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Two Pieces on Superstars

From the FT, a story which discusses Steve Levitt's work, which includes a series of papers on economics and sports. Steve, a genuine good guy, was awarded the J. B. Clark medal last year. Within the profession, the Clark Medal is as esteemed as the Nobel Prize. Read the piece to see why.

From abroad, Rob Hughes' story about a fellow most Americans have never heard of. They should.

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"More than 40 years after anyone had seen the prime of John Charles either in the white of Leeds United or the zebra stripes of Juventus, the masses remembered him. For John Charles, arguably the most complete and versatile player of all time, equally powerful as a goal scorer or a defender, misjudged the effect of his own legendary status.

He emerged and thrived in the pre-television era and in a period when men still pursued a career in sports for love rather than money. He felt that a player had his time and passed the baton on. He never quite saw or heard or believed the reverence with which generations of soccer followers passed on his prowess, so not only grandfathers, not even the sons of grandfathers, but anyone with a feeling for the fabric of the game recognizes who and what he was.

In a career spanning 1949 to 1966, he played 377 matches in the English league and 165 games in Italy's Serie A and had 38 caps, including inspirational performances in Wales's finest hours at the 1958 World Cup.

Statistics tell us he scored 172 goals in England, 97 in Italy and 15 for Wales. Yet the numbers do not round out the picture because he was selected to bolt up the defense as often as he was picked to lead the attack.

In any case, the statistic that means most is that Charles was never sent off, never once cautioned by a referee, never seen to lose his temper or to throw his considerable weight and force around. Hence "The Gentle Giant." Hence his special place in the minds of Juventus fans - who number 16 million and who in 1997 voted for the finest all-time Juve player.

Their verdict: (1) John Charles; (2) Michel Platini; (3) Zinedine Zidane."

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Never booked? That's astonishing.

Just so you know, Platini and Zidane are regarded as the best players ever to come from France. John Charles the player was in exalted company. But it seems that he was an even better man. Read the whole thing and you'll understand why.

Via the WSJ's "The Fix" (subscription).