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Two World Cup Goals, and the Question of the Individual Versus the Collective

Which do you choose: a moment of extravagant individual brilliance or a feat of impossibly excellent teamwork?

Daniel Zalkus

The Ringer’s 22 Goals: The Story of the World Cup, a podcast by Brian Phillips, tells the story of some of the most iconic goals and players in the history of the men’s FIFA World Cup. Every Wednesday, until the end of Qatar 2022, we’ll publish an adapted version of each 22 Goals episode. Today’s story involves two goals scored by two different players in two different World Cups.

1. Two Princes (Sorry)

OK. Two scenarios for you. Two situations. Two characters. You decide which one you are.

These scenarios will come, like all good scenarios, from the worlds of 20th-century science fiction and, uh, canonical French theatrical drama.

Which one you choose will tell you everything you need to know about what kind of soccer fan you are.

No it won’t. That’s a ridiculous thing to say. That’s clickbait. I got carried away.

It’ll tell you something about what kind of soccer fan you are.

OK. Ready?

Situation one. Mister Spock. Death scene. Wrath of Khan. Radiation poisoning. Vulcan split-finger hand-signal thing pressed up against the glass.

Why, Kirk says, why did you do it, Spock, why did you sacrifice your life to save the Enterprise from the dude from Fantasy Island?

And Spock, choking, not yet strengthened by the regenerative matrix of the Genesis Device, slumps forward dying-ly and with some of his last-ever breaths, until the next movie, rasps:

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. That’s Option A.

Option B. Cyrano de Bergerac. Swashbuckling hero in a French play. Comically enormous nose. Gifted swordfighter. Enjoys duels. One night at the theater, he learns of an acquaintance who can’t go home, because a hundred hired thugs are waiting to kill him.

Long story. Never insult the recording secretary of the Hired Thugs’ Association.

The dude is like, “Cyrano, let me sleep at your house tonight.” And Cyrano is like, “No, friend, you’re sleeping at your house tonight. Get behind me.”

So Cyrano walks into the trap, on purpose. Fights all 100 hired thugs. Defeats all 100 hired thugs by himself.

Hired thugs blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

Why, Cyrano, his friends ask him the next day, why did you risk your own life to single-handedly fight all those thugs?

And Cyrano, with a debonair tip of his huge, be-feathered hat, says, “Because I’m the best, and no one can stop me.”

OK, he doesn’t actually say that. But it’s the subtext.

So. Option A: A guy in prosthetic ears does whatever it takes to help the team succeed.

Option B: A guy in a prosthetic nose performs an incredible feat for personal glory.

Now. Choose your fate. Which of these doors do you open? Which of these mirrors shows you yourself?

2. Weirder Pants

You don’t actually have to choose. That was way too dramatic. I am not sending a hundred hired thugs and/or a massive radiation leak to your house. Because that would be illegal, and also not an accurate reflection of the esteem I feel for you in my heart.

But the question of teamwork versus talent. Of the group versus the individual. Of the successful English boy band versus the ex-boy band member now recording as a solo artist whom everyone tries to pretend is more sophisticated than the boy band even though really, he just wears weirder pants.

These questions are central to the appreciation of soccer goals. And therefore central to this time that you and I are spending together as an excuse not to do any real work.

We deserve a break!

Goals in soccer have an individualist bias. That’s kinda obvious. One player gets credit for every goal that’s scored. And there aren’t that many goals in soccer! It’s a big deal. That player can be standing there, totally motionless, like a Star Trek captain gazing out into the vast darkness of space, and if the ball slightly grazes the outer molecules of their skin as it glides past them into the net, it is their goal for the rest of time.


Stardate 329316.2. Another day of zipping around the universe. I might get a cat. Is it cruel to keep a cat on a starship? I think cats need holodecks even more than people need holodecks. Should I invent a tiny cat holodeck? Wait, did something just graze the outer molecules of my skin? Hang on, I seem to have just won the World Cup.

