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Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 23-Mar. 2 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-24-march-2-football-soccer-players-teams-022414 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/24/022414-Rumor-Mill-GUNDO-GONE-DG-PI_20140224164223176_136_102.JPG
Americans Abroad - Feb. 21-23 Review the top Americans that can take their talents overseas this year. /foxsoccer/usa/lists/americans-abroad-feb-21-23-performances-players-overseas-022314 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/23/022314-SOCCE-forget-me-not-PI_2014022319021849_136_102.JPG
FOX Soccer Power Rankings - Feb. 21-28 FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Paris Saint-Germain return to top five after crushing Champions League win /foxsoccer/world/lists/power-rankings-february-21-28-paris-saint-germain-return-to-top-five-after-crushing-win-022114 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/21/drasticjump-pi_20140221180930519_136_102.JPG
Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 17-23 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-17-23-football-soccer-players-teams-021714 http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/17/021714-SOCCER-Shock-Waves-HF-PI_20140217182428996_136_102.JPG
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World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30502856 Mario Balotelli Mario+Balotelli World

Crashed cars. Fireworks set off in his bathroom. Back-heel shots in friendlies that lead to him being pulled by his coach. Training ground fights with teammates and giving out money to people on the street while dressed as Santa Claus.

 

T-shirts that say "Why always me?"

 

All of the tabloid clippings from Mario Balotelli's 2011 understandably overshadow the fact that he is quickly becoming the best player on a team that features Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany. He's the one player at Roberto Mancini's disposal that can win matches from a variety of positions, and as one of the biggest talents in a new generation of Italian players, he is Cesare Prandelli's best hope to return Italy to a world power.

 

And through all this, Balotelli has subtly shed the label of brooding teenager that he acquired at Inter. Now, he is quirky, confusing, complex and fun. He may even be cool.

 

At the end of 2011, we've reached a post-modern state in our analysis of Balotelli. It's no longer en vogue to deconstruct his lack of conformity. Instead, we wait for the ironic reactions of those who just don't get it - the stodgy judgments from a generation who will never embrace Mario, who will be silenced, as the rest of us are converted to fans who no longer want to hear others tear him down.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Mario_Balotelli_20111228003843802_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Mario_Balotelli_20111228003843802_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30502855 Josep Guardiola Josep+Guardiola World

Two Champions League titles in three years, and Guardiola’s staring at an hour glass. The dropping grains are the last days of his time at Barcelona, even if he could add more sand at any time. He continues to see coaching the best team in the world as a short-term proposition.

 

It’s a surprising view for a man who seems to constantly be reevaluating his team's approach. If he can keep things fresh and new, why does he need to go? With Barcelona, though, there will always be first principles: Passing, movement, possession, pressing. There’s only so much he can change the team. Going forward, Barcelona will always be Barcelona, which means there’s only so much he can do.

 

Guardiola can continue to shape the team around Messi, though at some point, his star can't be more than the focal point. He can continue to respond to his opposition’s adjustments, but there’s a limit to how many liberties you can take with your defense. And in attack, you can only pull so many strikers. You can’t have negative forwards.

 

Even as Barcelona reaches new heights, having renewed the distance between them and the world’s second-best team, the grains continue to drop. The closer they get to perfection, the closer Barcelona comes to losing Guardiola.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/josepguardiola_20111228003842799_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/josepguardiola_20111228003842799_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30502860 Neymar Neymar World

Only 19-years-old, Neymar has already lived a lifetime in the spotlight, with all the ups and downs that entails.

 

Previously carrying the temperament of a player given too much, too soon, Neymar seems to have matured, leaving the immaturities of his breakout season behind him. Perhaps early fatherhood has had its influence.

 

Rumored to be the target of the two biggest clubs in the world, Neymar has instead elected to stay in Brazil, signing a deal that could keep him at home through the country's 2014 World Cup. If he sees out the contract, he'll be only 22 by the time he has to decide between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

 

In the interim, he'll be asked to lead the Selecao into the next World Cup, a tournament the country will expect to win for the first time since 2002. They're expectations that seem too much for a teenager, but if Neymar's maturation continues at the same rate, he could be meet a nation's expectations come 2014.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/neymar_20111228003905805_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/neymar_20111228003905805_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30507035 Hope Solo Hope+Solo World

Cast into the spotlight at the World Cup, Solo was the face of US Soccer in 2011, her stint on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ helping her gain unprecedented access to mainstream America for a soccer player. In the process, Solo raised the profile of the women's game, but not without a potential personal cost.

