Matheus Cunha’s feint left Union Berlin’s defenders playing on an ice rink

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After such a long time without football, some of us were worried it might take a while to get back to the important things like needless showboating. Thankfully, Matheus Cunha didn’t need a warm-up to get back into the swing of things.

We’ve written about the Brazilian before, when he was still at RB Leipzig, and it’s good to know a change of scenery hasn’t diminished his tendencies to do whatever the hell he wants.

Now playing his football for Hertha Berlin, the Brazilian took stock of the other 21 players on the pitch taking part in an intense local derby and decided it would be a lot more fun to ignore the surroundings and play a separate game of his own.

Midway through the first half, we got our initial glimpse of what we’d be dealing with.

While Cunha appeared to be screaming for a ball to be played in front of him from the right, we got the sense he was secretly delighted when Vedad Ibisevic’s cross wasn’t entirely on a plate for him.

Indeed, it felt like his body was destined to contort itself into this shape long before he sent his shot spinning towards Rafal Gilkewicz’s near post, and it was the ball itself which needed to make allowances for the situation.

Whether or not the rigidity elsewhere was down to the long break, Cunha’s movement seemed to flow more freely, like a live action character entering a cartoon.

Not only was there an airiness to the way he steps inside and outside the lines, but he appeared to have control over those around him too. It’s as if he rocked up to an ice rink with the only pair of skates, mocking his peers as they tentatively stepped out onto the surface in their work shoes.

Even as Christopher Trimmel looked to be in a position to neutralise Cunha’s brilliance, all it took was one feint to leave the Union captain on the floor, not so much scrambling to regain his footing as straining to evade the focus of the camera as quickly as possible.

The speed with which Trimmel regained his verticality almost seemed to suggest Cunha is liable to do this all the time, and there’s no point wasting any extra seconds doing anything as futile as outwardly displaying embarrassment. Just let him do his thing, make sure the attention moves away from you, and move on to the next one.

Even then, though, it wasn’t quite time for the killer blow to be delivered.

First, we needed the scooped outside-of-the-boot pass, as if to say, “Sure, I might try to score eventually, but I’m not going to do it just because you think it’s what I’m supposed to do.”

After all, laying up a bicycle kick for his team-mate rather than going it alone would be, well, prettier. For him, it’s about the beauty of the painting that’s produced, not the artist who signs it at the bottom.

He’s seen into the future, and watched Gilkewicz picking the ball out of the net as his colleagues rush to congratulate him, and in the interim the challenge is to figure out what eye-catchingly impressive thing he must have done in the intervening period. It’s not his fault he set his sights higher than ‘effortlessly finding the bottom corner from 25 yards’.

This is someone who is acutely aware of the cameras around him, but chose to play up to his own high expectations rather than anything he imagines anyone else to demand.

The Bundesliga has seen plenty of its biggest stars shine brightly since the competition returned to action, but most of these people have the luxury of knowing they’re permanently under the microscope.

For Matheus Cunha, the situation was a little different. Hertha aren’t a regularly big-ticket club, even if their derby was firmly in focus on Friday night, so a lot of his rise has been dependent on him picking the moments when he wants to show off for himself – such as his stunning goal last week at Hofftenheim.

He’s the kid at the top of the diving board, yelling out so the right person knows to pay attention. The difference, however, is that the audience of one is somehow also him.

By Tom Victor


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