Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Goal of the Week

I was on the site 101 great goals lastnight, had a look at their usual list of contenders for goal of the week.

Bicycle kick? Check. Long range thunderbolt? Check. Free kick? Check. Solo strike? Check.
Team goal?...

A slow week for team goals, you might suggest. But what of Arsenal's winner against Barcelona? Surely one of the better passing moves of the season, and at a big moment in a big game.

There is a general tendency in football to praise the spectacular over the subtle. Spectacular goals deserve attention, and they get it, but there is sometimes an element of fluke. It takes good technique to find the top corner from thirty yards, but sometimes you get the feeling that if the player in question tried the same shot for the rest of his playing days, he wouldn't pull it off again.

And the footballs in use nowadays can seem so random in their flight that you are tempted to question whether technique really matters as much as it used to. Should it really be possible for a ball to be so light that it can be hit with the instep, swerve in one direction, then the other? Reminds me of those cheap footballs we sometimes played with as kids. Glorified balloons.

In this day and age, the team goal should be King. Whereas the long range strike can seem random in its effect, the team goal can be measured, as was Arsenal's against Barcelona. There was little margin for error throughout that move. Bendtner's pass inside to Wilshere had to be guided well enough to evade the pressing Barca midfielders. Wilshere's first-time pass to Fabregas was made to look easy, but required confidence and technique. Fabregas's vision, even on an off night by his standards, was evident in the way he took the pass, turned, and played Nasri through almost in one movement. The ball he sent to the Frenchman was perfectly weighted for a run at goal. As the defenders flooded back, Nasri showed intelligence in recognising the tight angle for a shot, turning inside, and picking the right pass (far from the most obvious one) for Arshavin to finish.

Few would argue with the brilliance of the goal. And goals like this are relatively rare, which should add to their recognition. Instead, 101 great goals chose to praise a number of similar-looking long range belters.

Historically, a couple of team goals have reached legendary status. Brazil's to cap the 1970 World Cup win is a little overrated, by today's standards. Its status may be symbolic as much as anything else, signifying the collective brilliance of what was, by all accounts, the best international side of all time.

To someone who started watching football in 1994, one of the more notable lessons from watching Carlos Alberto's goal is how much football has sped up since then. This is not to take away from the brilliance of that team and that goal, but while Barcelona, Arsenal and the Spanish national team attempt to produce football of a similar calibre to that great Brazil team, they are forced to do so at a higher speed and under greater physical duress.

It might not necessarily make them better, but it does mean that to put a flowing move together and finish it with a goal deserves more recognition than it often gets these days.

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