A one-hit wonder, but no Number One

SO WAS it the greatest goal ever scored? No. Next question, please.

We speak, of course, of Ronaldo’s wonder strike in Porto on Wednesday night, a 40-yard screamer which had more excitable types talking it up as the greatest goal ever. And it wasn’t just the impressionable young ’uns, who might be forgiven for not knowing better, either. Even “Sir” himself hailed it as “sensational, a great, great strike,” adding, “I would need to go into the memory bank to think of a better goal.”

Now, I have no quibble with the first part of that statement but, as regards the second, it sounds to me like the Bank of Ferguson is in urgent need of recapitalisation. Now, maybe the gaffer was just being overly generous to a player whose ear he had reddened after the first leg at Old Trafford but, in truth, it shouldn’t take a whole heap of brain-wracking to come up with a decently bulging shortlist of more persuasive candidates for the ultimate accolade.

Right off the top of my head, I’d nominate the likes of Van Basten in Euro ‘88, Bergkamp v Argentina in ‘98, Charlton in ‘66 (probably the closest in style to Ronaldo’s belter), Zidane’s Champions League-winning volley in 2002, Roberto Carlos’ physics-defying free kick in the Tournoi de France in ‘97, and, not forgetting of course, any number of stellar efforts by, arguably, the two greatest players ever to kick a ball, Pele and George Best.

And that’s without even threatening the supremacy of this fan’s all-time joint number one goals, inseparable on the grounds that sometimes you can’t legitimately choose between the individual and the collective.

The greatest solo goal has to be Maradona’s single-handed demolition of England in the World Cup quarter-finals in Mexico in 1986, a breathtaking run and finish which remains the apotheosis of one supreme player’s skill, power and determination.

Maradona was the best footballer in the world back then and, in an extraordinary coincidence, his countryman and spiritual heir, Lionel Messi, reproduced an almost identikit version in a cup match for Barcelona against Getafe two years ago.

The forensics are indubitably eerie: both men ran for 10 seconds over 60 metres, both touched the ball 13 times and both beat six opponents, including the goalkeeper, before finding the net. No surprise then that all the Spanish newspapers the following day ran variations on the headline “Messi Scores Maradona’s Goal” while one even posed the same question to Messi that had been asked of Maradona all of 21 years before: “What planet did you come from?” (By the way, if you check on YouTube, you’ll find a split-screen presentation of both goals which might just have you believing The X-Files was really a documentary).

So why then was Maradona’s better? Because his was the original of a rare species. Because he scored in the World Cup, not the Spanish Cup. And because, best of all — as even Fergie would surely agree — the goal was scored, not against Getafe, but against England. Case closed.

And I would suggest that a similarly watertight argument can be made for the greatest team goal of them all: Brazil’s famous fourth in their 4-1 World Cup Final defeat of Italy in Mexico in 1970.

Nine men in yellow and blue touched the ball in a move which flowed the length of the Azteca pitch, with Clodoaldo jinking his way around four Italians deep in his own half just to get things going. When the ball finally arrived at the feet of Pele, via the banana-kick supremo Rivelino and the goal-a-game man Jairzinho, the planet’s greatest ever footballer was positioned just outside the penalty box ‘D’, face to face with a blue shirt.

BUT, for once, Pele didn’t attempt to go past him; instead, without even apparently looking up, he played the ball out into space to his right where, as if by some form of telepathic communication, overlapping skipper Carlos Alberto arrived bang on cue to deliver the coup de grace: a daisy-cutter swept low to the far corner of the net which, such was the perfect weight and precision of the pass, he was able to dispatch without even having to break stride.

It has justly been described as ‘The Perfect Goal’ for its technical composition but coming as it did, on the highest stage possible — at a point in a crucial game when the textbooks preach you should be concerned mainly with protecting a 3-1 lead — it was also a triumph for joy, imagination and the pursuit of beauty, ideals which seemed almost as important as the acquisition of silverware to that most glorious of great Brazilian teams.

All of which is by way of an attempt at applying a little perspective to Ronaldo’s goal in Porto — something generally in short supply in the polarised love-him-or-loathe-him debate surrounding the Portuguese. Yes, it was a stupendous strike but, for all the distance it travelled, his one-hit wonder falls well short of Number One.


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