Zlatan Ibrahimovic, that pugnacious punk, scored one for individual brilliance over elaborate team systems which rule football on account of being both productive and popular thanks to Spain and Barcelona’s steady success.
When he sent his feet into orbit like table-fan blades, connecting with a ball 6 feet high, and getting the parabola to taunt the wandering Joe Hart over 30 yards and from 50 degrees, he won the free-spirited, solo magicians an audacious round, and some ungrudged applause. Even Arsene Wenger, the master puppeteer of pretty football with clean lines, couldn't stop gushing, lauding Ibra's flexibility.
It broke through the clutter of clockwork team-plays of pass masters and their one-touch precision. It convoluted the idea of poised possession, and left the magic to one very talented man and his command over an audacious skill that kids love to practice in their quiet, training, alone-times.
No manager really supervises sessions where players go about perfecting frills, doing those sort of bicycle kick stunts, for it's all arrow-marks and crosses and noughts for short, snappy passes, weaved around defenders on manager's drawing boards. So, it's good when one solitary strider draws himself a loop-line on the field to get a stunning goal to round off the night. The goal, to put simply, was anti-plan, though the man's brain was ticking, and how.
Ibra-fans will chuckle looking back at his unhappy stint with Barcelona and Guardiola where he kicked up a fuss in frustration more often than he kicked the ball, cribbing about lack of freedom. But more than anything else, the stunning fourth goal evoked reactions that shared glory cannot quite encompass. Like, when Rinus Michels, the author of Total Football, slapped his head in disbelief and had to be steadied by his assistant, after Marco van Basten's stunning acute-angle strike against USSR at the 1988 Euros which was all individual brilliance. Or how David Seaman slumped into the side net, reeling from Ronaldinho's floating bee-kick of the 2002 World Cup. Or Ibra's own kung fu goal for PSG against Olympique Marseille, where he jutted his rubber leg out to deflect past a goalkeeper who screamed out a self-flagellant.
Shivani is a special correspondent based in Mumbai.