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The Joy of Six: Great passes

The point of the Joy of Six is not to rank things, only to enjoy them. Some of other favourite passes have been covered in previous JOSes, including those by Eric Cantona, Robert Prosinecki and Alain Giresse

1) Xavi, BARCELONA 2-1 Malaga, La Liga, Camp Nou, 27 February 2010

The words ‘Xavi’ and ‘pass’ belong together, like ‘Joanie’ and ‘Chachi’, or ‘man’ and ‘regret’. If we were angling for another appearance in Pseuds Corner – and this is the Guardian, after all – we’d point out that even their gematria values are almost identical: Xavi 56, pass 55. Pythagoras, to many the father of gematria, would certainly have enjoyed the geometric passing of Xavi, a man who has a protractor for a brain and a compass for a right foot. And he would have loved those triangles.

Xavi, the highest power of tiki-taka, could probably play a crisp 30-yarder on water, but for now his miracle has been to redefine something as fundamental as the pass. It’s as unlikely as redefining breathing, or how to wear underpants. Nobody in the game’s history has been on the ball as much as Xavi; his list of passes per game reads like Jocky Wilson’s three-dart scores after that crucial 12th pint of Tungsten Navigator.

The sheer volume of Xavi’s passing would suggest that he is the ultimate example of a player who, in Malcolm Allison’s wonderful phrase, “only lends you the ball”. Yet that phrase implies indulgence and cowardice, the former suggesting passing for passing’s sake and the latter a fear of giving the ball away by attempting riskier passes. And while some might accuse Xavi of indulgence (not us, before you start foaming on the keyboard), you’d have to be a right plonker to accuse him of cowardice. Xavi has hit umpteen killer passes since his debut in 1998. Sometimes you don’t need the taka because the tiki is so good.

It’s hard to imagine that any have been better than his masterpiece against Malaga last year. The biggest compliment to Xavi is that, although he has the third last touch, this is undeniably his goal. Dani Alves and Lionel Messi simply had to the dot the Is on some luscious calligraphy. Xavi had even crossed the Ts for them.

When Xavi receives the ball he is facing the touchline on the wrong side, with a staggered group of eight defenders running towards him; within two seconds he has turned elegantly, spotted a pass that most folk sat in the stand with a pause button would not have conceived, and bisected the entire defence with the nervelessness and dead eye of an SO19 officer. All this with just seven minutes remaining and Barcelona needing a winner to keep up the pace in the most unyielding title race of all time.

It’s hard to recall a better defence-splitting pass (unless Valyantsin Byalkevich meant this, in which case the book is closed). Either way, the words ‘Xavi’ and ‘pass’ have never looked so good together. Nor have they ever sounded as good. If we were angling for another appearance in Pseuds Corner – and this is the Guardian etc etc – we’d argue that the two words have a certain phonetic euphony, and could be football’s own answer to ‘cellar door’. Euphonic or not, their combination is undeniably euphoric.

2) Carlos Alberto, BRAZIL 1-0 England, World Cup Group Three, Guadalajara, 7 June 1970

Few would dispute that a football zenith occurred in the 10th minute of England’s World Cup match against Brazil in 1970. Turns out, though, that we were all concentrating on the wrong bit. Gordon Banks’s save from Pele was wonderful, yet by his own admission it was not the greatest of his career; and the focus on Banks has obscured what’s really money, Carlos Alberto’s physics-defying pass down the right to Jairzinho that leads to the cross that leads to the header that leads to the thing we all still talk about.

Many great through passes swerve seductively beyond the last man at the last minute. Examples include Kenny Dalglish, Kak, Paul Ince against QPR in 1994 (no, really), Junior and this insouciant peach from Roberto Perfumo. Many other great passes have wobbled like a bowling ball, moving one way and then the other en route to their target, like Juan Veron’s masterpiece against Deportivo in 2002. But, to our knowledge, none have done all that C and swerved, as this beast does, in mid-air. Watch it: it moves both ways. It goes right, then left, then right again. This isn’t so much best mens canada goose parka sexy football as swings-both-ways football. If Wasim Akram made the ball talk in cricket, this pass made the ball describe the meaning of life.

This is what football’s about. Disciples of football’s New Seriousness, that insidious, joyless and sterile blogosphere movement, will doubtless point out that it was a beautiful freak of nature. Who gives a solitary one? Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson are beautiful freaks of nature and it doesn’t stop folk gawping at them with floorbound jaws.

Put away the diagrams and the heat maps, forget rhyme and reason, and just look at the bloody thing. Because for as long as football lives, we’ll not see another one like it.

