Barcelona need a goal. Oleguer, that rare Marxist of a utility player, lumps the ball forward. It drops harmlessly onto the head of Ricardo Carv…actually, no; John Terry’s perennial sense of defensive propriety kicks in, and Barça are back in possession. Our protagonist can’t (yet) bring the ball under his spell, but Andrés Iniesta, a spritely 20-year-old with the hair to prove it, keeps his cool; tempting Terry out of the backline like an anaemic pied piper. A simple pass to Ronaldinho, and the scene is set.
What happens next is breathtaking; a true optical illusion of a goal. Ronaldinho kills the ball, Carvalho closes in, and…BAM…Petr Čech glances up ruefully as the Brazilian wheels away in lunatic celebration. My reaction at the time was one of confusion; it took me a good couple of seconds to work out that the ball had nestled into the corner of the net. I awaited the pending replays, hoping that they would allow me to make more sense of the incident. Herein lies some of the devastating beauty of Ronaldinho’s finish; this was a goal so fine that it escaped the testimony of the senses.
It is by watching the goal back, however, that we may gain a true appreciation of it. In a period of two or three seconds, all of our convictions about what constitutes attractive football are ripped up and shoved down our gawping throats, by an intoxicating cocktail of high art and base primitivism. Ronaldinho, joyously conforming to the Brazilian footballing stereotype, lures us (and Carvalho) in; a swivel of the hips, the sassy shuffle of the sambista. What follows, we assume, must be something special. And indeed it is…but not in the manner we expect. No through ball, no curling effort with the outside of the boot, no outrageous lob; no manifestation of jogo bonito. Instead, Ronaldinho unleashes…a toe punt; that most intuitively ugly of all techniques, that playground staple that our first football coach teaches us to abandon.
With a swift poke of the right foot, Ronaldinho challenges the notion that we can even apply everyday aesthetic judgements to football. What is attractive, screams his finish, is simply what WORKS; the lowly toe punt is transformed into a work of art, purely due to it being functional at that instant. This lesson is perfectly captured by a famous quote from Dadá Maravilha, an unorthodox striker who plied his trade in Brazil during the 60s and 70s. “There’s no such thing as an ugly goal,” claimed Dadá; ”ugly is to not score one.” Ronaldinho and I would agree wholeheartedly.
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