Reminiscing on the number of goals that I have seen, I proceeded a bit further, and imagined the sheer volume that must have been scored in the history of the beautiful game. If you were told to take a guess, what figure would come to mind? Something in the thousands, millions, billions, or even trillions? We might never be able to know for sure what the exact figure is, and with each passing day, another goal is scored, another ball crosses the line, another net is left shaking and another shout of “goal” delivered like a well-synchronized orchestra; if the synchrony of an orchestra existed only within the first second. Now, imagine a hypothetical house containing all the goals that have ever been scored, how do you find a particular goal amid all the chaos? Scoring a goal is like adding another needle to a haystack and unless maybe this needle has a different glow, it just becomes just another one of the others. What makes a goal special? Why do we remember this goal and not the other? When we say a goal is great, what determines the “great” in the goal?
It is difficult to find the perfect goal; one that embodies all the elements of a great goal. However, one goal comes close to meeting the criteria for perfection. Sergio Aguero, during his time at Manchester City, established himself as one of the most prolific goalscorers in the world, netting 258 times for the Blue Side of Manchester. From the 258, you can probably remember 20 or 50 and I can remember maybe 10, but if we are to list out the goals we remember, one is certain to come up in everyone’s list; the goal vs QPR. In an exclusive interview with the commentator of that iconic match, Martin Tyler, the Argentine subconsciously mentioned the key elements of a great goal, and his statement is what I have tried to use to present this analysis
“That goal for me is the most important of my life. All the time, I watch that game and my family too, and my son. I think that goal will be all the time in [my] head.
In this part of his statement, Kun Aguero highlights one of the elements of a great goal – importance.
The goal is the most significant not just in Aguero’s career, but also for Manchester City as a club, giving them their first league title in 44 years and their first Premier League title, and interestingly pipping none other than neighbours, Manchester United to the title on goal difference in the most dramatic fashion possible.
The importance of a goal goes a long way in determining whether it registers in the minds of people. Alessandro Del Piero’s penalty in the final of the 2006 World Cup vs Italy, Andres Iniesta’s goal vs the Netherlands in the final of the 2010 World cup, Mario Gotze’s goal vs Argentina in the final of the 2014 World Cup, and more recently Kai Havertz’s goal in the final of the 2020/2021 UEFA Champions League season alongside other similar goals standout not necessarily because they are the most aesthetically pleasing, but because of the occasion, impact and significance. For most of these goals, if they were scored on a different day, or in a different venue, or on a less glamorous occasion, they would have been just another one of the goals, but they stood out and still stand out because of their importance.
In Aguero’s subsequent statement, another element of a great goal is identified – execution
“When I touched [the ball] before the goal, I thought ‘ok, maybe it’s a penalty, the center-back touched but not strongly, just a little bit. And then I thought ‘I just have to shoot’ and when I shoot, the decision is to always shoot at strong as possible to the first post and I had to be lucky. Then for two or three days, I didn’t believe it”
While this is arguably the weakest link of Aguero’s goal, it is important to note a few subtle details that make the execution quite unique and deserving of more attention. Firstly, we take note of the clever give-and-go between the mercurial Mario Balotelli and Aguero, just before the goal. One-two as it is synonymously called is a fundamental move in football and some other sports, and the power of this uncomplicated manoeuvre in unlocking defenses is remarkable and it was used to great effect in delivering this goal. Ultimately, what stands out for me in the execution of this goal is the composure in the box, taking that extra touch beyond the outstretched legs of Taiye Taiwo before hitting it beyond the helpless Paddy Kenny. This goal might however not feature in a list of the best-executed finishes and understandably so.
Execution, skill, aesthetics, or whatever name you choose to give it is probably the most effective element in preserving a goal in the minds of people. Dennis Bergkamp’s goal vs Newcastle in 2002, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 35-yard overhead kick vs England in 2012, James Rodriguez’s volley vs Uruguay in the round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup, Olivier Giroud’s spectacular scorpion kick vs Crystal Palace in 2017, Zinedine Zidane’s outrageous left-footed volley vs Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 UEFA Champions League finals, the list is endless. These goals are remembered for something special; a skill, a deft touch, or a sequence of well-arranged team moves. Some of these kinds of goals were just beautiful, as in Mesut Ozil’s goal vs Ludogorets which Cantona described as giving “pure football orgasm”, others were borne just out of brute force as in Roberto Carlos’ banana freekick vs France and some out of a perfectly executed improvisation as in Wendell Lira’s goal vs Atletico Goianiense.
“For us, it was a little bit nervous because we had to win but what happened in the second half, when I looked at the time, it was 88 minutes and it was 2-1, I thought ‘no, I can’t believe it.”
In this part of his statement, Aguero identifies timing. If Aguero had scored that goal 15 minutes earlier, it would not have created the same buzz, it would not have gotten the reaction that followed.
In football, a goal scored towards the end of a match is likely to be more appreciated than one scored earlier. Alisson Becker’s goal vs West Brom in the tail end of the 2020/2021 season stood out not just because he was a goalkeeper, but because he scored with the last kick of the match. However, there is a link between timing and importance in the sense that for a late goal to matter, it has to have some implication on the outcome of the match. For instance, if a team losing 4 – 0 scores a last-minute goal, it would just be a mere consolation and have no real meaning, and would therefore be anything but memorable. Also, goals that are scored very early in the match are notable to some extent, but not to the degree of goals scored later in the match.
After the ball hit the back of the net, Aguero pulled his shirt and wheeled away, spinning his shirt with teammates chasing him, it was a sight to behold and this brings us to the final element of a great goal – celebration.
We remember some goals because of how they were celebrated. Mohamed Zidan in a group stage match of AFCON 2008 between Egypt and Cameroon delivered one of the best celebrations I have ever watched. After putting his side 2 – 0 up, Zidan removed one of his boots, juggled it like it were on fire!
Over the years, we have been treated to some great goal celebrations. Cristiano Ronaldo’s SIUUUUUU!!!! has become one of the most popular, and Lionel Messi’s (even though he was not the first to do it) raised shirt showing his name and number, Mario Balotelli’s “Why always me?” and a host of others stand out and this has an effect in making that moment memorable, regardless of how important or special the goal is.
“Manchester City still alive here. Balotelli….Aguerrroooooo…I swear you will never see anything like this ever again. So watch it, drink it in…”
– Martin Tyler, 13 May 2012
I swear, we have not seen anything like it ever again!