Sports-defining moments hard to come by for students

“Roooooney!”

“It defies description! How about sensational? How about superb?”

“Spectacular, beyond belief.”

February 12, 2011. Manchester United. Manchester City. Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams—for Martin Tyler, one of the soccer world’s most iconic match commentators, Old Trafford truly was a “Theatre of Dreams” on that Saturday in the middle of winter, on that special, special day. For, on that Saturday, Tyler was more than just any match-caller privileged enough to be covering one of England’s most popular local derbies—he was a witness to one of the most beautiful goals ever scored, at the perfect moment, and by one of the world’s most explosive talents.

I remember that wintertime match for everything that a derby showdown between two of the world’s most dominant clubs should bring: the buzz of anticipation beforehand, the heated back-and-forths between club supporters, the juicy sound bites provided by players and managers alike, the shaking of the stadium. There was the ecstasy after the first goal, followed by a stunned silence after the second, until it was canceled out by that raucous roar of disbelief at the very end. All of the little details lined up at just the right time to produce a pure spectacle, a display deserving of that stage.

Very rarely can it be said that a sporting event lacks nothing. Most, unfortunately, do lack something (or a lot of things). Not every game is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity­–we are sometimes witnesses to poor performances and one-sided affairs, shoddy coaching and meaningless exhibition games.

But, this one lacked nothing. You had some of the sport’s most celebrated faces—Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson, David Silva, Martin Tyler and his unparalleled eloquence, and countless others. You had the ideal setting—there’s no better place for the majestic showdown of deep red and shiny blue than the Theatre of Dreams, where the talent is matched by the intensity of the crowd. And you had the sheer importance of this match in a contextual sense—England’s two best squads fighting for the top of the league table and a place in top-notch Champions League competition.

Everything lined up for Wayne Rooney’s glorious game-winner. The circumstances, the fans, the individual talent, everything.

But that bicycle kick was something else entirely, a touch of individual brilliance. It was the true prize in a match with a whole lot to offer. Powerful, yet precise. Unexpected, yet timely. Difficult, yet made to look easy. Rooney (or should I say “Roooooney”?) hung effortlessly in the air for what seemed like three long seconds before instinctively meeting the gliding ball with his sturdy foot, all with the utmost coordination. He quickly connected boot to ball and delivered not only a rocket of an overhead but a knockout punch to his club’s most dreaded local rival.

The ball hit his foot, then rattled the back of the net. The crowd shook, and the goalscorer celebrated with his proud teammates in the midst of yells and cheers.

Rooney said that it was the best goal he’s ever scored. His manager went even further, proclaiming it the best goal ever scored at Old Trafford. That’s some praise.

It was the perfect way to decide the perfect fixture, and all of soccer’s best seemed to be on display that day in Greater Manchester. February 12, 2011 mixed all of Sir Alex’s coaching genius with Wayne Rooney’s powerful grace, City’s pinpoint passing with a wild crowd’s show of provincial pride. And then it was capped off by the game’s most difficult, yet dazzling, show of goalscoring prowess—an overhead bicycle kick that left the goalie rooted in the ground and the United faithful jumping with joy. A bicycle for the ages.

I find it difficult to put that moment in words; I still crack a tiny smile when a highlight show does a documentary about that match or I come across a YouTube link featuring Rooney’s goal—accompanied by millions of views and Martin Tyler, in all of his glory.

Something like that just doesn’t happen often, and it’s difficult to understand the beauty of that moment without understanding the beauty of soccer. You have to watch “the beautiful game” growing up, understanding the importance of attacking formations and timely through balls and tactical substitutions. Only then can you begin to understand that bicycle kick in the heart of Manchester, at the center of a heated rivalry. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen too often, so you have to appreciate it when the stars do align. Martin Tyler, and all of the lovers of soccer that tuned in, were lucky indeed.

“It defies description! How about sensational? How about superb?”

Wayne Rooney’s goal, the Manchester derby, everything about the sport, makes me regret that I can’t watch more of the game these days. At Vassar College, in the middle of the Hudson River Valley, I’m disconnected from the broadcasts and analysis of English football, Spanish football, Italian football, German football. I’m not caught up on the goals and assists and daily recaps. All of the world’s best leagues seem to elude me, as I’m preoccupied with my academic schedule, varsity basketball and traditional American sports.

It’s difficult to find the time to watch a good old Manchester derby when there are so many other things going on at college. In the midst of school, basketball, and other extracurricular activities, the beautiful game is forced to take a backseat. There’s nothing that I can do about that.

And I truly, truly regret it. February 12, 2011 makes me regret it—moments like that are unforgettable and sensational and iconic, all at the same time. Whenever the whistle blows for a kickoff, there’s a chance—however small—that the stars will align and that there will be another February 12th someday. As a matter of fact, the Manchester derby took place this past Sunday, as two of England’s best faced off in another pivotal league encounter (with Manchester City coming out on top this time). It surely won’t be the last time—they compete at least twice every season, depending on European play, and that will be the case even five years, ten years, thirty years from now.

The best goal ever scored by Wayne Rooney, Old Trafford’s best ever goal, and hearing Martin Tyler call the action with ultimate ease–providing spontaneous reaction and unparalleled passion. Those are the possibilities. Those are the possibilities that only soccer can bring.

“How about sensational? How about superb?”

“Spectacular, beyond belief.” It is the beautiful game, and it is truly spectacular.

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