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An ode to Robin van Persie’s knack of scoring amazing volleys

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An ode to Robin van Persie's knack of scoring amazing volleys

Robin van Persie scored 144 Premier League goals for Arsenal and Manchester United, but he should be remembered for one skill above all others: his amazing knack of scoring amazing volleys.

People in football like to talk about ‘vision’. It’s one of those terms that sounds self-explanatory but, when examined a little closer, is actually full of implied meaning.

The football definition of ‘vision’ is a bit like that of ‘flair’ or ‘technique’.

Tell somebody with no interest in football that Lionel Messi has ‘flair’ — which he undoubtedly does — and they’ll be confused. But his haircut is so simple, they’ll say. But his clothes are so plain.

They would be right, of course, but they would be missing the fact that ‘flair’, in football’s somewhat arbitrary dictionary, means neither stylishness nor a general aptitude for the sport but the ability to improvise one-on-one skills.

‘Technique’, too, is loaded with implied meaning.

Consider the following: does Javier Mascherano have exceptional tackling and marking technique? The answer is clearly yes, but would Mascherano ever be described as a footballer with sublime ‘technique’? Perhaps among his former team-mates at Hebei China Fortune, but rarely in general.

No, ‘technique’ — a broad and ambiguous term at face value — means, for whatever reason, good ball control, good dribbling skills, perhaps the ability to strike a dead ball with swerve. It is a term uniquely reserved for attacking traits.

‘Vision’, however, might be the most confusing of the lot.

Often attributed to creative attacking midfielders in the Juan Roman Riquelme mould, footballing ‘vision’ is not just the ability to see or foresee events but is specifically about the ability to see or foresee the movement of offensive team-mates — to pick out a pass to an attacker running into space.

It’s a helpful term, no doubt, differentiating between mere physical passing ability and the slightly more broad term of ‘creativity’, but it’s still a selective one.

A defender spotting an opponent’s run, for example, is rarely described as an act of ‘vision’. Instead, the defender must make do with similarly loose terms like ‘anticipation’ or ‘reading of the game’.

But what of players who have mastered a different kind of ‘vision’ — that of a non-Riquelme variety, but clearly, unambiguously, to do with sight and foresight? How to pay tribute, in footballing vocabulary, to a player whose vision was superior to all others?

Setting the standard

When Arsenal’s Robin van Persie scored a flying volley against Charlton in September 2006, the Dutch striker opened a portfolio of stunning airborne strikes that would become his niche for the next decade.

It was a breathtaking goal, and one that received top marks from manager Arsène Wenger.

“It was the goal of a lifetime,” said the Frenchman. “He’s played for a long time and I’m not sure he’s scored one like that.

“The ball looked like it would go over the bar so when it came down and in the corner it was unbelievable.”

 

Scarcely more believable was Van Persie’s subsequent dedication to the art form.

For Arsenal, Manchester United and the Netherlands, the forward produced thunderous volley after thunderous volley — his impressive M.O. being an ability to make perfect contact with even the most hopeful long-range passes.

Wenger knew many things, but his “goal of a lifetime” assessment couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Van Persie scored several memorable volleys for Arsenal after the Charlton wondergoal, including two in 2011-12, his final season there.

The first, a flyer against Everton in December, was matched in quality by a last-minute FA Cup winner against Liverpool in February.

Perfecting the art

But Van Persie wasn’t dependent on North London for inspiration.

In his first season at Man United, the Dutchman scored perhaps the perfect version of his signature goal, converting a Wayne Rooney pass (delivered from inside the United half) in a match against Aston Villa.

It was the second goal of a Van Persie hat-trick, in a game that secured his team the Premier League title.

“Maybe if you look at the day, the occasion and the importance of the goal it was my best one,” he said after the match.

“You need to be a bit lucky with those goals because most of them go over or wide. That didn’t, which was a big relief.”

Interestingly, Van Persie’s most famous goal ever was not scored with that reliable left foot, though it did have many of the hallmarks of his trademark volleys.

Airborne? Check. Meeting a lofted 50-yard pass? Check.

Van Persie’s iconic swan dive against Spain at the 2014 World Cup will be remembered as one of the competition’s greatest goals.

 

True visionary

Van Persie’s extraordinary ability to score flying volleys isn’t just down to his ability to kick the ball accurately.

This in spite of his own assessments. After the Villa strike, Van Persie’s understated opinion was that “the only thing I had to do was time it right and keep my body straight, level with the ball”.

Well, yes, but “timing it right” is easier said than done.

So what, in the end, was his secret?

In a wholly abnormal sense of the word, the Villa goal and Van Persie’s other equally great ones were the result of outstanding and unparalleled vision.

To spot the exact flight of a pass coming from 50 yards is a phenomenal feat of both sight and foresight. Without that kind of vision, far more of the Dutchman’s wondergoals would have gone “over or wide”. Many players would have hit thin air.

