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The Joy of Six: football and the outside of the boot | Rob Smyth

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NB: The point of the Joy of Six is not to rank things, only to enjoy them

1) Éder, Internacional 2-1 Grêmio, Campeonato Gaúcho, 8 November 1978

When the Joy of Six was growing up, it cherished one VHS more than any other: the Boys from Brazil. That video, which showed Brazil’s World Cup highlights from 1930-86, is the perfect document of a time when jogo bonito was a mantra rather than a slogan. And though we effused about umpteen bits of skill on that tape, nothing captured the visceral brilliance and sheer fantasy of Brazilian football quite like the screamer with the outside of the foot.

We’ve mentioned Nelinho in a previous Joy of Six, so let’s move swiftly on to Éder, the luxury left-winger in that glorious 1982 team. In cricket, those who swing the ball prodigiously are said to make the ball talk. When Éder hit it with the outside of the foot, he made it talk like Brian Blessed. At Wembley in 1981 he sent Ray Clemence the wrong way from outside the area, while his free-kick against Argentina at the 1982 World Cup was so spectacular that he is associated with the goal more than the actual scorer, Zico.

That free-kick was revelatory to the rest of the world, but not those familiar with Brazilian domestic football. Éder had been doing it for years. In 1978, he scored a quite ludicrous howitzer for Grêmio against Internacional. His run-up was so long, the cameraman had to sweep to the right just to get him in shot. As he did so, commentator Celestino Valenzeula, familiar with Éder’s prowess from 40 yards, delivered an urgent public service announcement: “Atención.”

Éder attended to the ball all right. After that endless run-up, he exploded into the shot with both feet off the ground, and the vicious speed and swerve gave the goalkeeper Luis Carlos Gasperin precisely 0.00% chance. A lot of celebrated goals from the distant past look modest to modern eyes. But this – and most things on the Boys from Brazil VHS – would look awesome in any era.

See also (Brazil department):

Juan Sebastián Verón was the ultimate two-footed player. He was equally comfortable with the inside or the outside of his right foot. Verón’s idea of hell was having to use his left foot in public – look at the his sheer terror here – but 99% of the time, that wasn’t a problem.

Verón belongs to a select group of players – Dennis Bergkamp and Ricardo Quaresma are others – who have greater control and range with the outside of the foot than most do with the inside. That allows them to curl it both ways and find angles that are beyond other players, something especially valuable when it comes to opening up a defence.

Verón was ultimately a failure at Manchester United but he had his moments, and most were orgasmic through balls. Not unlike Paul Pogba, then. Verón’s best was a devastating pass to set up Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s second goal against Deportivo in 2002. The match is famous for David Beckham adding the word metatarsal to the football lexicon. But it’s Verón’s use of the fifth metatarsal that deserves to be remembered.

The longer video shows that Seba treated himself to three preparatory touches, all with the outside of his right foot, before flicking a regal pass that took three defenders out of the game and put Solskjaer through on goal. The ball fizzed along the turf with a trajectory and precision usually seen on the bowling green – except this was played at defence-splitting speed.

The most brilliant thing about it is the late curve. The more you watch it, the more mystifying it gets. Had it started to straighten any earlier, it would have been intercepted by Héctor; any later and it would have pushed Solskjaer too wide. A crack team of air-traffic controllers, with the ability to freeze time, could not have plotted a better path to goal. Verón had a couple of seconds to work it all out, while a series of shapes moved in his peripheral vision – and had to execute it as well. If you can’t see the greatness in that, youse are all effing idiots.

See also (through ball department):

Enzo Scifo hits the outside of the post against England in Bologna.

Enzo Scifo hits the outside of the post against England in Bologna. Photograph: David Cannon/Allsport

No Joy of Six on this subject would be complete without a bit of the old ultraviolence – the long-range shot in open play. This is where the World XI comes to Hackney Marshes; where the superior technique required to smack the ball with the outside of the foot is combined with the primal screamer we see at every level.

Enzo Scifo didn’t actually score against England at Italia 90, but his spectacular shot that slammed off the inside of the post was one of the tournament’s more eye-widening moments. He scored a superb goal with the outside of his foot against Uruguay earlier in the competition, yet that owed most to precision. The effort against England was hit with thumping force. The technique was immaculate, too, his left arm pointing sideways and his body falling slightly to the left like a broken Subbuteo player as the ball detonated off his right foot.

