Barcelona are natural innovators. Not a lot of people realise quite how many important aspects of football they’ve actually invented: passing, of course, but a glowing sense of entitlement too, and a confusing mix of commercialism and moral flag waving on top of that. Last night they added yet another layer to the game: Victor Valdes fell over the ball in an El Classico and, in doing so, really shook modern football up. Barcelona: we owe you one.
Here’s what happened– I’ll try and bring it to life for you, like a painter but with words and far, far better. Dani Alves passed the ball back to his goalkeeper, Valdes, like he would do in any match, even a Barcelona-Real Madrid match which some bad people might call an El Classico. Then Valdes, in his six yard box, controlled the ball with the outside of his right foot, flicking it slightly out to the side, cleverly, probably thinking that he would be setting himself up to play a pass with his favoured right foot. It went about a metre away from him but it could easily have been ninety centimetres, we can’t be sure. Then, with Angel Di Maria running at him – I couldn’t say his exact speed – he twists his right knee to the left, as if to fake that he was going to flick the ball back that way, before taking another touch with the outside of his foot again, and pushing the ball to the right again. Then, turning back maybe 50 degrees towards his goal, because Di Maria is right on him at this point, placing his arms around him, he takes a third touch with the outside of his right foot. Then he goes down. Then Di Maria does a goal.
None of the lead up is important in the slightest, and nor is the goal, and if you read that description as sincere then you have underestimated me hugely and, ironically, identified yourself as the thick one in this relationship. Only the going down matters. There it was, the moment when Barcelona’s goalkeeper deconstructed the whole game and the whole sport: “Look,” he said (in the subtext), “all that skill and work and those serious faces, and here I might’ve just decided the tie with one hilarious blip. Eat that.”
In one go football had these new things: self-awareness and comic timing. He did a little fall over on the ground and that, and football wasn’t the same again when he got up. Maybe it was the clawing at the ball that did it once he was down there, but it felt like the fall alone was enough to do it.
And how lucky we are that he did do the fall over, because football’s needed something new. The season’s only just started but it’s needed something like this, it really has. It’s become addicted to repeating itself. Look: Manchester City are now so in love with winning games 3-2, after coming from behind late on, that everything we’ve seen of them this season so far suggests that they’re going to do it every game. Arsenal keep doing that thing where they sell their captain and stuff. Manchester United keep not buying a midfielder. It goes on and on, and it’s desperately sad.
Football’s needed an innovator to mix things up for a while. Think about it: would football have been all racist last season if it had been really happy with itself and what it was doing with its life? No, it wouldn’t. I’m not a psychiatrist but I am a massive hypochondriac so I feel more than qualified in suggesting that that whole thing was a huge cry for help. “Aaah! I need some attention, I’m stuck in a rut,” it thought. “I know, I’ll be a bit racist.” It’s textbook. Who knows how bad things could have got had Valdes not stepped in.
Now, obviously the repetition didn’t affect the fans – slow and steady repetition not so much what they like as what they need, with their double-digit IQ’s and desperate clinging to the mundane, like children except less endearing; like a pet except you’re not sad when they die. It also didn’t affect the journalists who cover the league – slow and steady repetition not so much what they like as what they need, with their double-digit IQ’s and desperate clinging to the mundane, like children except less endearing; like a pet except you’re not sad when they die. But the lack of change was starting to get to me, so: thank you Victor Valdes, thank you Barcelona. Passing, moaning and falling over in important games: that’s a legacy and a half.