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On watching Hal Robson-Kanu's Cruyff turn 1,000 times

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Ahead of Wales' Euro 2016 semifinal against Portugal, you can never have too much of a great thing.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

This one.


Almost certainly the best goal in the history of the universe, this. What a glorious thing it is.


The Cruyff turn, the deliciousness of it, comes from the profoundly insulting physics glitch at the heart of the transaction. Everybody is moving the right way and then — whoops! — suddenly the right way is the wrong way and the defender's body has to come to a crash stop, then flipped back on itself. By which time, of course, it is far, far too late.


The stripes down from the armpits really undermine that otherwise lovely Belgian away kit.


Huh, Thomas Meunier actually has a little kick at Robson-Kanu's leg, just before the turn. Lesser players would have thrown themselves on the ground there.


That said, Robson-Kanu's got a little bit of his shirt. Call that one even then.


Probably doesn't need pointing out, this, but Robson-Kanu isn't quite as lissome as Johan Cruyff. Cruyff did the whole thing without even really bending over.


But, as a counterpoint, Robson-Kanu is arguably up to something slightly more difficult here. Cruyff, in the iconic turn, is attempting to beat his man so he can carry on down the wing and into the box; Robson-Kanu is setting himself up for the shot. As such, he has to get the weight right: too light, and he won't be able to get his feet and body sorted by the time he catches up with the ball; too heavy, and Thibaut Courtois will have time to get out to him, and the angle will be gone.


Here is an attempt to draw it as a dance diagram:

hrk dancing 2

You can see how that might confuse people.


Gets himself in quite a peculiar shape halfway through, doesn't he? Body almost parallel to the ground, his whole weight flying back through one planted foot. Probably a good job he went with proper studs.


"Simple"?! (This will make no sense if you've been watching it on mute. Go and listen to the commentary.)


We can't see Fellaini's face but we can see Meunier's and, right at the end, Jason Denayer's. And the tragedy — for them — is told through the eyes. There they are, fixed on the ball as it's flipped backwards, while their treacherous bodies drag them away. It's not just that they're rushing to the wrong fire. It's that they know it, and they can see it, and yet they can't help it.


We can't see Toby Alderweireld's face either, but it seems fair to assume that it reads something like: Oh, for God's sake, why am I the only grown-up defender in this penalty box, and why am I over here?


Let's talk about the finish. After all, if the Cruyff turn is simple — and maybe it is, conceptually — then the finish is, well, even simpler, a side-footed stroke past the onrushing goalkeeper. And yet that split second between Robson-Kanu suddenly emerging into clear space and hitting was, for this Welsh fan at least, by some distance the most terrifying moment of the match. Because of course he was going to miss. He had to miss. Courtois is massive and the goal is tiny and he's off-balance and it's Wales and it's Belgium and it's the quarterfinals of a major tournament and it's Hal Robson-Kanu and, well, he's already rolled one critical hit. Nobody ever rolls two.

Then he scored! Sometimes simple really does mean easy.


Right at the end, just before the Vine loops back, Alderweireld — who is probably looking at the ball, still with that expression on his face — is just below the image that accompanies the McDonald's Player Escorts advert, a silhouetted footballer holding the hand of and looking down at an adoring child. This goal is the equivalent of this moment, except the kid doesn't meekly trot along with his guardian; instead he looks up at the footballer, slips his grasp, sprints off in the opposite direction, shoulder-drops past a steward and welts a leftover training ball into the net.

Sort of. A bit.

884 loops to go.


Does Fellaini think about having a little nibble at Robson-Kanu's standing leg?


He does! He does! Silly Marouane. The one time in your life you absolutely should have made the stupid foul, and you decided not to bother.


It's becoming clear precisely how annoying Denayer's boots are. Just at the moment Robson-Kanu inverts himself, so subverting the defence, they flash across the picture, two blobs of neon yellow splashed with neon pink, dragging the eye away from the ball or our hero and onto the feet of an emergency centre half who, if we're being brutally honest, might as well not exist at all.