That’s the game’s built-in individualist bias. It’s also, of course, thrilling when a single player does something unexpected and inspired. Heroic feats and individual glory are huge parts of the game. They’re why the game has stars.

At the same time, when we talk about fun in soccer—when we talk about beauty in soccer—more often than not, we talk about how teams play together. It’s the group. It’s fluid passing. It’s executing moves in perfect sync. It’s 11 players seeming to share one brain, even though in practice, that would be inconvenient and gross.

So we are here today to talk about this tension. Over the next … hopefully long enough to get you to lunch, especially if it’s Wednesday, we are going to resolve the conflict between the individual and society once and for all.

We are going to talk about two of the greatest goals in men’s World Cup history. One of them a team effort of surpassing loveliness. One of them an act of raw daring by a single player.

That’s right. This is the rare double-goal installment of 22 Goals. We haven’t done this in a couple of months. Diego Maradona was the last one.

And today, in our own act of raw daring, we’re talking about two different goals, scored by two different players, in two different World Cups.

This is not a soccer essay, this is the final frontier of sociology. Strap in and feel the G’s!!!

3. Contrast in the Pantheon, Part I

There are no G’s in space. That’s my mistake. Sorry.

Let’s look at these two incredible, wildly contrasting goals.

In the blue corner, representing team play, Karl Marx, coexist bumper stickers, and Dom Toretto saying “You don’t turn your back on family,” we have Argentina at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Second group game, against Serbia and Montenegro.

Amazing Argentina team. Amazing generation of Argentine players. They get a little overlooked, as a result of being pinched between the attention-sucking bookends of Maradona and Messi. But this is the Argentina generation that includes Juan Román Riquelme, one of the most brilliant and maddening talents of this millennium, as well as Maxi Rodríguez, Javier Mascherano, and Pablo Aimar.

A wonderful passing team. A patient team. The players knew each other well. The manager, José Pékerman, had been Argentina’s youth coach before he took over the men’s national team. He’d worked with many of these players since they were kids. At the 2006 World Cup, he deployed a set of tactics that was all about keeping possession, taking your time, and slowly breaking down defenses like the digestive enzymes of a boa constrictor—only, like, the pretty version of that? Pékerman’s Argentina anticipated the great Spanish teams of the next half-decade.

Against Serbia and Montenegro, this slow-moving, kaleidoscopic, intricate, elegant style produced a 6-0 win. And the second of those goals … Technically it was scored by the midfielder Esteban Cambiasso. More justly, it was scored by everybody. Everybody.

Twenty-four passes before the goal.

That is a ludicrous number.

You can hear the wonder building in the match announcer’s voice as he tries to describe the many moments of outstanding creativity leading up to this goal. As he tries to make patience sound thrilling.

This is where Argentina can be very patient indeed. I’ve watched their youth teams do this, just play the ball endlessly around the edge of their opponent’s penalty area, then suddenly break with devastating consequences.

The build-up lasted so long—was so hypnotic—that I can’t quote the whole thing for you, because we have to get on with this article.

Saviola, Cambiasso, Cambiasso! They’ve done it! They’ve done it! And scored a fantastic goal!

Just an incredible passage of play. So good that it even felt exciting when the announcer tried to send you back to math class.

How many passes did they put together there? You’d need a calculator!

We’ll talk more about it. But for now …

In the red corner, representing personal heroism, Lord Byron, the non-guillotine-y parts of the French Revolution, and the scene in Mad Men where Bert Cooper tells Don Draper, “I’m going to introduce you to Miss Ayn Rand … I think she’ll salivate,” we have James Rodríguez. The Colombian striker. Breakout star of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Multiple shocking goals in that one World Cup. Won the Golden Boot as the top scorer in the tournament.

James also featured in a bizarre moment when he scored a penalty and a giant grasshopper landed on his sleeve and clung to him for a while?

Absolutely riveting television.