 

For someone who’s been somewhat of a sporting sex symbol, Solo saw her place under the broader media spotlight bring her sexuality into question. Often unfairly and ignorantly criticized by ‘Dancing’ judges for a lack of femininity, Solo handled the criticism with dignified incredulity. When she returned to her national team duties, she'd express relief at returning to a place when athleticism need not undermine sexuality.

 

And with her prominent placing in ESPN the Magazine's annual body issue, Solo confronted the tension between athleticism and femininity head on. Her muscular nudes challenged fans who may have gravitated to a beauty that had previously been seen as the most accessible of the national team's athletes. Her nudes showed female sexuality need not be soft and easy to be beautiful.

 

Now, it's back to the basics for Solo; at least, for the next seven months. Until the spotlight is flicked on for London 2012 (should the US make it), Solo can just be a goalkeeper. Perhaps that's what she was all along.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/hope_solo_most_interesting_122811_2011122814005251_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/hope_solo_most_interesting_122811_2011122814005251_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30503569 Michel Platini Michel+Platini World

Nobody will ever forget Platini's contributions on the field, where he was the best player in the world for a short period of time. It's a testament to his effect off the field that he's starting to be known more from his administration than his distribution.

 

This year saw Platini's Champions League reforms hit home. APOEL of Cyprus made its mark on the competition, remarkably winning a group. As if an embodiment of a Platini dream, Basel of Switzerland saw Manchester United out of the competition, with one of the most debt-ridden clubs in the world losing out to a team that may not have been in the competition were it not for Platini's reshaping the tournament.

 

And in a year that was tough on soccer administrators, Platini still managed to shine. He used his bully pulpit as UEFA president to prod for changes at FIFA, in the process emerging as the most likely candidate to replace Sepp Blatter once the FIFA head's tenure is over.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/michel_platini_2011122814005352_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/michel_platini_2011122814005352_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30503371 Leonardo Leonardo World

It may be the hair that has allowed Leonardo to be cast as savior twice in one year. First it was Inter, who asked the Milan icon to deliver the Nerazzurri from the depression induced by Rafa Benitez. Then it was Paris Saint-Germain, who tabbed the Brazilian to be the figurehead of the Qataris’ grand Parisian experiment.

 

Early, the choice is paying dividends. No, PSG haven’t dominated Ligue 1 as some had expected, but a look at the new names brought to the Parc de Princes shows the immediate dividends of Leonardo’s stewardship. It’s not as easy as just having money. Players need a reason to take your money over somebody else’s.

 

How was Leonardo able to convince Javier Pastore to go to Paris instead of London? Why is David Beckham set to make one more European excursion, moving to another unfamiliar place? Why is Carlo Ancelotti considering a move outside of London, to where he’s said he would like to return?

 

What is it about Leonardo?

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/leornardo_20111228003842797_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/leornardo_20111228003842797_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30502861 Louisa Necib Louisa+Necib World

Entering Germany 2011, she was practically unknown. A few knew her as the female Zidane, a lazy moniker born of position and ancestry.

 

After this summer's Women's World Cup, Necib had a name for herself. The 24-year-old Lyon midfielder's flash on the ball stood out from France's first game, and as Les Bleues surprised many with their run to the final four, she became the player that embodied all the takeaways from the summer tournament.

 

Contrary to popular belief, women could be technically gifted. They didn't have to come from the United States, Germany, or Brazil, and they could play tactically diverse, compelling contests as entertaining as their male peers'.

 

Those qualities didn't manifest in Germany. They've been there for some time, though often, it takes a focal point - a center of attention - to bring light to something seemingly new. Louisa Necib and France were those focal points in Germany.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Louisa_Necib_20111228003843800_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Louisa_Necib_20111228003843800_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30503373 Ronaldinho Gaucho Ronaldinho+Gaucho World

It's not until it's gone do you realize how much you loved something. When Ronaldinho returned to Brazil in January, we finally got some perspective on what he meant to our soccer lives. For too long we had gotten used to the Ronaldinho that saw his way out of Barcelona, and who had a brief revival with Milan, but ultimately distracted us from the dominant player he was under Frank Rijkaard.

 

Only when Guacho arrived with Flamengo did we start to appreciate what he is instead of what he was. Perhaps he's slower and bigger, but he's still as gifted as any player in the world, a talent that can invigorate a club and culture.

