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Part 4: The One
Saturday, October 12th 1996
Writer’s block is a terribly frustrating ailment. Being aware of what you want to say, but remaining clueless as to how to go about saying it can drive a man to derangement. If only you could just simply pluck the words from the tiny droplets of ink that cling to the tip of your pen, or fish them out from the seemingly bottomless crevasses that interlace the characters upon your keyboard. This malady, however, does not always manifest itself in the form of vocabulary deficiency – it can also be the communication equivalent of a football manager who has an abundance of riches in one particular area, and has to choose between said riches. So, in that respect, sometimes a writer simply has too much to say and just can’t pinpoint which sentence best conveys the message in question.
Needless to say, when the task at hand is to describe the best goal you’ve seen from the most consistent scorer of spectacular goals you have ever witnessed, superlatives swarm around inside your head. What word or phrase could do this goal justice? I’m a big fan of the word sensational, but I’m admittedly guilty of overusing it. Fantastic also has an air of commonality to it, and sublime – well – it just doesn’t have enough syllables for my liking. But then a thought occurs to me – maybe no superlative I could conjure up could do this goal justice. Maybe I’m just not qualified enough to proclaim such brilliance. Maybe my outsider knowledge of this sport is not sufficient enough to be worthy of divulging such a description, and maybe we need to trust the opinion of someone closer to the situation. Sir Bobby Robson could well be that man. Not just a talisman of the game, throughout his career Robson has worked with some of the very best athletes to ever play this sport. He reminisced with joy about he was fortunate enough to cross paths with the likes Charlton, Moore, Wright and Maradona. He has managed some of the biggest clubs in Europe as well as his own country – roles which have seen him preside over talents such as Romario, Lineker, Shearer and Figo. This is certainly the résumé of man whose opinion we can put great stock in, so what did he have to say about the goal in question?
With such pragmatic beauty, he simply referred to it as “The One“.
The celebration itself was enough to seduce a smile. Wheeling away from goal with arms outstretched from his side, Ronaldo eerily mirrored the towering Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks his native Rio De Janeiro. Football is second religion in Brazil, so one could be forgiven for thinking that our goalscorer had rehearsed this act. Many had already proclaimed Ronaldo as the second coming of their God – the legendary Pelé – and this goal merely served as an underlining of this prophecy.
Picking the ball up in the middle of the field, R0naldo would not relinquish possession of the ball for 14 seconds, until he had scored one of the all time great goals. It was a move that would see him make contact with the ball 16 times, leaving 5 opposition players trailing in his wake – not including a helpless goalkeeper – with 46 metres being covered in 34 strides. When you consider the attributes on display in this goal alone, it becomes clear that this was a moment that became more important than a contribution towards three points. This goal transcends beyond the scope of statistics, and became the goal that defined a player. Power, pace, technique, skill, stamina, resistance to adversity – all aspects of this goal that followers of O Fenômeno would become familiar with.
The ball broke to Ronaldo on the half-way line. His first victim would be Spanish defender Juncal Mauro Garcia, who bounced right off of the 20 year old in the initial battle for possession. Next up was Moroccan midfielder Said Chiba. His initial attempt at fouling Ronaldo failed, his trip knocking the Brazilian off balance but not enough to break up play. Ronaldo persevered, the ball glued to his feet, with Chiba in close attendance. Knowing the trademark burst of lightning pace was coming, Chiba resorted to grabbing a fistful of the famous Los Culés jersey, stretching it’s fabric to within millimeters of severance. Enough to halt most players, but not the locomotive power of Ronaldo who dragged Chiba along with him like a trailer. Across came combatant full back Ramón to assist Chiba’s futile attempts at preventing Ronaldo from breaking free. He strategically positioned himself in Ronaldo’s path, expecting a collision that would inevitable cost his team a free kick, but allow valuable time to regroup. However, Ronaldo had other plans, halting the ball with his right foot as Ramón’s momentum took him beyond the intended point of collision. Bringing the ball back into play with his left foot, still fending off Chiba, Ronaldo quickly accelerated to unprecedented pace, leaving his three Compostela counterparts behind.
Compostela still had men back, and uncompromising defender William tried his best to cut Ronaldo off, only for the Brazilian to cut back inside, where he would bounce off of the retreating Ramón, and again off of William – all the while maintaining possession – and moving away from goal, he slid the ball back into the opposite corner he had just come from. It was a truly spectacular goal that was instantly recognised by Barcelona manager Sir Bobby Robson. There was no jumping for joy, no ferocious fist pumps and no appreciative applause. In their place were sheer disbelief and overwhelming amazement – Robson could only put his hands on his head, speechless at what had just been witnessed. His hands then retreated to his hips, perhaps the first sign of acceptance, only for them to reach out as he turned to the crowd behind them as if to say “Did you just see that too?“.
It was the goal that proved beyond doubt that the best player in the world was wearing the red and blue of Barcelona. Nike would instantly market the goal with an advertising campaign that simply replayed it back, followed by the message “Imagine asking God to make you the best footballer in the world… and God listened.”
The media were equally as dramatic in their praise. AS led with the headline “Pelé returns“, while Marca simply wrote “A genius“. Sport labelled Ronaldo “A star of the 21st century“, with La Vanguardia claiming that “he left the whole world behind.” Giants of the game in the form of Pelé, Alberto Di Stefano, Joann Cruyff and Michel Platini all purred with praise for the young Brazilian, but perhaps the most appropriate quote belongs to team mate Juan Antonio Pizzi, who summed up the superstardom of a phenom in one glorious, media-friendly sound bite.
“I play football,” Pizzi enthused.“Ronaldo? He plays something different altogether.”