Should we take a minute here? Should we pause the narrative momentarily to address the James Rodríguez grasshopper situation?

I feel like we should.

4. A Momentary Narrative Pause to Address the James Rodríguez Grasshopper Situation

This is a tangent. Bear with me.

World Cup quarterfinals. Brazil leading 2-0. 80th minute. James takes a penalty. Converts the penalty. Fabulous. If you watch the video, what you see is that as he is running to collect the ball and celebrate, a kind of shape flutters in from the side of the screen. How can I possibly convey to you the size of this winged entity that comes hurtling toward James?

Let’s throw it to the BBC.

It might help if you tried to picture something other than a grasshopper. What should you picture?

Well. How big is Mothman? How big is Cthulhu?

You know the old chaos-theory trope about how a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can create a hurricane in Florida? This … creature … flapping its wings in Tokyo would knock the planet Earth out of its orbit.

The creature is at least 12,000 years old. The creature is the color of a lime Skittle. The creature looks at you with eyes that have seen the creation of worlds, the death of stars, and the turning of eons.

The creature would not fit comfortably inside a Honda Civic.

If you look at the internet, always a bad idea, you’ll find people—liars—trying to pretend that this being is not remarkable. Oh, they’ll say, I’m a Brazilian entomologist. It’s just a harmless katydid. There’s everywhere down here.

Sure. Sure they are. Look. I’m a fairly well-traveled person. I’ve spent time in Brazil. I spent time in Brazil during this World Cup. I’ve seen wild tigers in the jungle in India. I’ve seen polar bears in the wild. I screamed like a 6-year-old child at Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But I have never seen a living thing that mashed my fight-or-flight-response button as enthusiastically as this green god of the forest that affixed itself to James’s tricep after that penalty.

Now, I’m no scientist. But I would call that a significant data point. And that’s all I know.

James … did not notice the forest god. Didn’t spot it.

The video is shocking. He kisses the forearm of the limb the entity is attached to, somehow lifting the weight of the creature, which is basically the length of his entire sleeve. It’s on the other side of his arm. He does not see it.

It’s like:

And lo, the seas parted, and a pillar of light rose up from the depths of the waters, and Poseidon, the Lord of the Waves, rose up, a thousand feet tall, and cried, Behold me, and none of the sailors beheld him, for they were all looking at their phones.

5. Contrast in the Pantheon, Part II

All right. Interlude over.

In the red corner, we have James Rodríguez versus Uruguay in the round of 16. 2014 in Brazil. This one … oh my God.

We’re gonna talk about it more. But for now, you just have to picture James in the middle of the pitch, maybe 5 yards outside the penalty area. He has his back to the goal. Ball comes flying directly to his chest. He controls it with his chest, lets it fall as he spins around, and javelins it into the top left corner of the net.

Just listen to the match announcer. Here, in contrast to the Argentina goal above, this guy barely has time to do his job. You can practically see the popcorn flying as he helplessly throws the bucket in the air.

Goal of the tournament. Completely out of nowhere. Pure individual skill.

6. A Quick Poll to Determine the Deepest Essence and Meaning of Soccer

There is a question hanging over this episode like a gigantic grasshopper over … anyone but me (hear my prayer, O Mighty Grasshopper King).

The question is, which of these goals speaks more to the essence of soccer. Which do you think is closer to the heart of the game?

They could not be more different.

The Argentina goal is like a Steely Dan album. All the musicianship is flawless. All the lines are in perfect balance. Esteban Cambiasso on FM rock saxophone. It doesn’t really matter who scores the goal, or who takes the solos, because it’s about the overall production and performance.

The James goal is like “Monster.” The Kanye song. (Sorry.) You’re listening to “Monster,” you’re like, hm, OK, fine, “swallowship,” no thank you, Jay-Z rhymes “Loch Ness” with “no conscience,” blah blah horror movies, fine … and then Nikki shows up.

Forward slash song.