 

Yet his is a kind of ‘vision’ rarely classified in such terms.

There’s something surprising about that. One could argue that the vision required to spot an incoming pass — and predict its destination to the exact millimetre — is as valuable and difficult a skill as producing that kind of pass in the first place.

While the assists for Van Persie’s most legendary goals — an Alex Song ping, a Wayne Rooney thump, a Daley Blind diagonal — were all fine ones, the ‘vision’ required to pick out a forward-running striker requires perhaps less focus and accuracy than the vision required to volley a ball that has just travelled half the length of the pitch.

In creating this playmaker-centric concept of ‘vision’, perhaps we’re doing a disservice to the intelligent, eagle-eyed forwards actually getting on the end of those Hollywood passes. Perhaps vision is as much about reaction as it is action.

As such, Van Persie should be remembered not just as a classy forward blessed with great ‘technique’, but as a true visionary in the art of vision.

By Benedict O’Neill


More from Planet Football

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Remembering Robin Van Persie’s incredible World Cup diving header

Can you name Manchester United’s XI from Robin van Persie’s debut in 2012?

Nine title-defining signings: Van Persie, Aguero, Kante, Campbell & more

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Manchester United takeover developments and Erik ten Hag’s swanky dinner

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New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag waves to fans ahead of the opening Premier League game against Brighton at Old Trafford

Has defeat to Brighton accelerated Manchester United takeover plans? Obviously not, but there are clicks to be clicked. Meanwhile, Erik ten Hag has some dinner and Thomas Tuchel finally matches up to his Chelsea predecessor in one key metric. It’s a big ol’ Monday Mediawatch…

 

Coulda Woulda Shoulda
Sensational effort from the Express in finding a different angle to the latest Manchester United Unpleasantness. While other, lesser outlets focused on Erik ten Hag or McFred or Ronaldo or Paul Scholes doing a swear, the Express have earmarked the owners as a rightful target for opprobrium. So far, so good. But where to go with it? For the Express, just simply invent a story about a possible takeover based on precisely zero new information whatsoever.

“Man Utd could be rescued from the Glazers by Sir Jim Ratcliffe after woeful Brighton loss” barks the headline.

Seasoned Mediawatchers will be ahead of us and already prepared for the likelihood that “could” is doing more heavy lifting here than Emily Campbell. Let’s find out.

“Manchester United owners the Glazers are in the spotlight more than ever before after Sunday’s chastening 2-1 defeat to  Brighton. The Red Devils are a club being mismanaged at the very top after nine years in the wilderness since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. And Sir Jim Ratcliffe is one of the only people on the planet with the wealth to oust them.”

This is all accurate, but does nothing to dispel the idea that two and two are about to be added together to make three billion quid.

“Back in May, the Independent claimed industry insiders think Ratcliffe wasn’t bothered by his failure to buy Chelsea.

“The 69-year-old billionaire had been interested in purchasing the Blues from Roman Abramovich, before missing out to Todd Boehly.

“And it was stated there’s a feeling that the approach was ‘really about broadcasting to the Glazers’ that Ratcliffe is willing and ready to buy United.”

Hmm. Starting to all feel a bit flimsy, this. Surely something has happened since May beyond an admittedly disappointing opening-day defeat to Brighton to merit this entirely new story? Surely there have been some developments?

“Since then, obviously, there’s been no developments.”

Ah! Well. Nevertheless,

At least, as the Express themselves have noted, there are only a finite number of billionaires who can be linked with Manchester United based on zero new information after each subsequent defeat. Elon Musk next, please.

BREAKING: Man eats dinner
Top story on The Sun’s football page at 11.38 this bright Monday morning is the fact that Erik ten Hag still ate last night despite his Manchester United team losing to Brighton.

“Erik ten Hag had a nightmare with a German – so drowned his sorrows with an Italian,” clunks the intro to a story in which, you’ll be pleased to know, Italian restaurant Piccolino is described as both “plush” and a “swanky eatery”.

Our biggest gripe, though, is with the headline. We usually have a grudging respect for The Sun’s punning abilities even if what’s contained below contains no viable content whatsoever, but “TAGLIA-TEN-E” has divided opinion here between those who (wrongly) think it so bad it’s good and the rest of us who rightly believe it’s so bad it’s bad. At least try and find out if he had a starter…

Winners and Losers
A brilliant new concept from the Mirror, who have come up with the idea of listing the weekend’s “winners” and “losers” with a bit of explanatory copy for each entry. We think it could catch on.

But if we could give one note? If we were going to do a feature along these lines, we’d maybe think of doing it for the whole weekend’s action rather than just focusing in on one very high-profile game. Because the way you’ve done it just means your winners are “winning manager”, “man who scored two goals for winning team” and “famous player who wishes to leave losing team” while your losers are “losing manager” and “conspicuously crap players on losing team”. It’s almost like, in a way, the winners of Manchester United v Brighton were Brighton and the losers of Manchester United v Brighton were Manchester United.