Actually, that's probably a little unfair, aesthetically speaking. Denayer's passage across, taken with his subsequent baffled stare, serves to illustrate precisely how surprising this all was. Fellaini and Meunier are closer to the striker and so, perhaps, more susceptible to a well-turned trick. But Denayer, charging in from the right, has a broader perspective and so, again perhaps, might be expected to be able to anticipate or even adjust. Yet — whoops! — there he goes again, off to the other side of the penalty spot. And there he goes again, looking back at the ball, absolutely no idea why he's standing where he is.


And it's grotesquely unfair, practically speaking, since there was another Welshman out of shot to Robson-Kanu's left. Denayer, perfectly sensibly, is on his way to block the inevitable shot, leaving his colleagues to keep an eye on Robson-Kanu as he plays the inevitable pass across. Apologies, Jason.


Those boots are still really annoying though.


At 57:42 the bodies of Meunier and Fellaini are facing the same way as that of Robson-Kanu, even though they're travelling in opposite directions and will, just a second later, be several feet from one another. This isn't particularly interesting or surprising but it does — if you freeze it at just the right point — look a bit like somebody's thrown a football at a three-man conga line and caused the middle member to collapse.

hrk conga


Hal Robson-Kanu has quite knobbly knees.


Rather pleasingly, the commentary joins back up with itself, forming a never-ending cycle ...

... but Fellaini and Meunier are thinking this ball's going across the eighteen. A simple Cruyff turn, but Fellaini and Meunier are thinking this ball's going across the eighteen. A simple Cruyff turn, but Fellaini and Meunier are thinking this ball's going across the eighteen. A simple Cruyff turn, but Fellaini and Meunier are thinking this ball's going across the eighteen. A simple Cruyff turn ...

... and so on and on. Which makes this the Finnegans Wake of Vines.


A briefly exciting moment as the Vine slows right down to almost half speed, before catching itself and carrying on smoothly. Robson-Kanu doesn't let this distract him, however, and tucks the ball away nicely. What a pro.


The big numbers on the Belgian shorts are good.


The other thing we can hear, apart from the commentary, is the Wales fans singing. It's a bit incoherent — a fair few of the Welsh are likely still busy falling over, shouting at one another, and generally losing the run of themselves — but it sounds like "Don't Take Me Home," a chant which has been knocking around English football for a few years and which has been adopted by the travelling Welsh fans in France as the unofficial anthem of the pre-, mid- and post-match celebrations. To the tune of "Achy Breaky Heart,", albeit slowed down a fair bit:

Don't take me home
Please don't take me home
I just don't want to go to work
I want to stay here, and drink all your beer
Please don't, please don't take me home

Which, as football chants go, is pretty decent; not only is it fun to sing, but it's laced with an undercurrent of sadness at the transience of these moments, the fleeting freedoms that football offers from the general grind of existence. All of which is sharpened by the fact that the Welsh fans don't get to follow their team to a tournament all that often; that this might literally be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. "Don't wake me up ... Please don't wake me up ..."


The idea of watching the same Vine over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again is, of course, an extremely stupid one, but some of the relentlessness of the project is ameliorated by the tiny imperfections that seem to crop up every few loops or so. A tiny crackle on the sound here, a brief hiccup when looping there, a slipped frame or two. You wouldn't even notice them on the first or second time around, but they're there, nonetheless, the almost-imperceptible textures on an otherwise smooth, repetitive road. At least, they seem to be there, which is much the same thing in any practical sense. Maybe the computer's just getting bored. Or the brain.


1,000 times is a lot of times.


To celebrate getting into the second half, an anecdote. A friend of your correspondent — hello, Trudy! — went to a school in southwest England where football was considered Not For Girls, and as such grew up having had precisely one hour of coaching in the national game. This took place on the netball court — netball being very much For Girls — and involved each girl taking a netball and spending an hour practicing, over and over, the Cruyff turn.

