Excellent solo goals from world-class footballers might be decent entertainment, but it’s all a bit…predictable.
Sure, we all love the occasional George Weah special, but what really gets us going is the same sort of quality from a more unlikely source.
It’s why we got out of our seats when Emmanuel Adebayor took Chelsea to the cleaners in 2013 after several months of doing nothing much.
Or, more recently, Gervinho reminding us all that he still exists with a frankly sensational effort for Parma against Cagliari.
Gervinho has, in the past, been described as a footballer who is neither good nor bad, and the effort against Cagliari is the sort of goal no good or bad player could score.
A less talented individual would fail for obvious reasons, yet a player with more quality might be smart enough to realise this goal is the sort of thing no normal person should be able to pull off in normal circumstances.
Gervinho is both talented enough to score a goal this good but not so talented – or aware of his own talents – that he realises it would be stupid to try.
Even the manner in which the Ivorian collects the ball is a little off when you stop to think about it.
Yes, he has found space to gather the ball as it breaks from inside the Parma box, but his reaction to it breaking his way shows the positioning was anything but anticipatory.
He’s like a swimmer in tropical waters being shocked by the presence of an encroaching shark, despite the sea being deserted and signs up everywhere warning him of the risk.
And, like someone fleeing from a shark, his response is to turn away from danger and move as quickly as possible in the opposite direction.
You will see some solo goals where a player has to be patient to get the better of diligent, sensible defenders. Zlatan Ibrahimović’s famous strike for Ajax against NAC, for example. This was not one of those occasions.
The first challenge, from the retreating Artur Ioniţă, could only really be more noncommital if he had taken a loudhailer out of his sock mid-slide and screamed “Lads, it’s Gervinho” through it.
Charalambos Lykogiannis, who begins the move converging on Gervinho along with his team-mate, follows up with the kind of tackle you only ever see in reruns of end-to-end solo goals; football’s equivalent of the third-round Wimbledon opponent whose contribution to a Roger Federer title montage lasts all of five seconds.
It is the Greek midfielder’s Coquelin v Hazard moment, except with the added flourish of facing the same direction throughout, as if more determined to watch how the rest of the run pans out than to actually stop Gervinho in his tracks.
After evading Lykogiannis, the obvious move, the sensible move, the logical move, would be for Gervinho to play in his team-mate down the left channel.
However, the sort of player who evades those first two challenges is not the sort of player who would ever lower himself to something as preposterous as passing the ball to a team-mate.
Perhaps Gervinho’s spell in China was playing on his mind, specifically his goal for Hebei China Fortune against Beijing Guoan. If you can back yourself with the ball at your feet, then why worry about team-mates?
Whether they’re open or not is irrelevant if you were never going to look in the first place.
Of course, we’ll never know for sure whether Gervinho considered his team-mate a decoy or whether he saw the pure fear in Ragnar Klavan’s eyes, but it’s more fun to tell ourselves it was the latter.
As Klavan sees his opponent approach, he knows he has already lost. When you are on the edge of the area and already hoping Gervinho fluffs his lines when, not if, he gets past you, it speaks for itself.
Klavan’s movement is such that no one can say with confidence whether he has reacted to Gervinho jinking wide or turned his body in anticipation – all we can be sure of is the fact that he never stood a chance.
Then we have the finish. Oh, that finish.
As with anything Gervinho has done and will ever do, it is best captured through the eyes of anyone but the man himself. Gervinho might not be able to explain everything he does, but those around him will forever remain even more baffled.
We can’t call it instinctive: that would imply some innate design that forms a vague basis of his movements, something based on how a footballer – or even any other human – might react in comparable situations.
At the very least, Gervinho’s instincts are unlike anyone else’s instincts, and how are you meant to deal with someone when you can’t even be sure he knows what his next move is going to be.
It’s as if someone has taught football to a kitten: at any given moment, you can’t be sure whether he is bending the rules out of protest at their prescriptivism, out of experimentation in the face of new and expansive opportunities, or just because he feels like acting the dickhead.
Instead, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Luca Rigoni, who began the move almost level with Gervinho and has needed to expend all of his energy to even nearly keep pace with his team-mate.
As Gervinho fires in the shot, Rigoni raises his arms without at that moment knowing whether he is doing so in excitement or frustration. He knows something big is happening, but the mindfuck of Gervinho’s run and shot has momentarily made him forget the aims of a football match.
The delayed reaction tells us all we need to know about the goal, with its movement from “did he just do that?” to “did he just do that?” to “did he just to that?”.
Gervinho isn’t someone who scores against your team. Gervinho is something that happens to you, and when the moment arrives it is a beautiful, mesmeric mess.
If you’re looking for ways to explain him, you’re doing it wrong.
By Tom Victor