John Koutroumbis during an A League match between Sydney and Perth Glory in December 2023.

It’s official – 2023’s greatest piece of skill is a goal line clearance from Australia

In so many ways, 2023 has been an awful year. From freak weather events to inept politicians and the simpering over the Coronation, the past 12 months have been the latest indicator of a species in reverse.

Much of that soul-sapping energy has seeped its way into football, the most important of life’s least important things.

Manchester City’s historic treble, the rise of Newcastle United and Chelsea spending £1billion on Football Manager regens has been enough to leave the bitterest of tastes in the mouths of supporters who didn’t sign up to be cheerleaders for nation states and consumer capitalists.

But the innate beauty of the game is its ability to produce moments of wonder. Moments that take you back to your childhood in a Proustian rush, a time where the sun shone brighter and the world was bathed in joyful, primary coloured simplicity.

Another beautiful element to Our Game is that these moments can take place anywhere from your local PowerLeague cage to the World Cup final. Even Australia.

The Aussies might not be powerhouses of world football, but their national team made it to the last 16 of Qatar 2022 and their A-League is as fiercely contested as you’d expect from arguably the most competitive nation on Earth.

So much so that a trip to Newcastle Jets resembles La Bombonera on an acid trip. Apparently.

“It’s a great place to go and play football,” Perth Glory Head Coach Alen Stajcic said about Saturday’s opponents.

“It’s such a passionate crowd. They’re definitely one of the most passionate crowds for their own local area in the country in every sport.”

In this febrile atmosphere, players either shrink to microscopic size or produce moments of jaw-dropping skill that’ll keep them warm as the years draw in.

John Koutroumbis chose the latter. With his side 1-0 down, Koutroumbis watched the Jets carve open his fellow defenders like a Christmas turkey and give themselves a golden opportunity to double the scores.

Many of us would feel a wave of defeatism at such a sight, but the 25-year-old is made of more heroic stuff. Instead of taking out a deck chair and admiring the view, he raced back in an attempt to intercept the ball on the goal line.

Which he did – in the most unconventional way possible. Almost falling over into the net, Koutroumbis had the presence of mind to flick the ball over the crossbar with an impudent backheel. Simply glorious.

“We know we’ve got a lot of hard work to do and a lot of ground that we have to cover and re-cover,” Stajcic said after the match had finished 2-2.

“There’s no magic wand, so we just have to keep working hard. The thing that gives me more confidence is the fact that we’ve shown glimpses of what we can do without being able to fulfil it over 90 minutes.

“We believe that if can start extending some of those periods, we’ll definitely be competitive. As I’ve said for a long time now, the A-League is so tight from top to bottom that any team can win any game in any moment.

“But it’s not enough to be good for 20 minutes or 40 minutes or even 50 minutes. We have to keep extending that period and I’m sure the result will start coming our way.

“It takes time to embed everything and gel everyone… but we’ve played seven games now and need to make sure that we start winning matches and fulfilling our potential.”

Games, goals and points can wait until another day. Koutroumbis has certainly fulfilled his potential with a piece of heroism straight out of the Marvel universe.

By Michael Lee

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