Which is funny, yes, but is also great. More school time should be devoted to mastering a single, highly specific, extremely difficult, rarely relevant skill. Because in later life, what's going to be more useful? Sure, a decent grounding in the basics of football might seem like a better idea, but if a kid can nail the Cruyff turn while not really knowing how to do anything else, then the chance is there for that kid, at some point in the future, to reproduce not just the original turn but also the element of surprise. No defender could ever see it coming. And what's better? General all-around competence, or the ability to feel, just for second, like Cruyff? Let's ask Hal Robson-Kanu.


Have started smiling and nodding at the glitches like they're old friends glimpsed through a cafe window. "Afternoon, momentary loss of sound. Lovely to see you." Which is clearly fine.


Had the mouse cursor hovering over Robson-Kanu's crotch for the last 31 loops. Standards are dropping here.


It's probably approaching elephant-in-the-room status, at least if you've been listening to the commentary as instructed, so let's talk about it. The Eighteen.

Now, there is a set conversation we should all have at this point. British English-speakers are supposed to throw their hands up in the air and cry "Oh, for God's sake, America, it's called 'the penalty area', or 'the eighteen-yard-box,' or maybe just 'the box' if you're in a rush, and it has been called those things since the beginning of time, ever since Sir Bletchley Rutland-Leamington first caught sight of two medieval villages pounding lumps out of one another near a pig's bladder, removed his monocle, smoothed down his moustache and said 'My word. What if we did this, but on a proper field? With some rules?' So you can stick your elegant variation up your inelegant arses, and you can note the correct spelling of 'arse' as you do so."

Then American English speakers are supposed to reply: "Suck on our freedom, redcoat tea-botherers. USA! USA! USA!"

And that's all fine and well and good and the world will continue on its tedious path around the sun. Except in this case, even though your correspondent is located on the eastern side of the Atlantic, it's hard not to admit that The Eighteen sounds, well, kind of ... cool?

The Eighteen. A mysterious cabal of highly trained assassins that have just escaped from a heavily guarded military facility and can only be found weekly on HBO, Sky Atlantic, or the torrent site of your choice.

The Eighteen. A nightclub so exclusive that not only are you not allowed in, but nobody you know is allowed in either, nor anybody they know. And while you can't be sure, you suspect that everybody inside the nightclub is having more fun in one evening than you have had in your life to date. (They're not. But that's not the point. They know that you think they are, and that's enough.)

The Eighteen. A whitewashed oblong in which Belgians are ritually humiliated on international television for the edification and amusement of the watching world.

Embrace The Eighteen, Britain. And stop pretending "soccer" is weird while you're at it. It's not. It's completely okay.


"Oh, fine. Absolutely fine. How about you, Momentary Pixelation? Keeping busy? Family well?"


Our 761 loops are a mere fraction of the 2,402,372 overall. Such sudden, crushing insignificance.


Weird noise enthusiast Brian Eno once said that repetition is a form of change, and he was right. Not because the clip itself is changing or degrading as it repeats; despite our dear friends the Glitches, and wonderful as it would be, Vines do not deal in disintegration loops. But because each repetition changes you, the viewer. Maybe only slightly, maybe even imperceptibly, but over time, as the loop loops, different elements of the clip come into focus and then drop out, and different thoughts occur. You change, and then as you change the loop changes in response — not literally but subjectively — and so the pattern that emerges is not two straight lines, proceeding parallel, one looking blandly at the other, but an intricate, uncertain braid between a constantly changing observer and their constantly shifting object. What was once significant pales; what was once irrelevant comes forward; what was once pleasing now grates and vice versa. All of which is to say that in the 466 loops since they were last mentioned, your correspondent has gone right off the big numbers on the Belgian shorts.


Spent the last 21 loops trying to think of a Marc Wilmots/oblique strategies joke. Failed.


Come on now. Nearly there. Nearly there. Naerly theer. Neeeeerly ,.. nxxxxxt/////*****




Just shouted "Vokes!"


Only just noticed that the commentator might say "Fellaini and Meunier are here thinking," rather than simply "are thinking." Changes everything. Should probably start again.


So, what's your most-watched goal?


Not all repetition is change. Still the best goal in the history of the universe.

hrk tally