Trust the process
Seems ages ago now, but Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Friday night was certainly impressive and there are plenty of reasons for optimism about the Gunners this season. But we’re not quite sure that Mikel Arteta’s 50th league win as Arsenal manager in “just” 98 matches quite justifies the Daily Star’s billing as a “telling stat” that “proves Arsenal are going in the right direction”.

It’s a record almost as good as Arsene Wenger’s, we’re told breathlessly, apart from the one tiny minor detail that Wenger’s first 98 league matches also produced a league title rather than a best of fifth in which a Champions League spot was handed meekly to Tottenham.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta embraces Bukayo Saka.

Liver spots
Manchester City are the best team in the country, a status apparently further cemented by Erling Haaland transforming from fraud to goal machine in the space of seven days, but the problem remains for all football outlets that they still just don’t drive traffic numbers in the same way as Liverpool and Manchester United. It’s a huge problem for the industry, but the Daily Star have hit upon a novel solution. Simply take the three good things about Manchester City you spotted (incidentally part of a wider trend for the industry-standard number of things to be spotted dropping from the previously standard five. Everyone is having to cut back in these difficult times) and rebadge them as three things to worry Liverpool.

The three things the Star’s eagle-eyed operatives noted, for completeness, were Haaland scoring two goals, City having quite a lot of possession, and Jack Grealish. These are, we imagine, the three thing most occupying Jurgen Klopp’s thoughts today.

And it’s live!
Not really sure what to do with this so we’re just putting it here that the Daily Star’s website treating day one of Ryan Giggs’ court case, where he is accused of attacking his ex, like a live minute-by-minute with the excited all-caps headline “WE’RE UNDERWAY IN MANCHESTER!” seems… a bit off?

Tuchelian Transition
For what it’s worth, we think the Mirror have gone slightly too hard and too early in highlighting the apparently “fatal flaw” that means Chelsea won’t win the league. That being that they aren’t quite as free-flowing in attack as your Liverpools and your Manchester Citys or even the Tottenhams of this world. They did actually win on the opening day, after all, which doesn’t seem fatal. And they almost certainly won’t win the league, but also nobody really expects them to fatal flaws or not.

But it’s still a fair enough observation to make about the team. They are less exciting than their likely top-four rivals. But we’re mainly interested because the piece contains a Thomas Tuchel quote that reveals the current Chelsea boss has now mastered the Lampardian Transition that has become his predecessor’s trademark.

“‘Well, we were joking at half-time, and saying maybe it is a typical Chelsea game: we win 1-0 and Jorgi scored with a penalty!’ Behind the joke, Tuchel says there is a serious point. Chelsea’s tactics are dictated by their formation, which is based around three experienced – but ageing – centre backs, which requires them to play deep.

“‘It is what it is. I think Raheem will lift Kai and Mason and Pulisic up. But our formation is a deep formation because the centre of the formation is in the three centre backs and the two number sixes.””

Modern Football Headline of the Day I
The Sun: “TOP MARCS: Meet Chelsea signing Marc Cucurella’s stunning Wag Claudia Rodriguez, who is a budding fashion designer”

 

Modern Football Headline of the Day II
Daily Star: “Brighton’s social media team hammer Man Utd with ‘next level banter’ tweet”

 

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Raphinha is bringing the joy back to Barcelona one nutmeg at a time

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Raphinha is bringing the joy back to Barcelona one nutmeg at a time

Football is one of life’s most effective forms of escapism and that sentiment never rings truer than during pre-season.

A new signing can represent a pleasant diversion from the daily grind. Glimpses of their ability, ideally through a snatched clip on social media, only heightens the feeling of excitement; we could all do with some light-hearted relief these days.

This brings us nicely to Raphinha, one of Barcelona‘s hoard of shiny new toys they’ve picked up over the summer.

Their transfer activity this summer, resemblant of a seven-year-old given free rein in the supermarket with their mother’s debit card, has caused an epidemic of raised eyebrows across Europe.

Barcelona are supposed to be skint yet they’ve signed five top-class internationals. More are rumoured to be on their way to Catalonia. It’s all very weird, a sensation heightened by talk of ‘financial levers’ as Barca scramble to register their new signings before La Liga commences.

All these financial oddities, apart from making you want to lie down in a darkened room, take away from football’s beautiful escapism. But Raphinha can become the antidote to all that.

The €58million signing from Leeds United has wasted no time showcasing his ability at Barcelona, from scoring a delicious volley on his debut to his screamer against Real Madrid in the United States.

But it’s Raphinha’s bewitching ball control that has underpinned his rise and a string of defenders from Pumas UNAM were left needing blood transfusions after exposure to the Brazil international’s footwork.