Is soccer a game of stars, or is it a game of systems? Is it a venue for choreography and collaboration, or is it a venue for great deeds?

Obviously there’s room for both. Different moments call for different thrills. But which version of the game speaks more to you?

What are you hoping to see when you turn on a soccer game?

Let’s take a quick poll to see what a few notable people think.

Nietzsche says: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

This is the exact plot of Ratatouille. One German philosopher and one French rodent-chef for Team James.

On the other side of this debate, we’ve got Martin Luther King Jr, who says, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

It’s Han Solo’s arc in A New Hope. A film about a self-centered striker who learns to play as a holding midfielder and contributes a clutch assist late in the big game.

One civil rights hero and one imaginary space pilot have cast their lot with Cambiasso.

There’s no right answer. I get it. It’s a false dichotomy. But I still like thinking about this question, because—well, one of the things I love about soccer is that it’s so ambiguously poised between those two alternatives.

I mean, the NBA is a game of stars, as my friends used to say back in blogging times. The NFL is a game of systems. Doesn’t mean there aren’t tactics in the NBA or stars in the NFL, but what runs those games, the dominant motive power in each of them, pretty dramatically tilts one way or the other.

Soccer? Not so much.

Soccer has more moving parts than basketball. It’s a game where defending is much easier than attacking, so the basic plan for moving the ball up the field is apt to be much more crucial. On the other hand, compared to American football, soccer is an open, free-flowing game where individual players can take over without play callers and quarterbacks running the show. Improvisation is the default moment-to-moment mode in soccer, while improvisation in the NFL is, like, the name of a deadly fungus.

So soccer is more about how you choose to watch it. Or how you instinctively see it. The meaning of the game—how the game makes you think about the world—is comparatively wide open. And among all the other things the World Cup can be, it can be a setting for putting those visions next to each other, and seeing what they each have to offer.

7. The Team Is the Instrument

All right. Let’s talk about these goals. We’ll start with the one that happened first.

Esteban Cambiasso was born in Buenos Aires in 1980. He trained at Real Madrid’s youth academy before moving back to Argentina for a few years. Moved back to Real Madrid in his early 20s and started a few dozen games for the senior team. Then he transferred to Inter, where he spent a decade as an essential part of a side that won … well, a whole lot. Five Serie A titles. Four Coppa Italias—is it Coppa Italias or Coppas Italia? A Champions League.

It’s a long list. Cambiasso played for José Mourinho during the latter part of that run, which makes it all the more remarkable that he was known for being sensible and reliable on the pitch.

Not a huge star, Cambiasso. Not someone known for his attacking flair. He finished the great goal against Serbia and Montenegro, but he wasn’t really the instrument that scored it. Who was the instrument that scored it?

Let’s look at the lineup.

Juan Román Riquelme was the most creative player on that 2006 Argentina team. In many ways also the flashiest. God, I used to love watching Riquelme. Truly one of the most unusual players I’ve ever witnessed. “Mercurial” is a word people use to describe him.

There’s a stereotype of a sort of lazy attacker who hates tracking back on defense. An attacker who always wants to run forward, never wants to run back.

The key to understanding Riquelme, I think, is that he didn’t really love running forward, either.

I love a player I can relate to.

Riquelme was an absolute visionary of just … standing basically still. It’s like that old-timey joke. How many Harvard men does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Just one: He holds the lightbulb and the world revolves around him.

Riquelme would hold the ball, and I swear, the pitch would revolve around him. And he could see wormholes everywhere. Is your defense all set up for a free kick? Sorry, you forgot to defend the fourth dimension.

Here’s an announcer calling a Riquelme goal off an indirect free kick—you can hear the moment when he suddenly follows Riquelme through the back door of Newtonian physics.

When he felt like it, he could rise to big moments in ways that would leave you breathless. When he didn’t feel like it, he could not show up in ways that would give you whiplash.


