1) Carlos Alberto (BRAZIL 4-1 Italy, World Cup final, 21/06/1970)
That this is football’s apogee is not seriously in dispute by anyone with an anima. Yet it might legitimately be argued that this also represents the apex of all sport and, if you’re feeling particularly grandiloquent, all art. Group art, at least, for it is difficult to imagine a collective exhibition of greatness to match Brazil‘s fourth and final goal in the 1970 World Cup final. If Blur had performed with such effulgence at Glastonbury, you’d still be drooling over your commemorative 128-page Guardian pullout and honing a story which proves that you, along with the other seven million, really were there.
The signature flourishes have set up camp in the mind’s eye. Jairzinho goading Giacinto Facchetti with the coiled menace of a nightclub bully asking someone what they’re looking at; Pelé deliberately, tenderly delaying his pass, like a skilled lover teasing and teasing and teasing some more before pushing the exact button you wanted, and another that you didn’t even know you had; Carlos Alberto – the bloody right-back – both feet miles off the ground, smashing a shot at the speed of light past Enrico Albertosi. Beauty is power, of course, but power has never been as beautiful as it was in the moments after the ball whistled off Alberto’s boot. Yet there is sometimes a tendency to forget that Clodoaldo – not so much the fifth Beatle as the sixth Brazilian (everyone can name the other five members of their offensive sextet) – beat four Italian players, one of them without even touching the ball, at the start of the move.
Part of the joy of the goal is that it did not come out of the blue; instead it was done almost to order, reaffirming and then extending the parameters of an inconvertible greatness that had been established over the previous 19 days. Not even the biggest cynic, be he an Italian defender on the field or an iconoclastic revisionist three decades later, could deny this particular happy ending. Whether you are talking about the great works of football, sport or art, Brazil 1970 are simply undeniable.
2) José Cardozo (DEPORTIVO TOLUCA 6-0 America, Apertura, 01/11/2003)
Many a young person has misspent their youth trying to recreate their favourite goals on computer games, be it Match Day II, Kick Off 2, Pro Evo, whatever. This extraordinary move was the reverse, a goal whose angles, ping-ping-ping quality and particularly the protagonists’ apparent bird’s eye view of the pitch seem to come straight from Sensible Soccer.
It’s almost too slick, as if some CGI manipulation has occurred. Every touch is perfect in weight and judgement, and the excitement crescendos to the point where, towards the end, you think that must be the end of the brilliance, that it must now finish with a banal scuff across the keeper. As if. Experienced Sensible Soccer players will know that ugly finishes simply aren’t in the programme.
3) Mick Channon (SOUTHAMPTON 2-3 Liverpool, Division One, 24/04/82)
Ways to spot that a team goal is overrated, part one in a short series: when an advocate tells you how many passes it involved. Take Argentina’s 26-pass goal against Serbia & Montenegro at the last World Cup. It was a supreme effort, involving six very decent touches at the end, but Serbia were an apathetic shower and the first 20 passes, under no pressure at all, were little more than an exercise in culturally legitimated indulgence. The number of passes before a goal is about as relevant as the number of notches on a bedpost. It’s quality rather than quantity that counts. If you get both, so much the better.
Southampton certainly did against Liverpool in 1981-82. Their move flows from one end of the field to the other, but crucially almost every pass is played under pressure, and with purpose and urgency. As such it is a quite mind-boggling group effort, done at intoxicatingly high speed – it feels as if the video has been ever so slightly fast-forwarded – and with wonderful imagination from David Armstrong and Kevin Keegan in particular.
Its grandeur is also increased by a piece of near-perfect, Benaudish commentary from Gerald Sinstadt, who captures the hypnotic rhythm of the move by simply listing the names of the players touching the ball, his pitch rising exponentially in an increasing state of bewilderment at the majesty of what is unfolding. One end of the field to the other, without the opposition touching the thing, and all this against the best team in Europe. How many passes were there? Who cares?
4) Patrick Vieira (ARSENAL 7-0 Everton, Premier League, 11/05/2005)
Under Arsène Wenger’s management, the team goal has been Arsenal‘s bread and butter – or rather their filet mignon, so delectable have the offerings been. You can select the primest cut from the Wenger files here, but we have gone for the dainty insouciance of Patrick Vieira’s third goal in the 7-0 evisceration of Everton in 2004-05.
The hub is inevitably Dennis Bergkamp, who showcases his peerless ability to double the size of the pitch and undress a defence with one gentle touch of his right foot. Bergkamp’s so very Dutch comprehension of space made him as much an architect as a footballer, and his work here evokes Jeroen Henneman’s superb diagram (“One moment the pitch is crowded and narrow. Suddenly it is huge and wide… A miracle”) in David Winner’s Brilliant Orange.
Yet the move still had to be finished and, in the couple of seconds as he galloped towards the ball with that seductive leggy stride, Vieira intuitively sensed that such a build-up needed an appropriate finish. A mundane sidefoot would not do, so he flipped the ball tantalisingly over Richard Wright. Ten days later Vieira won the FA Cup with his last kick for Arsenal. Yet to some this, in his final game at Highbury, was a more fitting epitaph.
5) Gary Lineker (TOTTENHAM 3-1 Porto, Cup Winners Cup second round, 23/10/1991)
English football’s largely barren reintroduction to European football in the early 90s was marked by a startling and entirely justified inferiority complex over our technical inadequacies. Yet amid all the arrowing 60-yard passes to the man in Row J and general befuddlement at such Machiavellian tactics such as sleight of foot and off-the-ball movement, one moment of genuine class offered hope for a brighter future: Spurs’ first goal against Porto in 1991.
It is easy to say that the attack is forever living on the seat of its pants, or sniffily cite the fact that it involves Vinny Samways, Paul Allen and Pat Van Den Hauwe, but that’s all bunkum (not least because all three of those players, Samways in particular, were underrated technicians). The Guardian rightly described it as having an “exquisite fluency and fleetness”, for this was a goal of the highest order; precisely the sort of goal that, had it been scored by a foreign team at the same team, would have been offered as an example of the sort of thing English teams couldn’t do.