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Rooney: the greatest goal of all time?

That overhyped goal showed that British football pundits are world beaters at losing all sense of perspective.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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A spiked reader wrote to me complaining that I’m too concerned about snoods. He says I should be dealing with more serious issues. Okay, so what might these issues be? Sexist banter, bad refereeing, crippling debt, obscene wages, grassroots development? Yes, yes, all worthy causes but what about the superlative question?

Maybe I’ve got my priorities all wrong but I think football’s superlative problem is the issue du jour. Put simply, we’ve overused them. The once-rich seam of superlatives has been mined to the point of exhaustion. No idea what I’m wittering on about? Let me give you an example. Last week many commentators were acclaiming Match of the Day (MOTD) – which featured Newcastle’s dramatic 4-4 draw against Arsenal – as the most exciting ever with Newcastle’s amazing comeback heralded as the greatest Premiership comeback.

There are two problems with claims such as these. Firstly, they usually lack historical perspective. Take the ‘most exciting’ claim. I’m not entirely sure how one would measure historical levels of excitement but, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend it was possible to monitor the nation’s pulse rate over time. I’d wager that quite a few of the last-day-of-the-season title deciders have delivered more thrills.

Secondly – and this is the crucial point – superlatives in sport should be used very sparingly. When you’ve played your superlative card there’s nowhere else to go. You’ve reached the pinnacle of human achievement. It’s downhill thereafter. Overuse of superlatives invariably devalues the currency – a phenomenon with which Sky Sports viewers are all too familiar. A week after the most exciting MOTD on record, the superlative merchants were at it again, this time acclaiming Wayne Rooney’s scissor-kick goal in the Manchester derby. Within minutes of the final whistle, journalists and bloggers were heatedly debating whether this was the greatest overhead goal ever. It was a nailed-on certainty for Goal of the Season. Rooney himself described it as ‘definitely the best goal I’ve ever scored’. Sir Alex Ferguson – not a man usually given to hyperbole – suggested that it was the best goal he’d seen at Old Trafford. ‘We’ve had some fantastic goals here but in terms of execution… you’ll never see that’, gushed the United manager.

The odd thing about overhead kicks is that we still tend to regard them as miraculous feats. Commentators can still be found reaching for their superlatives when they see a dragback even though it’s 57 years since Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas performed the trick at Wembley. English football fans were entitled to gawp in awe back then, but there’s no excuse now. The same applies to stepovers. This party trick has been greeted with similar open-mouthed reverence long after TV viewers were first enraptured by Pele, Jairzinho et al in the 1970 World Cup. The tired old commentator’s cliché, ‘If a Brazilian had done that we’d be raving about it’, is still being trotted out decades later even though you’d find these ‘mad skills’ – as they’re known in the trade – are ten-a-penny on Hackney Marshes.

We might not have a thrill-o-meter to measure MOTD, but we do have YouTube to debunk the absurd superlatives about Rooney’s goal. It wasn’t long before numerous links to video clips of great overhead goals were being posted on Twitter and football message boards. The Hugo Sanchez back catalogue contains several stunning scissor-kick goals. As Football365 columnist John Nicholson said of the hype surrounding Rooney’s goal: ‘Just go to YouTube and type in “overhead kicks” and see how many similarly great goals there are, often by obscure European players that you’ve never heard of and who doubtless didn’t get the same lavish praise or acclaim.’

Invariably, with YouTube providing the proverbial assists, the revisionist view of Rooney’s goal quickly gathered momentum. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest overhead kick ever. On his Sunday evening 606 phone-in programme, Radio 5 Live’s Alan Green suggested that it wasn’t even the best goal in the match. He much preferred Nani’s opening goal. Lee Dixon on MOTD2 mischievously suggested that Rooney may have shinned the ball. The former Arsenal defender also picked Trevor Sinclair’s goal for QPR against Barnsley in 1997 as a better overhead strike (for the record, I’m inclined to agree with him). By Monday morning, the best overhead goal of all time had been redefined as the most overrated goal ever. Over-hype had given way to withering anti-hype.

Has the debunking of the hype surrounding Rooney’s goal cured us of our child-like awe at the sight of an overhead kick? Will we be wary about reaching for the superlatives next time we see a spectacular goal? Don’t hold your breath. Our national team might be in the doldrums but we’re world beaters at losing all sense of perspective.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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Topics Politics

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