One could draft a fairly extensive compilation of Randy-worthy soccer players from around the globe. The best player in the world, for example, stands but 5'7". Well, he's listed at that, anyway. The legendary Diego Maradona? He's 5'5". Closer to home, the underrated and recently-retired Steve Cherundolo topped out at 5'6". (And USWNT defender Megan Klingenberg is a mere 5'2".) Indeed, the most democratic of all the world's sports makes room for players of all shapes and sizes.
But we come to celebrate a pair of lilliputian talents who have risen (pun!) above in the last few weeks. Both play in leagues outside their home countries, and both shoulder outsized burdens for teams with longshot title aspirations, and both wear the number 10 jersey of the conductor of the offense.
It was huge news at the beginning of the year when Italian National Team member and Juventus star Sebastian Giovinco signed with Toronto FC of MLS. He's the first player of his caliber to make the jump from Europe to North America in the prime of his career. The 5'5" Giovinco (formica atomica, in Italian, and the Atomic Ant to his English-speaking fans) is only 28.
Giovinco hasn't disappointed. Through this weekend's play, his 16 goals are one behind Columbus Crew forward Kei Kamara for the league lead. His hat trick last week led Toronto to a 4-1 win over Orlando, and helped Toronto move to 4th in the Eastern Conference. His combination of skill, speed, balance, and power make him arguably MLS' best player. See for yourself:
In England, Liverpool is widely considered to be on the outside looking in at the Premier League's elite teams, with Steven Gerrard now in America, and no major signings other than Christian Benteke to show for the transfer period. Dynamic Brazilian little guy Philippe Coutinho's performance this season will go a long way towards defining the Reds' fortunes.
The 23 year-old is already playing his fourth season in the EPL, and has shown flashes of brilliance interspersed with periods of indifference (sorta like my professional career, now that I think about it). He's capable of unleashing remarkable strikes from long distance, as evidenced by his 86th-minute game winner in Liverpool's season opener at Stoke. Check it out:
No less a talent than Kaka has tabbed Coutinho as Gerrard's Merseyside heir. Chelsea defender John Terry picked Coutinho as his EPL Player of the Year before the season began. Big, big shoes to fill for a guy who stands 5'7". In the program.
Bite Me, Randy Newman.