In those days, hardly anyone in the old Barclays League Division 1 dared use the outside of the foot to move the ball two yards, never mind scorch it off the post from 30. The World Cup was a portal to a more exotic place. England won the game – you might remember David Platt’s goal – but Scifo captured the imagination.

See also (screamer department):

Before Scotland’s first match of the 1978 World Cup, one of the travelling press corps told the goalkeeper Alan Rough to watch out for the free-kicks of Peruvian genius Teófilo Cubillas. Rough approached his manager, Ally MacLeod, to ask if there was anything in particular he should know. “Och, forget him lad,” said MacLeod. “He’s nothing special.”

You probably know what happened next. Cubillas scored two superb goals, the second a free-kick, to give Peru a stunning 3-1 win over a Scotland side who had been among the favourites. MacLeod really did stretch the philosophy of focusing on yourself rather than the opposition to breaking point. In his defence, no amount of preparation was likely to have done Rough or Scotland much good. Cubillas could use either side of the foot to go to either side of the goal.

Peru’s Teófilo Cubillas is mobbed by teammates after scoring one of his two goals against Scotland

Peru’s Teófilo Cubillas is mobbed by teammates after scoring one of his two goals against Scotland. Photograph: Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Yet even by Cubillas’s standards, this was special – and not just because it was on the grandest stage. Thousands of free-kicks have been scored with the outside of the foot, and thousands have been placed delicately into the net from 20 yards in the McAllister/Mata style. But we’re struggling to recall many that have combined the two, as Cubillas did with that delicious, insouciant pass into the top corner.

Franz Beckenbauer patented a flicked chip with the outside of the foot. Yet Cubillas’s was even better, not least because the free-kick was a fair way left of centre, the wrong side for an outside-of-the-right-footer. It’s a subtly extraordinary piece of skill, one that should have been named after him – if only anybody was good enough to repeat it.

See also (insouciance department):

Mick Harford and Zinedine Zidane were not entirely similar footballers, but they had a couple of things in common: decisive application of the forehead, and ingenious improvisation with the outside of the foot. Harford’s goal for Luton against Wimbledon in the 1988 FA Cup semi-final, when he briefly turned into Fred Astaire to deal with an awkward bounce, would have received rave reviews had it been scored by a product of La Masia rather than 6ft 3ins of slumbering menace. (In the same game, Dennis Wise became the first man to score with a two-footed tackle on the ball, but we digress.)

And then there’s Zidane’s extravagant shank against Bayern Munich. You half expect it to be accompanied by a few sound effects: a clonk here, a parp there. But this is no piece of Soccer AM gold; Zidane intended to bring a touch of the Crucible Theatre to the Olympiastadion. The outside of the foot has always been a useful tool for deception, and by the time the four Bayern defenders in close proximity realised what Zidane was up to, the ball was on its way through to Roberto Carlos.

Sir Alex Ferguson once said Zidane “does all his fancy tricks without really hurting you”. He looked a bit silly when, a few days later, Zidane’s unfancy passing helped put United out of Europe, but Ferguson was essentially right. Zidane’s productivity in terms of goals and assists was never that great, and he wasn’t much of a Fantasy Footballer. But, as moments like this remind us, he was one of the great fantasy footballers.

See also (improvisation department):

The outside of the foot should come with a dignity warning. Most daren’t use it, for fear of mistiming the connection and toebunging the ball into another postcode. That risk is even greater when they are expected to score, which is why one-on-one finishes with the outside of the foot are so rare. They require three of football’s most alluring qualities: confidence, nerve and class.

Teddy Sheringham

Teddy Sheringham celebrates after scoring against Newcastle United. Photograph: Andy Hooper/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

Such goals are, by their very nature, often quite ostentatious; think Faustino Asprilla at Anfield. This one, from Teddy Sheringham in a long-forgotten 4-2 win over Newcastle in 1994-95, is slightly different. Sheringham had the image of a flash Cockney off the field, yet on it he was a symbol of understated excellence. This goal is typical Sheringham, a mixture of economy, awareness and technique.

When Sheringham was at his best there was, as anyone with a passing memory of Euro 96 will attest, a soft, even sensual quality to his play. He couldn’t run as fast as anyone else, so he did everything in his own time. The faster the game got, the more tranquil he seemed. He played elite football with a resting heart rate.

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It’s no surprise that the most technical English footballer of modern times loved playing with him. “You should,” said Gary Neville, “have heard Scholesy drool about him.” Scholes would have loved to score a goal like this – one that, like most of the good things that are done with the outside of the foot, demonstrated the relaxed certainty of the superior footballer.

See also (one-on-one department):

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