The criteria for the perfect long-range goal

Just before the end of the season, Stoke City’s Charlie Adam scored from inside his own half against Chelsea.  It was a well-executed goal and it had an obvious novelty value, but it probably didn’t deserve to be held in quite the high regard that it ultimately was.

Now, Charlie Adam is quite a polarising player and there’s a clear temptation to devalue anything he does, but that’s not the case here.  That goal was a lot of fun and it was unusual, but - albeit in a reductive sense - it demonstrated little beyond the player’s ability to notice Thibaut Courtois off his line and then to kick the ball a long way in a straight line.

It belongs on the long-list of great strikes from 2014/15, clearly, but it lacked almost all of the components demanded in a truly great long-range goal.

And what are they?

Distance

Further away is not necessarily better.

The “long-range” category starts from outside the penalty-box, but in the modern-age - with contemporary footballs being as light and as independently minded as they are - there’s nothing particularly unique about seeing a shot fly in from between twenty and thirty yards.  Memorable?  Absolutely.  Spectacular? Frequently.  But just not quite satisfying enough.

Similarly, beyond a certain distance goals acquire a clownish, freak quality which devalues them.  Anything beyond the half-way line tends to suffer from that problem and, in most cases but not all, is the result of a goalkeeping error, a meteorological anomaly or something else beyond ball-striking ability.

There’s clearly a perfect area then and, at an estimate, it occurs roughly in the ten-to-fifteen yards beyond the extremity of the centre-circle.

Trajectory

Distance is hard to satisfy, because velocity is difficult to maintain.  Long-range goals should literally test the integrity of the goal structure, stretch the fibres of the netting and threaten to break noses in the crowd and, to do that, they must cross the line at a maximum speed.

That’s the desired effect and it’s why chipped goals and looping volleys are sadly out.  Great long-rangers are scored in straight-lines and any kind of descending arc or bounce ruins the aesthetic.  Remember Bernd Schuster’s goal for Leverkusen in 1994/95?  It was voted the Bundesliga’s goal of the decade for the 1990s:

What a wonderful exhibition of craft and execution, but where is the exclamation-mark?  Goals from distance should be an act of violence, not of delicate perfection.  Bludgeon the ball, don’t caress it.

More recent efforts, specifically Wayne Rooney’s twirling, twisting nonsense at Upton Park and Matt Taylor’s lottery-winning punt at Fratton Park score highly for vision and optimism respectively, but in each case there was something undeniably askew about the aesthetic.

Goalkeeper

An under-estimated aspect, but many a terrific goal has been tarnished by awkward goalkeeping.

Consider Tony Yeboah’s two famous volleys from the 1990s.  They linger in the mind primarily because of the Ghanian’s technique, the power he was able to generate and because, in each case, the ball thundered-in off the cross-bar.

In both instances, however, the respective goalkeepers - David James and Neil Sullivan - played crucial roles.   In such a situation, a despairing goalkeeper is very much the last stroke on the canvas and had either made less effort, it would have been to Yeboah’s detriment.

Instead the ‘keepers, with their mess of contorted, useless effort, frame the moment perfectly.

Conversely, impassive or inadequate goalkeeping can be ruinous.  A couple of seasons ago, Xabi Alonso beat Steve Harper from long distance at Anfield.   Unfortunately for the Spaniard, the defining memory of that moment is probably Harper’s comedic backwards stumble and fall.  A lovely goal, for sure, but one which is devalued by that awkwardness.

In September 2007, James McFadden experienced his career high-point against France in St Denis.  Controlling a dropping ball and turning into space, he fizzed a thirty-yard left-footed drive into the net to give Scotland a 1-0 lead that they would never surrender.  A terrific strike, but another goal blighted by poor ‘keeping.  The shot was well placed - high to the left side - but Landreau’s botched save, an ugly, flimsy left-hand which succeeded only in directing it further into the corner, scuffed the veneer.

Or, spare a thought for Lee Hendrie, who had this measured, curling effort visually-sabotaged by Gabor Kiraly’s walk-to-nowhere at Villa Park:

That all seems very pedantic and actually ironic, given that even in being beaten a goalkeeper can perform an act of denial, but it’s still valid and still a crucial part of the criteria.

Woodwork

Ambiguous.

Who doesn’t enjoy watching the ball crash into the net off the crossbar?  The sound is very satisfying, the ball bounces down over the line and then up into the net again…wonderful - and when it’s combined with this sort of interplay, it’s really as good as football gets to look:

That’s Basel’s Benjamen Hugel scoring the Swiss league’s Goal of the Season against FC Zurich in 2009/10.

But - and this is where things start to get precious - isn’t there gratification to be had from seeing the net actually bulge?  Scoring goals is great, scoring long-range goals off the underside of the bar is better, but scoring long-range goals which go all the way in is better still.  It’s more decisive, more conclusive.

Having determined that the ball needs to travel a certain distance, at a specific angle and with no visual or literal interference from the goalkeeper, the retention of that purity is obviously essential.  Ricochets are all well and good, but they rob us of the laser-beam quality that would satisfy this criteria.

So, what does meet it?

Well, try this:

There are other examples and there are better goals, but Hugo Almeida’s free-kick in the 2005/06 Champions League is visually perfect.  There’s something incredibly simple about it, too, whether it’s the stationary ball, the empty stadium or the fact that Almeida, a fairly limited forward even in his prime, uses nothing but raw, savage power to score.

There are so many likeable qualities to it; the thump of the ball-strike echoing around the cavernous San Siro, the audible rustling of the net, and the grasping hopelessness of the goalkeeper’s dive.

And the trajectory, too: the ball never stops rising.

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3 Comments on "The criteria for the perfect long-range goal"

  1. Elano’s free kick for Man City against Newcastle in the 07/08 season is one that always sticks in my mind. The replay from behind the player as it goes past Shay Given into the postage stamp unsaveable area of the top corner is brilliant.

  2. Youssef Safri against Newcastle, 2004/05.

    An absolute poem of a goal. Incredible power, resounding thump of ball on bar, and a ballooning net. Tick, tick, tick.

  3. ShepardCommander | Jun 26, 2015 at 7:35 pm |

    Visually a wonderful goal, for me the lack of crowd reaction in that video devalues it more than anything else. I can just imagine being sat around with friends or family watching a (meaningful) Newcastle game and seeing that shot go in - and the reaction is as important as anything else. There needs to be a good crowd, the game needs to matter and for bonus points, the goal should matter.

    For me, Papiss Cisse vs Chelsea, spring 2012. Maybe lacking the trajectory, speed and brutality you describe but there’s something elegant about watching the ball drop into the net over Peter Cech’s shoulder, and remembering the feelings of that spring, the optimism and the disbelief I felt at that goal sealing *that* game.

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