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This is the greatest sports photo ever taken

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And I have some thoughts about it

Carlos Tevez reaches under Rio Ferdinand to get the ball Matthew Peters/Getty Images
  • The faces. Oh, my God, the faces. Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, in light blue, somehow has two of them. The top half of his face traces a man in a little bit of a pickle, the eyebrow raise of a professional finding what should have been a simple task complicated by an as-yet unknown reason. Imagine a plumber ... actually, let’s, uh, not imagine a plumber. Imagine a mechanic rooting around in your car’s vitals, frowning, raising an eyebrow and turning to you to tell you that this one, pal, is going to cost you a lot of money. So much for Tevez’s upper face.
A close-up of Carlos Tevez’s face

The lower half, on the other hand, is having an existential crisis. Somehow the cosmic horror of the situation has reached Tevez’s mouth well ahead of his eyes, and the mouth’s reaction was to send its tongue bulging outward, grotesquely suggestive of sights no mortal should ever see.

A close-up of Rio Ferdinand’s face

Rio Ferdinand, meanwhile, looks like someone’s stuck their hand up his bum.

  • There’s something fascinating about the photographer’s work here. For most of the audience, this was a slightly bizarre scuffle over the ball and no more. But photography compresses the gazes of thousands into one, and Matthew Peters found himself at the exact angle, with exactly the right timing, to transform Tevez’s blind grab for the football into something transcendent.

How many of these moments are lost because the photographer was stationed a couple of feet in the wrong direction, or pressed a button a quarter-second late? The existence of this photograph implies the fleeting presence of hundreds of other of these jewels, each priceless in their own way and each lost to the fickle cruelty of perspective.

  • Imagine what would have gone through Peters’ mind when he reviewed his day’s work and found this. I don’t know exactly how many photos sports photographers take over the course of any individual game — best guesses appear to be in the low thousands — but it’s sort of fun to imagine Peters flipping through his work, deciding what to send through to Getty, and suddenly discovering that he’d achieved immortality.
  • I can’t really work out what Tevez is doing here. Yes, he’s reaching for the ball, but he’s also nowhere near it. He can’t have been playing up the moment for laughs, because there’s no way he’d have known where Peters was shooting from, and it’s also difficult to imagine him having the presence of mind to stage this shot even if he did know. At any rate, whatever he was doing, I’m glad he did it.
  • This photograph was taken on Nov. 10, 2010, perhaps the only incident of note in a dour 0-0 game. Manchester United would go on to win the Premier League that season (and would again two years later), but the balance of power was shifting ominously towards Tevez and City, who would go on to be the dominant force in English football during most of the next decade.

Peters’ work has held up remarkably well over that time — better than Manchester United, at least. I won’t suggest I think about this photo every day (or week), but it comes to mind more often than a photograph of a scuffle during a 0-0 derby really ought to. And 10 years later, it has the power to make me happy. I hope it made you happy too.