And lo, the seas part, and a pillar of fire rises up from the depths of the waters, and all the sailors gaze with wonder and terror into the abyss, waiting for Poseidon to rise up and do Poseidon-ish things, only Poseidon does not rise up out of the waves, because Poseidon has decided that he’s “just not feeling Tuesdays.”

Riquelme. Amazing midfielder. Easily the most influential Argentine player at this World Cup. But in this goal? He’s not the instrument. He touches the ball a couple of times. Every person with an Argentine passport touches the ball at least twice during this build-up. But it’s not about him.

José Pékerman, the Argentine manager, was the guru of this team in many ways. Very thin. Very intellectual-looking. Shock of white hair.

He looks a little like Mister Spock’s dad. Sarek. I don’t know. I’m reaching.

Pékerman is responsible, to a great extent, for the attitude of this team. The patience. The tempo, which goes slow-slow-slow-slow-slow-fast. The confidence the players have in the system, and in each other.

But Pékerman—please don’t let me shock you—is not on the pitch during the goal. Managers don’t play in the game! Pékerman is not the instrument.

So what’s the instrument?

The team is the instrument. The system is the instrument.

Obviously the team is populated with individuals. The system is run by individuals working together. Everyone has to do their jobs. Once this move gets up over, like, 18, 19 passes, it starts to feel stressful, because you’d hate for any of these players to be the one to screw it up. College campus hacky-sack panic spreads throughout the pitch.

They’re still individuals. But each player is fulfilling a role. No one is specifically trying to be the one to score.

People used to criticize Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal teams for being too precious and pretty. The cliché was that they wanted to pass the ball into the back of the net. Here, Argentina literally wants to pass the ball into the back of the net. And the way they manage to do it is one of the most dominant things I’ve ever seen in sports.

Argentina gets the ball way, way back near the Serbia and Montenegro penalty box. Do we even want to talk about the first 12 or 14 passes? They work it down the left side. They work it into the middle. Maxi Rodríguez to Sorin. Sorin to Mascherano. Mascherano to Riquelme.

The move is more than 10 seconds old before the ball first crosses the halfway line, and they immediately kick it back.

It crosses the halfway line again. They kick it back again.

They’re searching for space.

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the …

No. I’m not gonna do that to you.

By my count, the move is more than 20 seconds old before the ball crosses the halfway line for the final time.

Mascherano in the middle of the pitch to Maxi Rodríguez. Maxi Rodríguez to Sorin on the left.

The extent to which the Serbian players are not pressing is actually distracting in the Year of Our Jürgen Klopp 2022.

Argentina still probing. Still building. There is simply no way for a TV commentator operating in the moment to capture the slowly building tension of a passage of play like this. Soccer commentators are poets after goals. A lot of the rest of the time, they’re the phone book. Just a long list of last names.

Riquelme. Javier Saviola. Cambiasso takes an awkward pass from Saviola at the edge of the area. The writer Gregg Bakowski, in a piece about this goal for The Guardian, described Cambiasso’s first touch as a “feathered dink.” I cannot improve on this. Hope is the dink with feathers. Hernán Crespo, who’s running forward into the box, is on the receiving end of Cambiasso’s feathered dink. Now Cambiasso breaks into the box, and Crespo hits a ridiculous no-look back-heel pass directly into his path.

Bam. Top left corner of the net. I’m gonna play the video of the goal now, but you may notice that unlike many of the goal calls we share in this series, this one does not require you to turn down the volume on your laptop to prevent your speakers from catching fire.

You may observe that it’s a relatively calm read. Relatively light on euphoria and mad joy and really, all the stuff we’re chasing in this podcast?

Well, that’s a great observation, and may I also add that I really like your shoes today. The thing is that the announcer, Martin Tyler, has been watching this goal develop for so long that he’s 100 percent ready. He’s locked in. He doesn’t have to scream and pound the table, because he’s had time to take out a notebook and go through two or three drafts.

