Goals are overrated. Ok, let me qualify that statement somewhat: cheap goals are overrated. Back in 2004 Tottenham and Arsenal played out a north London derby with Arsene Wenger’s team emerging victorious by the odd goal in nine. A number of journalists were moved to declare this as the greatest game of the Premiership era. Enthusiastic to see this epic piece of footballing theatre, I watched the highlights on Match of the Day later that evening and, contrarian that I am, was singularly unimpressed.
Sure, there were goals-a-plenty, but almost all of them were avoidable goals. With one defensive calamity after another, the sheer randomness of proceedings caused me to think this derby was closer in spirit to a re-run of It’s A Knockout than a supposed high-level encounter from the sharp end of European football. It’s all about perception though: football-minded people tend to unquestioningly equate goals with excitement and drama. Nine goals in a derby? Wow, it must have been good. Never mind the quality, feel the width.
Less can be more. Instead of a game of plentiful goals, what I really appreciate is a game of great goals: a match in which each one scored – even if there are not many – is of a high enough quality to cause you to praise the attacking play rather than criticise the defending. And that’s the premise behind A Game Of Great Goals, a new regular series on BTLM.
Let me offer up an example. Travel back with me to May of 1991 when Sampdoria was on the brink of winning the first Serie A title in the club’s history. In its penultimate fixture the Genovese club entertained Lecce knowing a win against the relegation-threatened visitors would guarantee them the championship. With the greatest moment of Samp’s modest history in clear sight, did the tension of the situation blight their performance? Not a chance. Lecce were blown away with three wonderful and quite differently executed goals within the opening half hour.
The opening goal took just two minutes to arrive. Attilio Lombardo brilliantly beats an opponent on the right and crosses into the box, Gianluca Vialli controls the ball and rolls it into the path of Brazilian midfielder Toninho Cerezo who nonchalantly strokes a shot into the corner of the net from just outside the box.
Thirteen minutes later Sampdoria win a corner. Lecce keeper Zunico punches it clear as far as Samp right back Moreno Mannini lurking 25 yards from goal. Not a player with any history of having an eye for goal, in this instance Mannini doesn’t hesitate and smashes an exceptional swerving volley past the bemused visiting keeper.
The third goal showcases the penalty box genius of Gianluca Vialli. Lombardo nods a ball into space where the forward has drifted and although Vialli has his back to goal, he swivels brilliantly and smashes a shot high into the roof of the net.
Lecce were down and out with just a third of the game gone and there wasn’t a lot they could have done about it. That Samp team was playing with such an unstoppable momentum that you sensed they believed anything they tried – however outlandish – would come off. And on the evidence of this game, they were absolutely right.