Barcelona were already 4-0 ahead in their last pre-season friendly before the 25-year-old collected the ball on the far touchline and dared anybody to dispossess him.

Two Puma defenders took the bait. As they drew near, signposting their apprehension with hesitant footsteps, Raphinha dragged his foot over the ball before flicking it through an opponent’s legs in a manner we’re legally obliged to describe as filthy.

The Camp Nou crowd whooped appreciatively; life’s realities could wait until tomorrow.

With a bumper attendance of 83,000 in Camp Nou to watch the 6-0 win over their Mexican opponents, Barcelona have begun to reap the benefits of a summer in which they have looked to speculate to accumulate.

First have come the signings – Robert Lewandowski, Franck Kessie, Jules Kounde and Andreas Christensen have joined Raphinha at Barca – with revenue boosts, albeit through the sell-off of future income streams, following soon after.

Storm clouds hover ominously on the horizon. “I can no longer listen to the slogan Mes Que Un Club,” former Netherlands goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus said last week.

“Barcelona is a commercial monstrosity, in my eyes it symbolises everything that makes modern football so ugly.”

And it’s true the financial situation has clouded Barcelona’s reputation across Europe.

But Raphinha’s nutmeg bought a timely reminder of football’s escapist qualities that have never felt more important.

By Michael Lee


More Barcelona

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The 27 Brazilians Barcelona have signed since 1990, totalling £604m

Can you name every Barcelona manager since 2000?

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Lionel Messi needed just 8 mins of 2022-23 to invent a new type of assist

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Lionel Messi needed just 8 mins of 2022-23 to invent a new type of assist

It’s often worth consulting a flowchart when asking yourself football questions. 

Did that player know what he was doing leaving a leg in like that? -> Was it Sergio Ramos? -> Yes.

Why on earth did he choose to backheel it there? -> Was it Guti? -> Because: Guti. Why wouldn’t he choose to backheel it there?  

Did that player mean to pull off that utterly outrageous thing we’ve never seen before? -> Was it Lionel Messi? -> Of course he meant it. It’s Messi.

You should know by now. Never question Messi. Not now, not ever.

For almost two decades, the Argentinian has been doing ridiculous things with a football. Yet 332 assists and 772 goals into his dazzling career, he’s still finding new ways to surprise us.

He needed just eight minutes of the new season to remind us that we’re blessed to witness greatness in front of our very own eyes.

On first glance, it wasn’t a remarkable goal. Pablo Sarabia finding space and cutting the ball back, the ball swerving past Messi and into the path of Neymar, who took a touch before drilling it home into the bottom corner. Nice enough, but nothing to write home about.

PSG will probably score a hundred goals just like it this season as they cruise to yet another Ligue 1 title.

But wait for the replay. What’s this? Messi touched it – and in doing so set the ball up at a perfect height for Neymar to control it and take on the shot.

Were this any other player on the planet, you’d probably chalk it down to a stroke of luck. A miscontrol that ended up in just the right place.

Indeed, were this Messi midway through last season, we’d probably be saying the same thing. Whisper it, but for much of his first season in the French capital, he looked ordinary. For the first time in his career.

By January, he’d only scored one league goal – doing so from 44 shots.

Taking time to adapt to a new environment, a new club and new team-mates showed that Messi is human after all, to deploy the cliche to end all cliches for the very player it was designed for.

• • • •

READ: The 5 players with the most assists for Lionel Messi goals: Suarez, Xavi…

• • • •

He has admitted he didn’t find it easy last year in Paris.

“When I was halfway there, the Real Madrid thing happened and that killed us,” Messi told Argentinian broadcaster TYC Sports in May.

“It killed me and the whole locker room in general and all of Paris because we had this big dream in that competition. And the way it happened, the game, the result… it was a gut punch.”

He also revealed he struggled to recover from Covid-19.

“It left me with after effects. It left me with after effects in my lungs. I came back and it was like a month and a half without even being able to run because my lungs were affected.”

Could it be? Might Messi finally be on the wane?

The answer to that question is in one glorious touch. Here, we’ve slowed it down for you.

 

You know it wasn’t a fluke because Messi is looking back to his best once again.

He followed that assist up with two goals, including a superb overhead kick, to cap off a 5-0 victory away to Clermont Foot.

The 35-year-old scored and looked exceptionally sharp in the curtain-raising Super Cup victory over Nantes and seems to have picked up where he left off in the summer, when he scored five goals against Estonia and absolutely ran the show in a virtuoso performance against Italy in the Finalissma at Wembley.

And after a slow start to life at PSG, things are beginning to click into place. In fact, only team-mate Kylian Mbappe has registered more assists in Europe’s top five leagues in 2022.

Peak Messi is capable of impossible things. Never question him.

By Nestor Watach


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