Though I appreciate Seve’s attempt to win me over by choosing a goal from my glorious AS Roma, I’m not a teenage girl that is so easily swayed. I do, however, agree on his three criteria that need to be satisfied for any of the presented goals to be considered the greatest.
I chose this goal (not just because I’m Italian), but because it satisfies all three criteria with flying colors. First, the commentary from Fabio Caressa is classic with the yelling repetition of “Goal di Gross” and “siamo sopra e manca un minuto (we’re up and a minute remains!)”. Second, the goal is blasted in from a difficult angle that curls perfectly into the side netting. Though this doesn’t seem to compare to some of the other strikes we’ve seen, I can bet that given 100 tries most of us couldn’t reproduce it.
Finally, the significance of the goal should be obvious — a World Cup semifinal, in the 2nd period of overtime with only two minutes remaining, in an absolutely fantastic game where the future would have held a penalty kick shootout that Italy (at the time) had never won and Germany had never lost. Add to this the huge rivalry between the two teams including the fact that Germany had never lost in that particular stadium and, at the same time, Germany had never beaten Italy in World Cup play.
So Fabio got the ball rolling with Gourcuff’s wondergoal against PSG. And with it? A challenge. Can we unearth the greatest goal/commentary duo of all time?
I mean, a goal without a commentator waxing lyrical (losing his damn foreign mind) is like a horror movie with no sound, like a s’more without marshmallow, like David Luiz without a mop on his head.
So here’s what we’re looking for in the goal: a phenomenal display of aesthetic quality, meaningful significance, and an accompaniment of stoic or sensational commentary.
The second column is where I feel Gourcuff’s strike falls short. While it was a stunning effort and terrific play-by-play, it was the third goal in a 4-0 thrashing during the doldrums on the Ligue 1 season. I’ll admit that at the time, many believed it was the anointing of Zidane’s successor. But a pattern of personal failure from Gourcuff outside of France has since unraveled that myth.
So I bring you a different take in today’s entry for the competition. Gabriel Batistuta’s first goal against his longtime club, Fiorentina. After being so loyal to Fiorentina for 9 years, even staying with them throughout Serie B, Batigoal finally found a club that could match his ambitions in Roma. This was the matchwinner in a Scudetto campaign for the Giallorossi.
If you’re going to score a personal milestone goal against your former love, this is how you do it. Improvisation, power, precision, and a dignified celebration.
I know that this type of argument is a bit ridiculous because goals are hard to compare, but this is most definitely my nomination for one of the greatest goals of all time. I think that the freak out by the french commentator adds a nice touch as well and though I don’t speak baguette, I’m pretty sure there are at least two references to Zizou.
So you stuck around for Part Two. I congratulate you on that; this is where we peer inside a large Liverpudlian skull and do our best to figure what precisely Wayne Rooney was thinking when he handed in a transfer request. Easier said than done, I’ll admit – “Rooney” certainly sounds Irish enough to me, and I know what Freud said about the Irish being completely impervious to psychoanalysis. But let’s give it a go, shall we?
Let me repeat the crux of Part One: United fans really loved Rooney. I wasn’t pontificating on recent United history solely to show off. As I said, Rooney was the first United player since Cantona to be both a superstar and a true fan favourite. It’s not hard to see why. He had that magical combination of tremendous skill, incredibly energy (fans of the English game, for better or worse, gravitate to these players. See entry “Carlos Tevez”), and most importantly, a heart-on-the-sleeve loyalty to the club (again, see “Carlos Tevez”…or not). Frankly, the fact that Rooney’s quite hideous to look at didn’t hurt either. He’s just a normal bloke, really, except for being a tremendously gifted footballer. None of that Ronaldo pretty boy nonsense.
[Editor's Note: I can vouch for Ravi's longtime disdain for Ronaldo. Never have I seen such an anti-celebration from a United fan when Ravi witnessed Ronaldo score a goal for his team. The look on his face alone was what got me through the 2007-2008 season.]
