Do you have any enemies?
I tend not to hold grudges, but when I think back over those who have wronged me, one individual stands out above all others.
Unusually, I don’t know this person’s name. In fact, I know nothing about them other than the villainy they carried out on the evening of April 15, 2009.
From that fateful night until now, I’ve never been able to fully banish this rogue from my mind. You could say they live rent free, in a tiny box room, in some far away corner of my brain.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the malefactor I speak of is the TV match director for the Champions League quarter-final clash between FC Porto and Manchester United on Wednesday April 15, 2009.
Their heinous crime? Switching camera angles on Cristiano Ronaldo as he struck the only goal of the game from 40 yards, past a sprawling, tracksuit-bottomed Helton in the Porto goal, thereby helping United on their way to that season’s final and a doomed meeting with Pep Guardiola’s soon to be treble winning Barcelona.
It’s a strange qualm that I’ve had for almost 11 years. The strike came out of nowhere, the match director couldn’t have predicted that Ronaldo would shoot. Still, I cannot forgive my anonymous foe. The switch of cameras caused a disorienting rip in the fabric of the goal. It was a stutter that made it difficult to fully appreciate the strike – not unlike the blip in the original clip that went around of the Jordan Flores goal against Shamrock Rovers at the end of February.
I remember watching the match in my uncle’s house in Waterford, on a violently cuboidal TV. I can recall the slight annoyance at the switch of camera angles, thinking at the time that there would be a full replay from the classic broadcast angle, alongside the pitch. No such replay came. The number of cameras in the stadium was irrelevant. The match director had directed the match, and the result was a diluting of the power of the goal.
This wouldn’t have been an issue if I’d been in the stadium that night. I could have enjoyed the goal in its fullness from any corner of the ground – no change of angle to confuse my puny brain.
Alas, I was not in Portugal’s second city that evening, but my uncle’s lino floored kitchen in Waterford.
I couldn’t quite get my head around Ronaldo’s goal. There were plenty of replays, from all sorts of angles, but that one definitive view was missing.
Why did I crave that view?
It’s a matter of aesthetics as much as anything. People love football, and sport in general, for a whole host of reasons. It brings people together and gives their lives meaning, among so many other things.
Right at the top of my list of reasons why I love the game is its aesthetic quality. A player gliding across the pitch. The deftness of a perfect first touch. The arc of a ball into the top corner. These things give me a genuine sense of pleasure, as they do many people.
It wasn’t always clear to my why this was but with time I came to understand that a major part of it was simply down to their beauty. Never mind the drama and sense of belonging that goes along with it all, sometimes football just looks nice.
This is why I was annoyed in my uncle’s kitchen that night. The cutaway had caused a flaw in the goal. I couldn’t appreciate it fully.
Sometimes football just looks nice.
This is also why I can regularly be found searching out Hernan Crespo’s 2nd goal for A.C. Milan against Liverpool in Istanbul. On a night that underlined all of the reasons why football is revered around the world, the beauty of Kaká’s pass and Crespo’s chipped finish is the thing I return to again and again.
The way Kaká shields the pass into him from Pirlo while ghosting his studs over the ball to control it. The way his next touch isn’t a touch at all but a sublime pass from inside his own half, weighted perfectly so as to take out every single Liverpool player between him and the goal, other than the goalkeeper. The way that same pass curves tantalisingly away from Jamie Carragher’s desperately outstretched leg before it runs smoothly into Crespo’s path, the Argentinian’s run timed so that he meets the ball first time, clipping it over the onrushing Jerzy Dudek.
I have a recurring dream where I’m DJing in some nightclub with that goal playing on an endless loop behind me. The crowd love it.
And why wouldn’t they? It’s art.
But my love for the beauty of the game isn’t restricted to artful goals. A tackle or great save can spark that same rush – see Grégory Coupet’s balletic double effort for Lyon against Barcelona in the group stages of the 01/02 Champions League.
If I have Crespo’s goal open in one tab, I probably have a Sergio Busquets compilation open in another. I don’t come for goals. I want drag-backs and flicks and switches of play. Never has a player combined so well the sending of his marker around the corner for a Catalan fish stew with elegant forward passes that completely take defenders out of the game. He has a ridiculous awareness of his body in time and space. And with that comes Cruyff Turns inside your own box, or defence-splitting through-balls out of thin air.
Again, it’s art. But it’s not hanging up on a wall, staidly awaiting appreciation from afar. Football’s art is immersive. It brings forth sound and fury.
Of course, none of this is to divorce football from what makes it truly great: the drama, the spectacle, the sense of community. But it’s important to revel in the beauty of it all as well.