In every form of sport or entertainment, there’s always one moment which perfectly encapsulates the medium in such a way that, when it occurs, you wonder why anyone would ever bother carrying on, knowing their art form has peaked and everything which happens thereafter is little more than a half-arsed support act.
Cast your mind back to Michael Jordan sinking a free throw with his eyes closed to taunt a rookie Dikembe Mutombo, Ali dispatching a stunned and exhausted Foreman in Kinshasa, Wu-Tang dropping 36 Chambers, Ted and Dougal getting lost in Ireland’s biggest lingerie section or when Steve Austin drenched Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon and The Rock in a load of cheap lager.
You didn’t experience any of those cultural seismic shifts in human history and think, ‘yeah that were alright’, did you? You thought ‘yeah, fair play, nothing’s beating this’.
And that’s PRECISELY what the footballing world thought on June 25, 1988, when Marco Van Basten – 6 ft 2 inches of hulking Dutch centre forward, with boulders for thighs and a first touch as gentle as a Persian kitten – absolutely f*cking walloped a volley with such menace, you’d think the ball owed him money right into the back of the net as the Netherlands secured the Euro 88 Championships against the Soviet Union.
Oh, and he did it wearing that Adidas Netherlands kit. Y’know, all fluorescent and chevroned. The most brilliant of oranje.
So, on the great man’s 53rd birthday, let us remember how he brought The Beautiful Game to its peak:
Happy Birthday Marco van Basten @MarcoVanBasten
Is this the best goal and shirt combination ever? pic.twitter.com/zY44IYfN1g
— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) October 31, 2018
I mean, imagine achieving anything even barely resembling that level of perfection. You’re decked out in maybe the greatest football kit of all time, in a major international tournament final, and you absolutely murder a volley as far into the net as it’ll go, from such a ridiculous angle you have no right to even think about shooting from. You’ve just won your country their first major title and are now responsible for around 10,000 baby Marcos being delivered in Amsterdam nine months from now. You’ve completed football.
How, as a culture, did we look at Marco Van Basten’s exploits in that Euro 88 final and think ‘should probably carry on with football’? OK, fair play, there’s been a lot of highlights over the intervening 30 years since the former AC Milan and Ajax centre forward thundered that volley past a bewildered Soviet captain, Rinat Dasayev, but the same heights have never been scaled.
OG Ronaldo, Zizou, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Messi, Cristiano, Thierry and a handful of others in between have done their best and, on occasion, have come close to scaling the heights of Van Basten’s efforts during that summer’s day in Munich in the late 80s, but have always fallen just short of the mighty Dutchman.
Zidane’s volley in the 2002 Champions League final? A noble effort, no doubt. He even performed it in a lovely, resplendent white Real Madrid kit, but was it as important a goal on an international scale as Van Basten’s? Was the kit on a par? The answer to both is, unfortunately for the Gallic genius – non.
Had then UEFA President Jacques Georges walked into the centre circle after the Euro 88 final full-time whistle had blown and declared football had been completed and was therefore finished as a sport and a concept, could we really have had too many complaints?
Okay, missing out on the advent of the Premier League, 90s baggy kits, the golden years of Serie A and that Iran defender doing a front flip throw-in during the last World Cup would have been pretty hard to stomach, but with every moment of heroism must come a huge amount of sacrifice.
Happy Birthday, Marco. You ridiculously talented, free scoring, defender tormenting wizard. Everyone’s just been playing catch up with you for 30 years.
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