Vinicius Jr, De Bruyne and the visceral thrill of kicking a football really hard

“Football is so complicated, at the highest level.”

Pep Guardiola tried to make a point. It was after Manchester City had just lost to Manchester United in 2018, squandering a chance to secure the Premier League title against their closest rivals. Fabian Delph started his speech on ‘the basics of football’ and was promptly reassured by his manager, who went on to explain that there is actually more to football than the basics and that football is incredibly unbasic.

Guardiola is usually right and has a crammed trophy cabinet to prove it. But sometimes he’s wrong. Sometimes football is not complicated. It can be incredibly uncomplicated, simple, completely understated and yet extremely enjoyable.

Take the first leg of Tuesday’s Champions League semifinals as Guardiola’s side drew 1-1 with Real Madrid. Here we have what is probably the best team in the world against the most decorated team in the world. Two brilliant football clubs, two amazing groups of players, two of the greatest managers of this generation.


Real Madrid 1-1 Manchester City: Vinicius and De Bruyne hit, but Haaland was kept calm

As is so often the case, Guardiola’s football was intricate and carefully structured, designed to examine opponents’ weaknesses and methodically dissect them. And Real’s tactical plan was finely tuned too, staying deep to prevent Erling Haaland from getting too much space and attacking with pace and aim when they came onto the field. It was fascinating to watch two completely different approaches to the same game, two schools of tactical thinking collide.

And yet the two goals came from two players kicking the ball very, very hard.

First, Vinicius Jnr, who collected the ball in the inside left channel and thought “Fuck it” before firing a tracer bullet that flew past Ederson before he could really react. bang. got that

Then, in the second half, Kevin de Bruyne gets the ball right of center.

There are two defenders in his immediate path but he can see that Thibaut Courtois is perhaps positioned a little too far to his left and near the bottom corner there is a bigger space than it should be.

He sticks his foot through, Thor’s hammer hits the ball and sends it into the goal. Courtois still hasn’t reacted when the ball goes past those defenders. He knows it’s too late even before he could move.

Eventually he moves because you have to do something, right? But he never stood a chance, even if his positioning had been better and he had reacted a little quicker. The ferocity of the shot combined with a touch of deflection from the slight angle of De Bruyne’s shot meant he would have had to wall in the goal area to stop it. And even then…

There’s something very exciting about goals like this when a player just pulls their foot back and lets one fly. It’s the same animal part of your brain that would enjoy watching a Formula 1 car fly by at 300 km/h or a cheetah chasing its prey. It’s sensory satisfying and gives you a physical thrill before your brain has had a chance to process it.

Maybe it’s because it reduces the game to its most basic form. We all like to analyze and over-analyze and look at the new tactical innovations and talk about hybrid stances and fluid systems. Then Vinicius Jnr and De Bruyne show up with their locomotive feet and just smack the thing, and for a moment you realize that’s really all that matters.

But there is also the smallest, most remote, most delusional part of your brain that thinks very short… I could do that. It’s all about football. Kick it like… hard. Wouldn’t that be so difficult? I’ve kicked balls hard before. Very hard. I broke a (tender, rusting) goalpost at five against five back then. yes i could

You freak out because you’re not an idiot and you realize that kicking a ball that hard isn’t just about taking a big run-up and swinging your leg, it’s years of practice and hours of physical tweaking and mountains upon mountains natural skills.

But it’s kind of relatable. You watch Lionel Messi dribble, or De Bruyne hit a 50-yard pass, or Cristiano Ronaldo leap 10 feet in the air for a header, and you know these are the actions of freaks, untouchable geniuses performing on another level of reality exist. But when someone just leathers the ball…in its most basic elements, it’s closer to something you or I could possibly do.

This is football in its most original, bestial and simplest form. We can enjoy the intricate, intricate, and intricate. But when soccer is reduced to its raw elements, you feel it in your body rather than your mind. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but it’s great to feel them both.

Guardiola was right. But maybe Delph was. The basics of soccer. bang. got that

(Top Photos: Getty Images)


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