3) Steven Gerrard, Arsenal 1-1 LIVERPOOL, Premier League, Highbury, 13 January 2002

Most of the greatest passes in football history are those you haven’t seen. Not because you haven’t done your time watching every single minute of the 1985-86 Russian season like Jonathan Wilson, but because they never happened. Every kid is told to have a pass in his head before the ball comes to him, which inevitably means that at least 90% are left on the cutting-room floor. Yet every now and then you get a situation where someone has seen a pass so good that they almost visibly ache with the need for the ball to come to them. Theirs is the joy of seeing something that nobody else has seen: checkmate five moves ahead, or best canada goose jacket for women that Plain Jane Super Brain is actually gorgeous.

So when the ball does arrive, the player can’t get rid of it fast enough. The result is a sharp camera cut, even for those in the stadium, to an area of the pitch that had seemed irrelevant. Charlie Adam hit one against West Brom this season, while Paul Bracewell volleyed a beauty in Everton’s manhandling of Sunderland in 1984-85. And then there was Steven Gerrard’s ingenious effort at Highbury in 2002, which got Liverpool’s title challenge back on track.

Yes, yes, we know including Steven Gerrard in a list of great passes ostensibly borders on the sacrilegious; that if you type “a great pass from Steven Gerrard”, your computer should first put a squiggly line underneath and then blow up in disgust. But you need to ignore the received wisdom for a bit. During the peak years of his career, Gerrard was not a bad passer, only an erratic one.

He produced a fair number of gems, the best of which were usually placed with the inside of the right foot over a distance around 30 yards. Two obvious examples spring to mind, to create goals for Danny Murphy and Michael Owen at Old Trafford and Highbury in 2001-02 and 2003-04 respectively.

Our favourite Gerrard pass, however, was a hybrid of the two: it occurred in 2001-02, but at Highbury. And this time it was clipped with the outside of the foot. What’s so impressive is Gerrard’s bigger-picture awareness C it’s a pass that should be played by someone with a bird’s eye rather than ground-level view C and also the weight of pass. There’s a slightly weird stand off between the goalscorer, John Arne Riise, and the Arsenal keeper, Stuart Taylor, but ultimately Gerrard’s pass satisfies the golden rule of a through ball: that it should take the defence out of the game, but not bring the goalkeeper into it. In fact it takes out more than the defence: his pass renders seven Arsenal outfield players redundant.

We don’t know how to break it to you, but this is indeed Steven Gerrard doing subtlety C and in a way that would make any player in the world proud. Not so much a Hollywood ball as an arthouse pass, and infinitely better for it.

4) Dennis Bergkamp, Bolton 0-2 ARSENAL, Premier League, Reebok Stadium, 29 April 2002

It was often said that the Arsenal team of the early 2000s played football from another planet; the man at the control centre, Dennis Bergkamp, certainly knew a bit about space. He was, like all good Dutch footballers, obsessed with the creation and manipulation of space in a way that made him as much an architect as a footballer.

A football pitch, though it might seem otherwise as 20 men squeeze into each other’s shorts inside a phonebox around the halfway line, is enormous. And Bergkamp knew that as well as can you wash a canada goose coat anyone. He could expose a pitch and strip a defence naked with one gentle touch of the right foot, as was demonstrated by Jeroen Henneman’s diagram (“One moment the pitch is crowded and narrow. Suddenly it is huge and wide A miracle”) in David Winner’s Brilliant Orange.

You’ll be able pick any number of Bergkamp through balls, and there is Bergkamp bongo all over the internet. Indulge yourself; it’s the porn for which you won’t get sacked. For this Joy of Six, can you wash a canada goose coat we’ve chosen a vital assist at Bolton during the 2001-02 run-in. That season, for Bergkamp, is defined by a goal rather than an assist, the mind-blowing effort at Newcastle that sent most commentators into delirium, yet as always his most important contribution came as the guy behind the guy, with a string of assists during Arsenal’s staggering sequence canada goose coat $5000 no credit check signature loans of 13 straight league wins from February to May.

There is an interesting backstory here. While many think of Bergkamp’s Arsenal career as one long exhibition of excellence, it was far from it. He was peripheral during 1999-2000 and 2000-01; in the latter, he started only half of Arsenal’s league games, managed just one assist, and was then omitted for the FA Cup final. At the start of 2001-02, his stock fell so low that he was picked to start a Carling Cup game. Alongside the likes of Efstathios Tavlaridis, John Halls, Juan and Sebastien Svard. Against Grimsby. At 32, he seemed to be winding down towards retirement with a reduced working week.

