Back from our break — a lovely time, thanks for asking — and straight into a pretty strong week. The good things were good, and the silly things were also good, and so football, which is always good, was particularly, pointedly good. Hooray.
The impromptu festival of PING
We don’t know exactly which footballer had the idea. Made the calls, sent the email round. Dropped it into the NO MANAGERS ALLOWED!!! group chat. But we’re grateful. This weekend’s European football was the usual blend of chaotic and predictable, engaging and tedious, except for some reason it was also a festival of trying score ridiculously beautiful goals.
And the gold medal went to a demonstration — perhaps the perfection — of one of football’s most pleasing occurrences. The perfect contact. The finding of the sweetest of the sweet spots. The ping.
Kicking a football has never actually made a ping sound. Even the most perfect contact comes out as a resonant thud. The ping, then, isn’t onomatopoeic in any real sense. Instead, it is a kind of aspirational metaphor: the sound that the sweetly caught ball should be making, when compared to everything else around it.
Very few finishes, even the sharpest, say ping. This, from Gonzalo Higuain who apparently plays for AC Milan now, is a lovely piece of strike-work: instinctive, precise, exactly the kind of thing he should get around to doing in an important game at some point. But it’s a touch too scruffy, a touch too poached. Ping, done right, starts with the explosive p but then rings out through the innnnnnnngggggg … This one’s rustled into the net far too quickly.
We’re getting closer with this effort from Cristhian Stuani against Barcelona, though Tactically Naive is going to contend that this goal sits at the level just before the ping: the thwack. The difference is in both set-up and contact. Where the ping is usually a true volley and always exceptionally precise, the thwack is a simple case of hasty redistribution. That ball needs to go in that direction as quickly as possible. Thwack. Sorted.
But it’s OK. The ping is real, and it’s here, and it’s your friend:
What a thing this goal is. Impossibly perfect contact, impossibly beautiful arc, and then a little clip on the crossbar for extra style points. You can almost hear the ball singing with pleasure as it slides through the air, rubbing itself against the wineglass of the universe. “Piiiiiiiiinnnnnggggg!”
The true ping is precious, and scarce. In every other possible world, John McGinn has sent that ball dribbling out to the corner flag, or yammering into the crowd, or straight into the face of the nearest defender. Only here, for us, did he manage to produce this. It’s not often that we get to live in the shiniest timeline. But every ping is a little shiver of light in the darkness.
Obviously, Villa lost.
The Goldilocks’ Porridge Theory of Diving Indignation.
There are three ways to think about diving, and two of them will do you no good at all.
The first, the saltiest option, is Full Moral Righteousness.
Diving is a sin, and a stain, and a blight on the game. It is a sickness, it was almost certainly brought to the game by somebody suspiciously foreign, and it should be rejected by all right-thinking people. Bring in suspensions. No, bring in the cane. That’ll sort it.
While occasionally fortifying, this is incredibly difficult to maintain in the long run. For a start it’s incredibly tiring to be so angry with something that happens so often. Even the world’s most fervent anti-diving pundits, those of the Premier League a few years back, tended to award themselves a little rest whenever somebody English fell over.
Then there’s the awkward fact that occasionally footballers don’t get the fouls they deserve unless they fling themselves to the floor. Sometimes it isn’t the player, but the game.
The second option, the too-sweet one, is the blithe handwaving of any and all simulation. Again, it’s not terrible on occasion: it suggests that you, the Diving Ignorer, are a well-adjusted person with a healthy perspective on this sport, which is just a game, and so not worth getting all het up about. But … well, too much sugar is very, very bad for you.
Fine! Great! A dive? That’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. They’ve scored the penalty. Life’s rich tapestry, eh? Win some, lose some. On we go. Sure we’ll get a decision soon. Hey ho.
At which point your friend leans over and asks if you’re okay, and you realize you’ve clenched your fist right through your glass and there’s blood dripping down your fingers and also you’re standing on the table and being asked to leave the pub.
The key, as with all things, is balance, along with a little healthy mockery, which is why Crystal Dunn must be given any chair she likes.