 

At year's end, the Brazilian national team has also come to grips with an unlikely leader. No longer is Ronaldinho being excluded based on what he no longer is. Now, Ronaldinho has a route to Brazil 2014, as Mano Menezes is willing to entertain that even this version of `Dinho is good enough.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Ronaldinho_20111228003911809_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Ronaldinho_20111228003911809_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30503372 John W. Henry John+W.+Henry World

The focus is back on the field for Liverpool, John W. Henry’s biggest accomplishment in his short tenure running one of England’s most storied clubs. Less than two years ago, the Reds were consumed by their ownership to the point that their players had to give half-hearted assurances that boardroom drama wasn’t distracting from results.

 

Henry not only took away that crutch but he gave the team reason to succeed. He brought back Kenny Dalglish. He cashed in on a brooding striker to bring in two new hopes. He set new expectations and gave his team the resources to achieve them.

 

All’s not perfect at Anfield. Despite a level of support from ownership that would have been unthinkable under Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Liverpool sits outside the big four. As concerning, there doesn’t seem to be much concern that sixth may not be good enough.

 

Perhaps the urgency is lacking, but the emergency is gone. Liverpool’s a club the supporters are proud of again. For them, it’s refreshing that the biggest problems are on the field.

- Getty Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/John_W_Henry_20111228003842796_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/John_W_Henry_20111228003842796_107_80.JPG
World 2018 43 FOX Soccer 2011: Top 10 Most Interesting People 30502862 Wayne Rooney Wayne+Rooney World

Most of the world's elite players project a surface of invulnerability - a veneer that hides their true self from the world, projecting an image they assume the world wants from their athletic heroes.

 

No star's veneer is thinner than Wayne Rooney's, for some time England's undisputed best player. Yet, Rooney has still gone through prolonged scoring droughts, with his on-field petulance drawing sanction with both club and country. And when Rooney is criticized and penalized, we see the sneer. We see the defensiveness. We see the personality of a man who nearly saw himself out of Euro 2012 before it started.

 

But then there is the humble side of Wayne Rooney, a man who has been pulling into a traditional central midfielder's role at times this year. Not many would take such risks with their scoring records.

 

And there's the vulnerability - the full shedding of the veneer - in tweeting pictures of his hair transplant, directly addressing his antagonists’ biggest target.

 

They're inconsistencies that make Rooney more human than most stars, giving us a level of empathetic access to a player whose stature normally puts him out of our reach.

- AP Images http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Wayne_Rooney_20111228003911810_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2011/12/28/Wayne_Rooney_20111228003911810_107_80.JPG
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http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/24/022414-Rumor-Mill-GUNDO-GONE-DG-PI_20140224164223176_136_102.JPG Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 23-Mar. 2 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds... Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. Robin van Persie's rumored return to Arsenal would be beyond controversial in many ways. Feb 26, 2014 8:47 AM ET 1 56 /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-24-march-2-football-soccer-players-teams-022414
http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/23/022314-SOCCE-forget-me-not-PI_2014022319021849_136_102.JPG Americans Abroad - Feb. 21-23 Review the top Americans that can take their... Review the top Americans that can take their talents overseas this year. Familiar faces may rejoin United States men's national team conversation. Feb 25, 2014 2:41 AM ET 1 56 /foxsoccer/usa/lists/americans-abroad-feb-21-23-performances-players-overseas-022314
http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/21/drasticjump-pi_20140221180930519_136_102.JPG FOX Soccer Power Rankings - Feb. 21-28 FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Paris Saint-Germai... FOX Soccer Power Rankings: Paris Saint-Germain return to top five after crushing Champions League win Giant thumping brings Ibrahimovic and Co. back to our top ten list. Feb 22, 2014 1:50 PM ET 1 56 /foxsoccer/world/lists/power-rankings-february-21-28-paris-saint-germain-return-to-top-five-after-crushing-win-022114
http://static.foxsports.com/content/fsc/img/2014/02/17/021714-SOCCER-Shock-Waves-HF-PI_20140217182428996_136_102.JPG Top football/soccer transfer rumors - Feb. 17-23 Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds... Check out the latest rumors doing the rounds throughout world football. Robin van Persie's rumored return to Arsenal would be beyond controversial in many ways. Feb 20, 2014 10:42 AM ET 1 56 /foxsoccer/world/lists/transfer-rumors-february-17-23-football-soccer-players-teams-021714