In our new feature focusing on the best skills in the beautiful game, Danny Owen takes a detailed look at the backheel – perfected by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
On the face of it, the simple backheel is one of our sport’s more modest tricks. The maverick limit of the Milners and Mikels, it elicits neither an intake of stunned breath nor a migraine-inducing montage of erratic camera angles and abstract German electropop.
But maybe we’ve just become a little spoiled, reared on the luxury of South American trequartistas and the final scraps of bogo jonito. The backheel, though basic in its appearance, sums up everything we love about our game. Ingenuity, flair and efficiency. Take Jamie Vardy’s goal against Germany for example. The first-time flick was both his most effective, and elaborate, means of scoring. And who are we to play that down?
Contrary to the cliché, no one has eyes in the back of their head. Though maybe someone should have checked underneath Denis Law’s blonde bouffant just to be sure.
“I was inconsolable. I didn’t want it to happen.” Sometimes a predatory instinct is just too strong. The King of Old Trafford, with 236 goals in eleven years on the red half of Manchester, just couldn’t help himself. An impudent flick preceded the most reluctant of ‘celebrations’ and consigned his former Kingdom to ruin. Or, in other words, Leyton Orient away in the second division.
The modern footballer is a far more rounded athlete than his beer-swilling, cigar-puffing ancestor. Often, a secondary sport shines through. While Joe Hart honed his enviable reflexes on the cricket greens of Worcester, Theo Walcott perfected a 100 metre proficiency that left countless ailing, lower-league full-backs grasping for breath and a handful of shirt. Roy Keane? Boxing. Let’s not go there.
Zlatan Ibrahimović, meanwhile, spent his years of innocence kicking people in the face. Of course he did. A black-belt in karate, only Zlatan could transform a sport of aggression and transform it into something nonchalantly beautiful. Just to confirm, Zlatan is technically classed a dangerous weapon. Of course he is.
Cristiano Ronaldo ladies and gentlemen. Owner of the 20-yard backheel. Inventor of the ‘mule kick’. Never to be outdone.
Around 500 miles away, there is a world where fans flock in their thousands to bathe in the glory of Dirk Kuyt diligently tracking his full-back, Luuk De Jong lifts the title as captain and top-scorer, and Memphis Depay appears an actual, real life footballer.
Yes, the Eredivise is a wonderfully weird place. So of course a goalkeeper will score a flying backheel volley in the last minute against the champions. Martin Hansen, in ADO Den Haag’s August draw with PSV, proves exactly why you should give it a rest with ‘quality leagues’ and ‘defending’ and such.
Roberto Mancini is not exactly what you’d describe as a happy-go-lucky individual. Behind the jovial, club-coloured scarf, there’s a Catenaccio-stepped desire to win at all costs. You don’t partner Nigel De Jong with Gareth Barry for the sake of spectacle after all. So this was never likely to go down well. Oh Mario Balotelli; how you enchanted/infuriated us.
You’ll notice, ahem, ‘Super’ Mario was replaced by James Milner, a man who has never, and will never, dream of such impudence. More a Mancini man.
Come on, you can do this one! We’ll admit, the overhead kick was maybe asking a bit much. We promise there will be no inadvertent hospitalisations from this week’s top tips.
By Danny Owen, @danny8195 on Twitter.