Roberto Baggio ruined Edwin van der Sar with the best first touch of all time
Those who deal in absolutes will tell you the best touch a footballer can make is the one which sends the ball into the opponents’ net. These people can’t have watched Roberto Baggio in his pomp.
The ‘Divine Ponytail’ scored goals wherever he played – more than 300 of them for club and country, all told – but the numbers alone will only commit you to memory for so long.
What can really elevate a player is an ability to do things with the ball which seem beyond everyone else, which brings us onto Baggio’s goal for Brescia against Juventus.
The Brescia stint was meant to be a winding down. A final hurrah for a player who could still offer flashes of brilliance but was many years beyond his peak.
He was coming off a difficult stint at Inter, marked by a number of injuries and a falling-out with manager Marcello Lippi which remained a point of contention for years after. Brescia, meanwhile, were new to Serie A.
And yet the creativity of Baggio and the goals of fellow veteran Dario Hubner saw them finish the campaign in the top half.
Classic Teammates: Baggio and Pirlo at Brescia pic.twitter.com/6vp9aTkSmE
— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) May 2, 2017
Brescia were also blessed with Andrea Pirlo, back on loan at his boyhood club while he waited for an opportunity at Inter which never really arrived.
It was Pirlo, a forward-thinking 21-year-old at the time, who had a big say in the standout moment from that season.
But for all the brilliance of Pirlo’s pass, there’s a feeling we’ve been desensitised to the genre of ball over the top, even when this is a particularly impressive example.
What happens next, on the other hand, is made that bit greater by its relative originality.
It’s tempting to look at great goals – Gareth Bale’s bicycle kick in the Champions League final, perhaps, or Lionel Messi’s solo effort against Getafe – as superhuman feats. As something which required a combination of technique, athleticism and sharpness of mind which is beyond mere mortals.
It’s a way of reminding ourselves why these men are at the top of the game, and why we never stood that chance.
With Baggio’s goal, though, there’s no such moment. Every part of it is aggressively normal, coordinated with a simplicity so complicated its mere existence scrambles our brain.
We understand the makeup of the components, and we know how to exercise them in isolation, so how does the complete picture fuck us up so much?
Edwin van der Sar’s response speaks for all of us.
As the Juventus keeper stands, hands on hips, he’s trying to come to terms with his own role in the goal, let alone that of Baggio.
He knows in his head there was no reason for him to dive into the path of what by that stage was a whole load of nothing, so why did he do it? Instinct? An attempt to provide a distraction? Or was he so blindsided by the forward that he started believing everything must be that simple even when all the evidence pointed the other way?
Baggio hasn’t so much brought the ball under his spell as tucked it under the covers and stroked its forehead while reading it a bedtime story.
Van der Sar’s only mistake is thinking this tale has the same ending as the ones he grew up with, but when the ball crosses the line he’s left cursing himself for staying awake.
• • • •
• • • •
In his four seasons at Brescia, Roberto Baggio reached double figures for goals every single campaign.
None of them could boast a high point like the one delivered in April 2001, but none of them needed to.
When you’re still breathing new life into a career seen by some as past the point of no return, it’s only courteous to eventually step aside and give someone else an opportunity to take the reins.
By Tom Victor