Not everything a footballer can do is impossible and they get cut too much slack
David Moyes hardly threw Mark Noble under a bus when he took that penalty
I believe it is impossible to find a better example of football’s failure to maintain perspective than a brilliant letter that once appeared in Viz.
“I’m sick of sports commentators saying ‘you couldn’t write a script like this,’” it said.
“If people can write scripts about dystopian futures in which life is in fact a simulation made by sentient machines to harness humans’ heat and electricity as an energy source, they can probably write one about Gary Taylor-Fletcher scoring a last-minute equaliser against Stoke.”
I thought about that during the closing stages of West Ham’s defeat to Manchester United on Sunday.
The Hammers got a penalty in injury-time and manager David Moyes decided to put club stalwart Mark Noble on as a substitute to grab the glory. He didn’t. David De Gea saved his spot-kick and they lost 2-1.
I knew exactly what was going to happen when Noble entered the fray.
If he scored, it would be regarded by the watching experts as a move of genius by Moyes, and of course when he missed, it was dismissed as a terrible decision by the Irons gaffer.
It fell victim to the Panenka principle - the whole what-great-nerve (scored) v what-an-idiot (missed) thing.
Apparently, it is ridiculous to ask a professional footballer who has been playing for his boyhood club for 17 years to come off the bench and take a penalty straight away.
There are lots of things that footballers can do which you and I would be incapable of, but don’t believe that everything a player does is impossible for us mere mortals.
I would describe my football ability as competent even though, at 48, my best years are plainly well behind me.
I played for the district once when my PE teacher phoned me one Saturday morning to say that his team were short. That’s the summit of my achievements.
I would not be able to score a goal like Dennis Bergkamp did at Newcastle or Glenn Hoddle did at Watford.
I would not be able to mark Romelu Lukaku at a set-piece or chase Lionel Messi before executing a perfectly timed recovery tackle, and it would take years of practice to hit a free-kick like David Beckham scored against Greece.
However, what price would I be to score a penalty against a Premier League goalkeeper in a full-size goal, even now?
Obviously a lot longer than Noble, but even if I scored one in ten, it’s not splitting the atom. There would still be a decent chance I could score.
Are we seriously suggesting that Moyes put his most experienced performer in an impossible situation?
Compare the incident to an American footballer having to kick a last-gasp field goal to win the game, something which happens somewhere pretty much every Sunday.
That’s their job and they are relied upon to complete the task.
It’s even been known for an unsuccessful kicker to find his locker has been cleared out when he goes to practice the following day.
If they can’t do it, they get someone else. And no one ever feels sorry for them.
Footballers, meanwhile, are cut an awful lot of slack.
I find it baffling that commentators and analysts can regularly be found praising strikers for completing routine tasks.
They are prone to liberally distributing ‘credit’ to forwards converting crosses from eight yards when the nearest defender is in the neighbouring postal district.
Isn’t that your job, though, mate? You know, where my season-ticket money goes?
It is the equivalent of your boss enthusiastically shaking you by the hand in congratulation after you negotiated your way out of the lift to walk to your desk on a Monday morning.
By getting carried away all the time, we lose sight of what is ordinary and what is brilliant. And then we can’t actually judge anything.
Not everything is from another planet.
Striking greats deserve to be fondly remembered
It has been a particularly sad few weeks with the deaths of two men regarded as among the greatest strikers ever to have played football - Gerd Muller and Jimmy Greaves.
Both set amazing records. It took 137 games for Miroslav Klose to score 71 goals for Germany while Muller scored 68 in 62 matches between 1966 and his final appearance in the 1974 World Cup final.
Greaves, meanwhile, scored 44 goals in 57 games for England between 1959 and 1967, while Wayne Rooney’s 53 came in 120.
You can chance upon odd pieces of footage of them doing what they did best, but it just seems a shame that this is all we will have to go on when remembering their huge contribution to the art of goalscoring.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are going to be hailed as the greatest players to have ever played, but their legacy will live on through archive pictures as virtually every goal they ever scored will have been televised.
As the years go on, the number of eyewitness accounts of Greavsie and Der Bomber will diminish and that’s a real shame.
Soon it will just be football-history nerds like me bringing them up in conversations.
Both players have earned their place in the game’s illustrious history.
Hopefully the memories won’t fade just because the TV cameras weren’t there at the time.
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