You see, there are two types of United fans in the world. There are those who follow United because we’ve been tremendously successful. Let’s face it, we all like to be winners. Who knows how it would have turned out for me if United hadn’t won the league the first year I supported them? Maybe I would have said “Enough of this rubbish.” But I doubt I would have, because there is the second type of fan, who is enamoured of history and tradition. And part of that tradition is Manchester being an industrial town, full of ordinary, hardworking people. I’ll admit that I’ve never been, so maybe this is just a romantic image I’ve got in my head. Nor should I pretend that this goes only for United and Liverpool. Every team has its diehards, and its fair weather fans. Such is the sporting life. But do yourself a favour and go re-read Seve’s recent piece on the difference between Chelsea and Liverpool, and you’ll understand why I’ve always gotten along better with Type 2 Liverpool fans than Type 1 United fans. And for like-minded United fans, no-one appealed better to those instincts than Wayne Rooney.
I think Rooney understood this. The affinity was mutual. So why would he endanger that legacy?
The question isn’t purely rhetorical by the way. I have gone over this question many, many times in my head, trying to see it from different viewpoints. Seve asked me for my reaction to this saga five months ago, and if I’d been honest, my first reaction was unprintable, but something along the lines of “Greedy bastard.” Like most first reactions, it was visceral – and far too simplistic.
As fans, we project our love of the club on the players (and expect them to feel the same way). Yet there’s a strange contradiction in how we feel. We feel cheated and let down because most of us wish we were good enough to play at the top level. But we completely ignore the fact that if we were actually good enough to play professionally, we would probably act the same way they do.
The standard argument goes something like this: Professional athletes have a narrow window in which to capitalize on their prodigious talents. They have families like you or me, and want to provide for their loved ones.
The standard riposte is this: “Yes, players have a right to earn as much as they can, but when is enough enough?”
Sure, he wanted more money. But as with most human endeavours, football players see themselves in relative terms. It wasn’t necessarily the money Rooney craved but the symbolism of him being installed as the club’s top earner – proof of the ushering in of the Rooney Era. Of course, it’s a strange way to show your desire to be the club talisman by handing in a transfer request. But I believe him when he said he never wanted to leave. Where could he possibly have gone? There are few clubs that offer a better chance of winning titles, and none of those realistically had the financial firepower or desire to launch a big bid for Rooney (City – money, but less likely to bring titles in the near term; Chelsea – not significantly more money or brighter near term outlook; no Italian clubs with real money; no Spanish club that really seemed to need him.)
And even if you still think Rooney is just a mercenary, one thing I simply cannot tolerate is fans going to his house to threaten him and his family. That element crossed the line between “Passion” and “Lunacy”. I have never understood fans who send death threats to players and referees. Sure, it’s nice to quote (misquote actually – look up the actual quote!) Bill Shankly on football being more important life or death, but fans who threaten violence do a great disservice to the memory of actual tragedies in the sport’s history, like Munich or Heysel.
Please don’t get me wrong. The Rooney affair has left a very bad taste in my mouth, and he has a long way to climb back into the pantheon of United greats. That goal against City helped a little – but not much, truth be told. He was playing a very dangerous game, and one that English football fans have much less patience for than cynical American sports fans. But fans are a fickle bunch themselves. These days, everyone and his mother seem ready to knight Ryan Giggs but I’ll never forget him being booed and written off in 2003. I’ve even heard fans demand Alex Ferguson be sacked – apostasy of the highest order, if you ask me.
Again, we’re all bloody hypocrites, the lot of us. I’ve taken a somewhat charitable view of the whole affair because it’s been five months, Wayne stayed, and we’re still top of the league. If he’d gone to City, and they were top of the league, maybe I’d be parading outside his house with a hood over my head.
But there is one reason above all others why I have sympathy for Rooney’s actions: He said what nobody wanted to hear. Most United fans, including me reacted with indignation – how dare he say this club isn’t good enough! And even more so given the subpar season he had produced up till that point! Five months on though, I realize this: The truth of the message does not depend on its source. It would have been nice if he hadn’t been asking for money while launching the criticism, but surely the cracks have only become clearer in past 10 days. Really, I wish I’d gotten this piece out a little earlier – I look far less prescient after two damaging losses to close rivals. I’m not one to overreact to minor blips, but the signs have been painfully clear since Ronaldo and Tevez left.
So where does this leave us? Awaiting Part Three, that’s where. In the next (and final) installment of the Rooney Saga, I want to dissect the current United team a bit more, and how Mr. Rooney fits in to this picture. Love him or hate him, Rooney is a United player, and bringing out the best in him will be crucial if this team is to rekindle the spirit of ’99.