Marco Van Basten, the thrill of volleys, and the PL’s great forgotten goal

Nostalgia

You can’t teach that technique.

The way he lets the ball drop over his shoulder before pulling the trigger is part instinct, part superpower.

You can spend years practicing the technique, but the manner in which he receives the ball doesn’t come up all too often in training drills.

So, given this week marks the great man’s birthday, it feels like the ideal time to look back at a truly one-of-a-kind volley.

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The height on that diagonal ball, while making for a delightful aesthetic spectacle, hardly makes things easy for him, but it raises an important question.

Is it worth trading off efficiency for beauty? The goal might have been more achievable if his teammate had carried the ball forward and found a better angle for the delivery, but then it would have been just another goal. Who knows, the ball might have not reached him at all, never mind it reaching him with the ball dropping onto his foot with perfect precision.

The execution would have been difficult even without the ball passing over the head of a defender. He’d have still needed to watch the ball in flight while perfectly pacing his run, ensuring he arrived in time to catch it first-time with enough power to beat the goalkeeper, but the covering opponent makes it that much tougher.

I suppose that’s why no amount of drills could prepare anyone for this scenario. The lack of match pressure is one thing, but how are you meant to coach a defender to run directly under the flight of the ball while blocking the forward’s sight of it, like some kind of aerial snooker?

Then again, on the other side of the coin, how is the keeper supposed to prepare for such a clean strike, perhaps the cleanest of his career, catching the ball perfectly with his left foot.

Wait, left foot? Didn’t Marco van Basten connect with his right against the USSR in 1988?

Yes. Yes he did. But he’s not the only forward born on Halloween to score such a sweetly-struck volley.

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Shaun Bartlett is one of those Premier League strikers who, for the most part, was just there.

The South African took a circuitous route to England, via clubs in the United States and Switzerland, and while he only turned out for one Premier League club, he quickly became part of the furniture.

After initially arriving on loan from FC Zürich, he ended his spell at Charlton Athletic with 26 goals in more than 100 league and cup games. It might not have been the best tally for a striker, but one goal during that initial loan spell will leave a lasting impression.

The 2000/01 season was full of great goals, with Mario Stanić’s worldie against West Ham and a wonderful Thierry Henry effort against Manchester United both the sorts of strike which would have been considered the season’s best on most occasions.

Indeed, many will still argue one of those two should have been the victor, but the technique shown by Bartlett surely makes him a worthy winner.

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READ: Mario Stanić, Chelsea cult hero and scorer of one of THE great debut goals

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It’s the sort of goal we don’t see all that often, but when we do we know we’ve witnessed something very special.

I didn’t have the opportunity to see Bartlett’s goal live on TV, but when Robin van Persie scored with a similar effort against Aston Villa more than a decade later I stood up and paced around the room, unsure about the etiquette of celebrating televised goals scored by players you’re lukewarm towards and for clubs you don’t support.

Initially, I wondered how much of a role the TV cameras played in it all. Is a goal better, for example, when it involves the ball dropping into the viewer’s blind spot on the other side of the covering defender, presenting an added layer of mystery beyond even the scorer?

When Edin Džeko scored another left foot belter for Roma against Chelsea I realised no, that’s not how it works, stop being an idiot, Tom.

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What does matter, however, is the identity of the scorer.

As I have written before for this site, a cracker from an unlikely source is one thing, but it’s elevated when you can see the technique required.

Sometimes a goal is so great it looks like everything is happening in slow motion, but this was the opposite.

It appeared as though Bartlett had been wound up like a hotwheels car such is the pace at which he approaches the ball. There’s no time to relax, or for him to compose himself while waiting for the ball to drop, it’s a run-and-hit, all in one fluid movement, almost as much NFL touchdown as football goal.

After a successful mini-golf shot in the Simpsons episode ‘Dead Putting Society’, Bart turns to Lisa and says: “I don’t believe it – you’ve actually found a practical use for geometry.” If that was the first practical use, Shaun Bartlett’s mid-sprint calculations are surely the second.

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READ: Sofiane Boufal and the enduring value of physical comedy in football

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That should have been the sign for Bartlett to kick on and reach new heights at The Valley, but instead the opposite was true.

He scored just once more all season, and just once in total in his first full season following his permanent transfer in the summer of 2001 – bizarrely that, like his Goal of the Season winner, also came in a 2-0 victory over Leicester City.

Still, when you’ve scored a goal better than most will manage in their entire career, you don’t really want to show off in the years afterwards.

So he did what any sensible man would in that scenario: he didn’t repeat those heroics, and returned to South Africa after leaving Charlton a few years later, but he scored enough goals in the meantime to plant that seed of doubt.

Sure, he didn’t manage to score as good a goal again, but maybe he could have done if he wanted to.

By Tom Victor


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