Every so often you’ll witness a goal so ridiculous it doesn’t begin to fit with your concept of what should be possible in football. It’s extremely rare, though, for such a thing to arrive in the Champions League final.
Anyone who has watched a lot of football over the course of their life can find themselves exhausted by it all at times, especially after the same cycles begin to repeat themselves.
An extremely dumb goal can change that, though. Especially one which comes at with no warning and forces you to reconsider what you thought you know about football and physics. And especially Mario Mandzukic’s effort in the 2017 Champions League final.
Juve weren’t expected to make the 2017 final at the start of that season, but their run to Cardiff included a stunning 3-0 victory over Barcelona in the quarter-finals and was achieved with the concession of just three goals in 12 group and knockout games.
But holders Real Madrid presented a huge challenge in the final, of course, and the task became even greater when Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring inside 20 minutes.
Unfamiliar situations can bring preposterous responses, though, and we saw just that when Max Allegri’s team combined to do this.
The amazing goal by Juventus Mario Mandzukic vs Real Madrid, in my opinion the best ever in the Champions League pic.twitter.com/LhiH9hh7Cb
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) June 3, 2017
Every single part of this goal is stupider than the last, and therein lies the beauty.
It begins with Leo Bonucci’s pass, hit with enough vigour that its mere execution seems to scream “oh, you wanted a lofted ball, did you? Well, why not have the most lofted ball in the world.”
It soars like a Saturday Night Live parody of Andrea Pirlo, all broad brush-strokes designed to ensure you know who it’s mimicking just well enough to know it’s ever-so-slightly off, but not so inaccurate that it strays too far from the source material.
Bonucci’s delivery is the kind of pass you play purely with your compilation video in mind, so lazy scouts can view you as a ball-playing centre-back without needing to check to see if it led to anything. In short, it’s the kind of pass Leo Bonucci doesn’t need to play but still wants to.
The next two players to get involved, Alex Sandro and Gonzalo Higuain, are ignoring another rule of football, and indeed one of life’s: if you’re adding gloss, you do it at the end, not a third of the way in.
To call it glorified beach football isn’t really enough, though that’s what it resembles at first glance.
It’s more akin to a segment from a World Cup advert or a trailer for a Goal movie, the kind of thing which needs multiple takes and possibly also post-production tricks to make sure it holds together.
Mandzukic’s finish, as preposterous as it appears, is this way out of necessity.
After the work his team-mates have put in, presenting the Croatian with such a thankless task from a near-impossible position, he has no option but to one-up them if only out of spite.
This might look like a fantastic team move, but the alternative explanation is that each Juve man is willing the next to fail, and putting in the maximum effort to ensure that is the case.
Of course, this leaves Mandzukic trapped between a rock and a hard place. If he misses, the plates spun by Bonucci, Alex Sandro and Higuain will have stayed in the air long enough for it all to be his fault, while by scoring his extremely stupid goal – and we really can’t stress enough how stupid it is – he can’t even take all the credit.
Suddenly, what began as a game of chicken turns into what observers will retroactively decide must have been “great football”.
The thing about a goal like this is that it’s powerful enough to zap your memory, wiping out everything in the preceding 25 minutes.
Real Madrid scored first, did they? Well, it can’t have been a good goal, because now all I remember, either today or this year, is Mandzukic.
It would have been morally wrong for Juventus to win off the back of this goal, though. Such a one-in-a-million strike either needs to lean into its cinematic unreality, like Gareth Bale in 2018, or else be forgotten. The middle ground of an equaliser in what ends up being a routine win? That’s not how these things work.
If you thought it was harsh on Mandzukic for Real Madrid to go on and score three more times, perhaps you were right on a purely moral level. In terms of the world making sense, however, there was no other way for it to play out.
By Tom Victor