 road game) and Carolina (Nov. 30 game at Lambeau) -- both rumored landing spots for Favre.
The whole situation is messier than eating barbecue ribs with your knuckles. And it could only get worse.
In the end, Thompson and the Packers are the ones jumping off the cliff without the bungee cord securely attached. They're betting everything on Rodgers' potential and Favre's sense of pride.
I'll bet on Favre. Lesser cards, better player.Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.