If you subscribe to the view that football is life’s greatest art form, then you’ll surely agree that Angel Di Maria has just produced this season’s equivalent of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 or Michelangelo’s doodling at the Sistine Chapel.
The stage for his contribution to human excellence was the Stade de la Beaujoire in northwestern France and a finely poised Europa League play-off between Nantes and Juventus.
With the tie level at 1-1 after last week’s first leg in Turin, Nantes fancied their chances of upsetting one of the most storied sides in European football. Their fans bounced and sang with the energy of a small child testing out their new trampoline.
But the aristocratic visitors took just five minutes to silence the excitable locals, thanks to the brilliance of a former Manchester United and Real Madrid winger.
Most receivers of a crisp pass from Nicolo Fagioli on the right touchline would have taken a steadying touch. A talented handful would have picked out a team-mate with a delivery that leaves you suspecting the ball has a GPS chip embedded within it.
Di Maria chose neither of those options. With the merest of glances to ensure goalkeeper Alban Lafont wasn’t superglued to his goalline, the World Cup winner swept an imperious first-time curler that just isn’t covered in coaching manuals.
Lafont flopped to the floor, beaten from the moment the ball left Di Maria’s left foot. It had taken mere seconds to travel to its natural resting place of the top right corner and set Juventus on a path to the last 16.
The flags of the Nantes ultras positioned behind the goal continued to wave out of defiance. But we’d like to believe they continued to wave in appreciation of the stunning piece of sporting brilliance they’d just witnessed. It was that fuckin’ good.
Watch and admire… Angel Di Maria 🤩
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 23, 2023
Fans and journalists on social media lauded Di Maria’s stunning effort, which will rank among the best goals of his illustrious career.
“Di Maria… the beauty. I have never seen anything like it. What a goal,” tweeted Italian football journalist Mina Rzouki, while Barstool Football posted, “Angel Di Maria needs to learn to behave himself. That is absolutely disgraceful.”
The Argentina international scored twice more, claiming a hat-trick as Juventus returned to Italy with a 3-0 victory. He’d not even bothered the scoresheet in Europe before Thursday’s match, but his sensational effort just underlined that class remains permanent.
Juventus have managed to climb to 7th in Serie A having been deducted 15 points over unlawful transfer dealings back in January.
But Massimiliano Allegri’s side are still twelve points off AC Milan in fourth spot, meaning winning the Europa League is the team’s best shot at securing Champions League football next term.
After Di Maria became the oldest player to score a Europa League hat-trick since Zlatan Ibrahimovic bent Saint Etienne to his will six years ago, the chances of the Old Lady lifting the trophy in Budapest in May have just increased.
But these permutations can wait for another day. For now, we’d just like to fully appreciate the most ridiculous goal of the 2022-23 season to date.
By Michael Lee