Mike Hewitt - Getty Images
Chelsea youngling Oscar's second goal against Juventus not only made everybody purr, but ensured his place in a long line of great footballers whose first touches have echoed throughout the years.
What with football being football, people being people, and the internet being the internet, there are now only two things anybody's allowed to write about: things that have just happened, and things that happened sufficiently long ago for them to be considered worth looking at again. News and history, basically. Which is understandable, I suppose, but the occasional 'here's something that happened last week, so I've had a chance to think about it' piece might be nice, no? Yes? Good.
And Oscar's goal against Juventus was rather special
Hell of a touch. It's one of those glorious moments of control where the defence, at the moment the ball comes into his feet, are doing absolutely nothing wrong. One defender is tight to him, preventing the turn; the other is covering behind, forcing him out wide. That's the plan, and it's a perfectly reasonable one. Which is why Oscar does something gobsmackingly unreasonable, first fooling everybody by knocking the ball in completely the wrong direction, then sending the ball along an unearthly parabola, over the suddenly-irrelevant Gigi Buffon.
Football being football, people being people, and the internet being the internet, it wasn't long before the 'did he mean it?' conversation was bubbling merrily along. This is always the question that follows goals like this, where a footballer has done taken a touch that seems, in its ridiculousness, to exist outside the usual capacity of people to do things.
The touch-that-swallows-the-universe has a long and proud history, though it's not always greeted with scepticism. Nobody, for instance, really doubts that Johan Cruyff meant to do this, because it's such a ridiculously Johan Cruyff thing to do:
The same goes for this famous Frank Worthington goal which, though it's not the first touch that does the damage, shares with Oscar's that sudden, jarring reversal of the situation. Defence are in control; defence, suddenly, aren't:
But those were both definitely and obviously deliberate. Oscar's, in the questions it's provoked, perhaps bears more resemblance to this famous Dennis Bergkamp goal. Poor Nikos Dabizas:
It is generally taken as important, on the viewer's part, to know that a footballer means to do something. It makes the action -- whatever it is -- more worthy. Luck is an indiscriminate force that elevates goons to temporary grace; proper brilliance resides not just in the doing of great things, but in the meaning to. An intentional act is worth more, to the viewer, than an accidental one.
This is interesting because it implies that watching football is, in part, about the unseeable, about inferring the mental from the physical. Watching Paul Scholes kick the ball sixty yards across the field onto Antonio Valencia's toe isn't just appealing because of the geometry and physics of the action, but because it's a person thinking about doing it, then doing it. Presumably, watching twenty-two robots playing football wouldn't arouse the same kind of admiration (which is not to say it wouldn't be interesting, just that it wouldn't be the robots you'd be complimenting).
So -- football being football, people being people -- Oscar and Bergkamp are doubted because their touch, in its amazingness, not only stretches the bounds of credibility but breaks them. The inference becomes unjustifiable; the sceptic cannot reconcile the action with the capacities of a human, even one this superlatively gifted. And the problem there is that the criteria for identifying a fluke look worrying similar to those for identifying genius.
With Oscar, though, it doesn't matter too much. The less he means the initial touch, the better the subsequent shot becomes. If he's teed himself up, then the finish is merely excellent; if he's mis-controlled it, then what credit he loses for the touch he gains back with a dispatch that is now not only outstanding but improvised. He made that up, on the spot, and he marked Andrea Pirlo out of the game as well. Open your mouths, and let them hang loose. Whether by luck or judgement, the boy's done well.