Volleys: they’re a risky game.
Anyone who’s ever tried one – whether it be in a professional setting, at Sunday League training, during fives with your mates or even just in the back garden – will tell you that same thing.
There are so many variables. You have to consider the pace of the ball as it falls out of the air; you have to get your body over it to keep it under control, while applying the appropriate amount of backlift; you have to hit it in the sweet spot at the perfect time from the right angle; and all of that there within a painstaking margin for error.
It’s such a lottery that you need one of two things; an assiduous eye for precision, or straightforward, ham-fisted, dumb luck.
Most footballers, even at the height of the game, rely on the latter – at least for the most part.
Zinedine Zidane was not most footballers.
He took all of the skills listed above and rolled them into one smooth cocktail, garnished with a few extra complications.
The stage on which the game took place – the Champions League final at Hampden Park – and the absurd height from which the ball fell onto his left adidas Predator, act as the final ingredients that make up the most impressive volley ever seen.
Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen remained tied at 1-1, after Lucio had emphatically scribbled out Raul’s eighth-minute opener, before a moment of history is willed into existence by Roberto Carlos down the left flank.
On the brink of half time, the immutable Brazilian wrestled his way goal-side of Zoltan Sebescan, and hooked a hopeful cross out towards the edge of the area.
Every other player had piled into the box anticipating a fizz across the face (it was Roberto Carlos, after all) but Zidane reacted quickest by a head.
The Frenchman halts his run in a flash, and pulls up on the edge of the area, leaving himself with a few yards of space in front of him; yards of space into which Lucio, Sebescen, keeper Hans-Jorg Butt and each of the 50,000+ spectators, would be left staring in disbelief.
The ball hangs menacingly in the air, 20 feet directly above the head of its receiver, and in slow motion, you can see the gears beginning to turn.
At 15 feet, Zidane decides what he’s going to do, and adjusts his feet.
At 10, he shapes to shoot.
And at five, he engages his hamstring, and unleashes an almighty left-pegged swing that connects like the hammer of Thor.
The gracious majesty of the ball’s flight; whistling, swirling, dipping and then nestling; is best captured at 1:08 in UEFA’s glorious all-angles coverage, from behind the goal of the hopeless Butt. The keeper barely manages to lift his feet off the ground before his right-hand postage stamp is battered off its hinges, and there are no amount of words, nor glamorous replays, that can do it justice.
UEFA, because they’re both lovely and sensible, have uploaded the video to their YouTube channel here. It should probably be the most-watched YouTube video of all time.
True perfection should, by nature, be an unattainable goal. In human history, it can only be said to have been achieved on a handful of occasions, and a few of those are fictional.
Here, though, Zidane managed it, and it won him the only Champions League of his prestigious playing career.
B?e?s?t? ?e?v?e?r? ?C?h?a?m?p?i?o?n?s? ?L?e?a?g?u?e? ?F?i?n?a?l? ?g?o?a?l???
B?e?s?t? ?e?v?e?r? ?C?h?a?m?p?i?o?n?s? ?L?e?a?g?u?e? ?g?o?a?l???
Best ever goal?
Zinedine Zidane scored this, on this day 18 years ago! ?pic.twitter.com/RhxhU2GIHA
— 90min (@90min_Football) May 15, 2020
That’s a total he has since expanded as a manager, but even the winning three European Cups on the spin has struggled to come close to the moment of sheer, unadulterated, perfect genius he pulled off on 15 May 2002.
Hampden Park, Bayer Leverkusen or Real Madrid haven’t seen anything like it since; European football, or the sporting world in general, haven’t either.
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