Then the African Nations Cup gave Bergkamp an Indian summer, and inadvertently catalysed the greatest attacking side in Arsenal history. In mid-January, best price canada goose jacket outlet usa online store Kanu went off to play in Mali and Bergkamp, who had started just two of the previous 10 games and none of the last six, was back in the side. Having been a bit-part player, he then started to refresh the bits nobody else could reach C particularly those of Freddie Ljungberg, with whom he formed a deadly partnership.

Ljungberg scored in all five matches in April; in four of them, his goal was created by Bergkamp; three of those were the gamebreaking first goal. The last of those came in a clichd, grim-up-north assignment at Bolton C the type of place where, as Arsenal would find out a year later, a title challenge can collapse. Bergkamp and Ljungberg had already combined for a glorious goal against Juventus in December; this was a delicious reprise, albeit without the dizzying footwork at the start. The usual Bergkamp hallmarks are there: the ability to first appreciate the space, then to expose it by getting the ball through the eye of the needle, and also the weight of pass to ensure that his team-mate can shoot first time without breaking stride. “It seemed read more here,” wrote Daniel Taylor in this paper, “to defy logic”. And seemed is the operative word, for Bergkamp was the most logical of architects.

5) Michael Laudrup, Osasuna 2-3 BARCELONA, La Liga, Reyno de Navarra, 3 October 1993

Bergkamp is one of the best examples of the humility, economy and minimalism of genius. best place to buy a canada goose jacket in toronto We tend to think of No10s as indulgent, artistic types, yet more often than not they are exactly the opposite. Any memorable flourishes are simply a by-product of genius, and are very rarely used to compromise the creative forward’s ability to solve his recurring logic problem: what is the simplest and most efficient way of getting the ball from A to B? Fantasistas, as they are called, would almost be better termed pragmatistas.

Michael Laudrup certainly fell under that category. He became one of football’s greatest and most selfless facilitators, and very few players, if any, have been the subject of such eulogies from such exalted team-mates. His most famous assist, for Romario in Pamplona in 1993, was a genre-bender that fused two of the showier elements of creative play C imagination and disguise C yet he only engaged them because they gave him the most obvious route to Romario. It might look complex and difficult, and to us mortals it is. To someone like Laudrup, however, it is the most logical and simple thing to do. Can’t go through the brick wall or around it? Then go over it, and reduce the chances of an interception by not telegraphing the pass in any way. Look, no eyes.

The various angles here highlight some lovely details: the extent of Laudrup’s disguise; his rubber-ankled technique (don’t try it at home, can you wash canada goose jacket unless you have a pair of crutches handy); the moment where the defender thinks about putting his hand up for offside and then realises, nononono, that this is Laudrup and that everything has been computed; another defender sitting on bended knee, resigned to the inevitable; and the fact that the ball even spins like a leg break right on to the side of Romario’s foot. All logic says that last bit must be a fluke. But with Laudrup, you never quite know.

6) Roberto Rivelino, BRAZIL 0-0 England, Friendly, Rio de Janeiro, 8 June 1977

Some things are best left to the imagination. The future; the physical act of love; and this pass by Rivelino. During a trawl through every single Rivelino clip on YouTube, there was a secret wish that this 80-yard wonder would not turn up C because it could never be quite as good as it is in our mind’s eye. Or, indeed, in Kevin Keegan’s mind’s eye.

“I’ll never forget buy canada goose jacket nyc one of his passes in Rio, it was every inch of 80 yards,” wrote Keegan in his excellent 1979 book, Against The World. “I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to strike a ball so hard, so far, so accurately, until I saw Rivelino do it from the edge of his penalty area.

“The target man was 20-yards inside England’s half and starting a full diagonal sprint to get behind Dave Watson and Emlyn Hughes. Yet the ball pinpointed him, it fell in his stride. He didn’t need to change direction. I was about three yards away from Rivelino and I felt the wind as the ball passed me at shoulder height. The astonishing thing is that it stayed at the same height all the way. I watched wide-eyed as it flew on and on; that’s one of the rare times when I’ve felt outclassed.”

Keegan’s punditry is often unfairly derided because of the occasional Colemanball, yet he can be perceptive and eloquent, especially on the subject of greatness C which is no surprise, given that few players have ever worked so hard to attain it.

You can’t best place to buy a canada goose jacket in toronto attain the sort of genius exhibited by Rivelino, whose silken sledgehammer of a left foot was without compare, but then there’s no shame in that. If you thought Frank de Boer’s elegant reacher for Dennis Bergkamp in 1998, wonderfully described as a “stretch limo of a pass” in Cris Freddi’s history of the World Cup, was good, try to imagine this. And then be thankful that your imagination is where it will stay.

With thanks to Cris Freddi