8. A Hero and His Regular Nose

Flash-forward eight years. It’s 2014. Soccer has evolved considerably since 2006. Many people who never expected to use the words “tiki-taka” in everyday conversation are now using the words “tiki-taka” in everyday conversation.

Deep beneath the earth, a green beast of indeterminate origin is feeding, feeding and growing, until the day when it can at last emerge from the steaming soil, spread its demonic wings, and descend in hellish majesty upon a Colombia-Brazil World Cup quarterfinal in Fortaleza for some reason.

And James Rodríguez doesn’t give a shit.

James was 14 years old during the Argentina versus Serbia and Montenegro match. Now, in 2014, he’s 22. Son of a soccer player. Has wide eyes, dark hair, an expressive face that breaks easily into a smile and looks super intense in moments of struggle.

Looks absolutely nothing like Cyrano de Bergerac, frankly. Completely non-enormous nose. If anything, he has a little bit of an anime-hero vibe, I think it’s fair to say?

I don’t have a specific series in mind. I could see him as one of the fighters who tries unsuccessfully to befriend Kirito in Sword Art Online. He’d be like, Let’s go clear Level 86 together, and Kirito would be like, I’d rather clear Level 86 by myself, because I’m a loner, and James would be like, Yes, I too would rather clear Level 86 by myself, I was only asking to be polite, excuse me, Jesus.

That’s the vibe. He’s not even supposed to play a huge role, James, in this World Cup. Radamel Falcao, the great Colombian striker, gets injured before the tournament. Tears his ACL. The door is now open for a young upstart trying to make a place for himself at the top of the game.

Another thing that’s changed since 2014. José Pékerman is no longer the manager of Argentina. He’s now the manager of James Rodríguez and Colombia.

Colombia hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1998. Now they’re back.

People know that James is one of the most promising young players in the world. But to everyone’s surprise except his own, he’s not just “promising” in Brazil. He’s unstoppable.

In Colombia’s first match, against Greece, he scores. Second match, against Ivory Coast: he scores. Third match, against Japan: he sets up two goals and scores a third. After three group-stage games, Colombia has scored nine goals, and James has scored or assisted five of them.

He’s playing so well that people almost immediately start asking, “Is Real Madrid about to significantly overpay to sign him?”

Yes they are!

But for now, it’s June 28. Round of 16 match against Uruguay. Uruguay is without Luis Suárez. Suárez is suspended. I couldn’t remember why, initially, when I started working on this essay. I was like, “Eh, he probably bit someone.”

In fact, the real reason is … he bit someone. One thing about Suárez is at least he was consistent. Consistently hungry for human flesh.

If Colombia wins, they’ll go to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

The stakes are high. The grasshoppers are the size of Alsatians. It’s happening.

There is no real build-up to describe here. Everything takes place within history, of course. But sometimes it doesn’t seem to take place in that much history. This is one of those times.

It’s the 28th minute. Bunch of Colombian players knocking the ball around outside the box. Abel Aguilar kind of awkwardly dinks a header in James’s direction. I mean, it’s not that awkward. It’s not a feathered dink, that’s all.

An unfledged dink. Put it on my tombstone.

This is it. James somehow manages to peek over his shoulder to gauge how much time he has. James controls the ball with his chest. James turns as the ball is falling. And what happens next is so ... well, I could tell you, but then I would deprive you of one of the most extended meltdowns of pure joy available anywhere on the internet.

That commentator may still be calling that goal today.

9. Doors and Mirrors

And there you have it. One of these goals is such a beautiful illustration of togetherness and selfless play that Republicans are currently trying to pass a constitutional amendment against it. The other is such an audacious example of individual initiative that every time I watch the replay, Nancy Pelosi emails me to ask for $6.

These goals have nothing in common. Well, OK, they have two things in common. They have José Pékerman in common. And they’re both among the very best goals ever scored at the tournament.

