In an age when the act of scoring a goal is sometimes upstaged by the celebration that follows–I’m talking shirts flying around, pitch-length runs to opposition fans, taking selfies, headbutting the bench (yes, really), and pulling a goat by its horns (I kid you not), one can almost be forgiven for thinking that goals are more about the glamour of expertly-choreographed, well rehearsed celebrations, than about the sheer joy of viewing a brilliant piece of individual skill or collective brilliance. Everyone loves passionate celebrations with fans, involving screaming and fist-pumping due to the adrenaline of the moment, but the goal celebrations that really stay with me are not those of the goal-scorers themselves, as they peel away to the fans. I enjoy watching for the initial reactions of his team-mates in the moment immediately following the scoring of the goal. These are the most natural, the most instinctive, and the most honest.
Think of Wayne Rooney admitting to having jumped off his living room sofa and clapped at the television screen as he watched Barcelona masterfully dismantle Real Madrid in that legendary 5-0 game a few years ago. What words can come as close to encapsulating the brilliance of that performance as the sight of seeing one of the world’s best players applauding his peers out of sheer awe?
Some of the goals I enjoy watching time and again are made slightly unique by the immediate reactions of some of the players on the pitch. Most of the goals were great in their own right, when viewed simply for the footballing artistry on display–how else could they elicit reactions of shock from team-mates?–but they are made just that extra bit special for said reactions. Some of these goals are:
I’ll start with Steven Gerrard’s unbelievable second goal against West Ham in the final of the FA Cup 2005-6. Everyone knows the story of the goal: West Ham leading 3-2 after a freak Paul Konchesky goal threatened to destroy the work Gerrard and Co. had done to claw their way back into the game. A long ball into the box from John Arne Riise got cleared out towards the half-line, and a fatigued, cramped Gerrard decided he was too tired to bring the ball down and play, and so he swung his right boot, making absolutely perfect connection, and the ball flew past Shaka Hislop into the back of the net.
I ranked that volley the second-greatest match-winning volley in another article; click here to read about it: https://arjyomitra94.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/top-five-match-winning-volleys-from-the-modern-era/
And here’s the link to the goal.
Watch it again–I know, the quality is poor, but it was 2006–and this time, look at the bottom left corner of the screen, at Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse’s reaction to the goal. All he could do was put his hands on his head, in utter disbelief. I just loved it. To make a professional footballer–interesting anecdote, one who shocked his new Liverpool team-mates by scoring an overhead goal in his first training session at the club–react like that, well, takes a very, very special goal.
Next up, the goal that won Barcelona only its third every Champions League trophy. Barcelona were leading United by one goal, courtesy Samuel Eto’o, and were in complete control of the game. United’s midfield was on its last legs, and the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi were running rings around them. Xavi whipped in a cross past Vidic and Ferdinand, who probably thought it would float out of play. But lo and behold, Lionel Messi–possibly the last player you would expect to scored a header past the towering frame of Edwin van der Sar–leaped unnaturally high and twisted his body to make the right connection, nodding the ball into the far bottom corner.
Watch it here.
That goal was incredible, but what really sticks out for me is the reaction of Barcelona captain Carles Puyol. Watch the video again, and you’ll see he turns around towards his own goal, and again, places his hands on his head, and walks back. Isn’t that the most natural thing to do when you realize you have won the Champions League? Maybe Puyol was astounded by the quality of the goal, maybe he realized the world had well and truly entered a new era of football, one dominated by Messi, or maybe he had just realized he was in the wrong penalty area. Regardless, I just loved how naturally it came to him. The captain, the leader, the wall, reduced to an awe-struck, gobsmacked fan, lost for words, in an instant. That is the power of football.
Moving on, you shouldn’t be surprised that it is another beauty from Messi. Isn’t he just the greatest we have ever seen? This was a mazy dribble against hapless Athletic Bilbao players, with the magician weaving his way in and out of challenges that never came before passing the ball past Iraizoz. Watch it here.
The goal stands out as one of Messi’s greatest ever, and there is no higher compliment that can be paid to that masterpiece. Or maybe there is. Watch Fabregas’ reaction to the goal. Not only does he instantly question his own sanity, and whether his eyes were playing tricks on him, by placing his hands on his head, what I love is that he forgets to bring one hand back down, even as he makes his way to the hurdle of players surrounding Messi to congratulate, no, thank, him. What is special about this reaction is that it comes from not a Suarez or a Vermaelen, who have only recently borne witness to Messi’s genius from up close. It comes from a player who has played with Messi for three years at senior level, and a few more when they were both boys learning their trade (well, you can’t really say Messi ever had a lot to learn). You would imagine it would be hard for Messi to amaze Fabregas any more, not after all these years, but such is his ability, he leaves people who have known him for a decade questioning whether he truly is from this planet, or even this universe bounded by the laws of rationality and physics. That’s football for you.
And finally, the goal that announced a certain Lionel Messi to the world. Yes, that mazy, Maradona-esque dribble past half the Getafe side that thrust the young Argentine firmly into the global limelight, and completed the first chapter in what has become the greatest story in the history of football, Messi’s career. There is no need to describe the goal, there are very few that have ever been replayed more often. But for the sake of why that goal makes this list, please do watch it here. Anyway, I doubt it will be too much of an ordeal, such was its sheer genius.
As Messi got to his feet and rushed to the corner flag, his two attacking partners, Samuel Eto’o and Eidur Gudjohnsen, could do nothing but raise their hands to their heads. I think they had realized, at the exact moment the ball went into the back of the net, that they had witnessed history, and had had the best seats in the house. How else could they have celebrated, by screaming and shouting and jumping up and down like children? No, they were grown men, but had witnessed a child do things that not even the oldest and wisest can explain. Their reactions, and those of Fabregas, Puyol and Cisse, show me that football isn’t about the glory and the glamour, the paparazzi and the paychecks. It’s about these moments, few and far between, that bring people to their feet in collective joy, and appreciation of the privilege of having borne witness. These moments that make us happy to be in love with the Beautiful Game.