In his song ‘Little by Little’, Noel Gallagher claims that “True perfection has to be imperfect,” before going on to accept that, “I know that that sounds foolish but it’s true.”
It is foolish. There are two reasons I call bullshit: Firstly, if Noel is right then ‘Heathen Chemistry’, the wretched album from which ‘Little by Little’ was taken, would be as close to true perfection as humankind has yet come in any art form. Secondly, and more importantly, it would mean that Raheem Sterling’s long-range effort against Norwich City in April 2014 was actually improved by the deflection it took off Michael Turner.
I know this not to be the case, for thirteen months later I still occasionally fret about what Sterling’s shot would have looked like without Turner getting in the way. Would it have been even more beautiful? Would the keeper have got a hand on it? Would it have rolled innocuously along the ground like just about every other shot I have seen him take? I know not, but I do know that in my mind Sterling’s entire career is now tainted by me sub-consciously writing that goal off as damaged goods, to the extent that my reaction to hearing that he is about to ask Liverpool for a transfer is, “good, he can’t bloody shoot anyway.”
The worst thing about that deflection is how slight it is. I didn’t notice it at all until the 11th replay. If I had just stopped after 10, I would still be marvelling at its beauty. As it is, I’d have disallowed it.
Goals which approach perfection, but are ruined by a single flaw, are arguably the single greatest blot on the sport. They come in several insidious forms. Aside from deflections, goalkeepers are the next most prolific spoiler of great goals. The despairing dive can heighten the aesthetic beauty of a goal. Tony Yeboah’s famous 1995 volley for Leeds United against Liverpool was made even more spectacular because David James reacted quickly, athletically, and failed to reach the ball only because of Yeboah’s perfect storm of placement and power.
Compare and contrast this with David Bentley’s 2008 effort for Spurs against Arsenal and Danny Rose’s 2010 effort for Spurs against Arsenal. In the former, Manuel Almunia reacted sluggishly, seemingly caught completely off-guard by the flight of the ball. In the latter, Manuel Almunia reacted sluggishly, seemingly caught completely off-guard by the flight of the ball. Manuel Almunia, ladies and gentlemen; ruiner of dreams. If I was a Spurs supporter I wouldn’t have had the nerve to celebrate either goal, yet somehow both are considered classics.
As for David Beckham’s goal from his own half against Wimbledon? Yes, you can kick it really far, well done; now come back when you can do it against a goalkeeper not doing an impression of a small child attempting the Fosbury Flop for the first time only to realise halfway through their run-up that they have received no prior training and are in fact unsure of what a Fosbury Flop is.
Robbie Fowler’s impudent flick over his own head against Brann Bergen was a moment of instinctive genius, and deserved a classically cheeky finish. Instead, Fowler lashed it straight at the keeper, who proceeded to dive out of the way. Fowler may claim in interviews that he has “no regrets” regarding his career, but I hope that ruined goal haunts him.
Speaking of anti-climatic finishes, Maradona’s second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter final is a prime example of this. A run that mesmeric, with Maradona’s speed of body and mind making it look like he was playing a different game to everyone else (which given that the England side contained Steve Hodge and Terry Fenwick doesn’t seem altogether unlikely) – surely deserved a finish to match?
Instead, I think it might even have been a Terry Butcher own goal. Butcher himself says not, but the fact is he still got too close to his man, the momentum of the run stalled at the last. I don’t care how red with ruddy braveness his headband got that time, he’s dead to me for that. Maradona just about gets a pass because he did a few more decent things in his career than David Bentley.
Goals can also be spoiled by passes that you know weren’t intended for their eventual recipient. The one thing of note that Anthony Le Tallec did in his Liverpool career was to provide the pass for Luis Garcia’s volley against Juventus, but it was clearly meant for Milan Baros. I won’t labour on these as you might start to think I am being petty, and I wouldn’t want you to think of me as petty.
You don’t look at a Gerhard Richter painting and think that it is ok, but would definitely have been improved had a bit of paint deflected off Michael Turner’s toe on its way to the canvas. Football at its best can be as aesthetically pleasing as any art form, and as such should be afforded the same respect.
For definitive proof, simply watch Terry McDermott’s 1978 goal against Spurs: from end to end in five first-time passes, with not a single stride broken; it is a thing of flawless beauty. Though come to think of it, I’ve never watched back far enough to check whether the corner which led to the breakaway was correctly awarded. Well, you can’t be too careful, can you?
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