In the end, these goals were the highest of the high points both for this Argentina team and for James Rodríguez. It was downhill, pretty much, after these goals. Argentina looked like the best team at the 2006 World Cup during the early rounds, but ended up losing to Germany in the quarterfinals—they were winning, then Pékerman took Riquelme out of the game in the 72nd minute, then Germany did what Germany does. They stole an equalizer and won on penalties.

And James … well, Colombia lost to Brazil in the quarterfinals—that’s the grasshopper game—and James moved to Madrid for a fee in the vicinity of $100 million, making him the fourth-most expensive player of all time. And his career just never really took off. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t amazing. He ended up moving to Everton on a free transfer, and is now playing for Olympiakos in Greece.

So neither goal led to greater things. On the other hand, each of these goals is a pretty great thing in and of itself. And each is a very pure example of one philosophical possibility for soccer.

I’m not trying to sound pretentious, by the way, when I say “philosophical possibility.” I can sound pretentious without trying!

But I don’t know. I do think that sports furnishes metaphors for the rest of life. That’s not controversial. That’s how it’s always worked. And soccer’s openness to different kinds of metaphors, its adaptability to different metaphorical frames—different ways of imagining what we’re doing here, in this life, when we’re not fixing lethal radiation leaks and disarming hired thugs, or maybe even when we are—that’s one of the most fascinating aspects of the game to me. Also one of the strangest.

So what do you think? Red corner or blue corner? Adventure or utopia? Fitting in or standing out?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m shopping for something—anything, really—I tend to spend an absurd amount of time watching YouTube product comparison videos. Do I need a new broom? Let’s spend the next five weeks on an online deep-dive into broom-review subculture so we can be sure we’re getting the best broom ever handmade by artisanal craftspeople in the Swiss Alps.

Easily worth the additional $400 and 200 hours of my life versus just driving to Target.

Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about YouTube product comparison videos is that the people who make them tend to be extremely reluctant to state a preference. I don’t know why that is. Must be better for engagement or something? Somehow leads to higher affiliate payouts?

This makes me want to round up 100 hired thugs, I cannot lie.

They’re all like, “Well, now that you’ve seen these two whisk brooms side by side, tell me in the comments which one you prefer!”

Why don’t you tell me which one I prefer. You’re the professional whisk-broom reviewer, Carl.

So OK. I don’t want to be that guy. No Whisk Broom Carls in this channel.

I love both these goals a lot. But if I had to pick one … I’m taking James. I’m taking adventure. I’m taking individual heroics.

If you disagree, that’s fine. Of course it is.

It comes down to taste. And I don’t even think there’s a choice here that demonstrates bad taste. They’re both great. It’s just what do you, personally, like?

Personally, I really like seeing the game as a window into characters. Into people. And the systems in soccer are so important. The systems are so strong. And they’re really exciting and compelling in their own right. But they determine so much about how a game looks. Take pressing—do you block passing lanes or aggressively attack the ball? Do you sit back and absorb pressure or charge forward and forget about waiting to launch a counterattack? Do you build up your attack patiently or clobber the ball in the general direction of a center forward?

Since the systems in play have such a powerful determining influence on the game, I often find it more thrilling, more moving, when one player manages to stand out from the system. When one player rises above it or epitomizes it.

I want to watch that person do amazing things. I want to know what that person means to the game. Or means outside the game. I like stars.

Of course I would not ever say no to a 24-pass move culminating in a goal following a no-look back-heel pass. I will have that goal seven days a week, no ketchup. But if it comes down to a choice, I’ll take Diego Maradona running through the English defense over just about anything else in the game.

Well, thank goodness we don’t have to choose. Soccer gives us both these possibilities, and it gives every possibility between them. Every nuance on the continuum. It’s a surprisingly nuanced game, soccer, for a sport that once prominently featured John Terry.

And maybe that’s the real wonder of it. It doesn’t limit itself to being one thing or another. In whatever subtle subliminal way sports is capable of helping us see the world, soccer shows us our own thoughts, and it also shows us other ways of thinking.

The game is a mirror that’s also a door.

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