Football has lost its element of surprise

First of all, Lionel Messi is clearly a bloody brilliant footballer. His displays are almost always captivating and often exhilarating, and the same can be said for the rest of those players lucky enough to reside in that most exclusive of classes, “World Class”.

There is however something bordering on the mundane about the frequent acts of “genius” performed by the game’s elite.

In this age of affordable televised sports subscriptions and high speed internet access, we are fed feast after feast of footballing brilliance. Moments, that a few short years ago would have had us talking for weeks on end, that would have had the more dexterous of us attempting a Sunday morning re-enactment, are now so commonplace that they feel somewhat routine.

It’s not just wall-to-wall TV coverage that is dulling our senses. Any football fan with an internet connection is privy to a wealth of information on every conceivable facet of the beautiful game. In many ways of course our unquenchable thirst for information is a good thing. It broadens our understanding of the wider game and gives a platform to some brilliant writers and bloggers whose voices deserve to be heard. It has however, robbed us of the oh-so-joyous, element of surprise.

There is something special when you are confronted with player, or a side of which you know nothing, the possibilities are endless, the victories are sweeter and the defeats arguably less painful.

To use an entirely personal example, when Fiorentina faced up against Manchester United in the Champions League, all the way back in the first year of this millennium, they were a relatively unknown entity to my 14 year-old self. I had heard of, but had no genuine knowledge of their striker Gabriel Batistuta. It was not long until ‘La Viola’ and ‘Batigol’ ensured I was utterly captivated.

Clad in garish sponsor laden purple, this Fiorentina side stood out before the game had even kicked off. And then after 15 or so minutes came a moment that encapsulated that element of surprise, the demise of which this article laments. Batistuta took control of the ball thirty five yards out, shifted it onto his right foot and hit a shot that beggared belief. Mark Bosnich the United goalkeeper had not an earthly, yet the ball crossed the line in the centre of the goal and not much above head height.

It was breath-taking. Here we were at Old Trafford, the home of one of the most formidable sides in the history of British football and this man who looked like Jesus but played like a demon was bending not just the ball, but the laws of physics with the mere swing of his right boot. The sheer joy, and sense of wondrous disbelief I felt at that moment will be forever ingrained on my mind and is one of my most vivid football memories.

Now, there can be no doubt that this was an extraordinary piece of play from one of the great strikers of modern times. My point is however, that the reason it gave me such pleasure, the reason I can still recall it today, is the fact it was utterly unexpected. I had no idea that anyone sporting a purple sweatband could possess such destructive power. It was a bolt from the purple.

If in the year 2000 I had available to me all the knowledge I have now, well the goal would of course still be brilliant from a technical sense, it’s emotional impact however would be diminished somewhat. I would have already seen Batistuta play on a regular basis, the purple kit would have been familiar and I would have read numerous blogs analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the Italian side. When Batistuta set himself for the strike in my mind, I would already be expecting the net to bulge. The joy of finding out this exotically named, exotically haired Argentine had an actual fucking hammer for a right foot would have been stolen from me, and a defining moment in my time as a football fan lost forever.

In the year 2012 there are no surprises. Any player with even a modicum of potential will already have been extensively blogged about, he will have been linked with a multi-million pound move to every club imaginable and hell; he may even be a stalwart of your Southampton team in Football Manager. Any emerging side will have already had their greatest moments played out across the internet and it’s best players plundered by those with greater financial muscle before a truly great team can be formed.

Unless I embark on a period of sensory deprivation, – Sky unhooked, broadband disconnected etc – I will never again be truly astonished by football and that can only sadden those of us who invest our emotions in football. We now have too much knowledge, and have come to expect if not demand, brilliance on a regular basis.

It turns out that the relative ignorance of a decade or so ago was actually bliss.

Check out what else Alastair has to say for himself on twitter

This article originally appeared on the sadly departed Football Project

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