Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Boy Who Dribbled by Dimas Aditya Hanandito

The way he flicks the ball would make us forget that frictional nanoparticles exist in the air. Never before there was somebody of his age dribbled in such degree of adroitness. There is an incipient potential inside him to become the only player to run faster with the ball then he does without it. He slipped through the defense with utmost fluidity, trapping and controlling the ball as if he had written an entirely new version of the Laws of the Game which abrogated the rights of center backs to gain possession of that spherical object. And once he had set his sights to the goal, the goalie better ready himself to pick the ball from the back of the net.

Despite of his immense flair, he is in no way covetous with the ball. He has the least amount of hesitation to pass the round leather to the wing, the center  the forward, the back, or to any other side of the pitch which had an obvious advantage than his position. Certainly he still had a lot to learn, but he was getting there very quickly. His two senior, more centrally-positioned teammates proved to be excellent dribbling partner-mentors to him. Everybody would expect a mesmerizing companionship between them in years to come.

The luminous path stretching ahead of him was all but devastated when the election results were published. When the riots broke out, presumably of those dissatisfied with the results, everything seemed to be lost. It was one of the most dreadful examples how determinism and mass identity obsession ruined a boy’s future. The stadium and academy were largely unharmed, but a frenzied crowd of thousands screeching what could be interpreted as “independence!” marched to the direction of the city square and encountered an unexpectedly large police force. Unavoidably vicious fighting ensued. It was unimaginable how many people fell, and the last thing happened was the insurgents tearing the city hall flag apart, raising on its place a yellow-and-red stripes flag, its left side having a white star emblazoned on a triangular blue shape. The city was no longer a hospitable place and all games were to be suspended. Everything went worse when the central government authorized the military to intervene. For his own sake, the management flew him north someplace where they said they played great football there. It was painful, as the team had just bagged a unique double of the national league and continental championship a month prior.

He was still under recovery after having his right thigh muscle torn in that rough game two months ago when we left the chaotic city. One could see regiments of soldiers and battle vehicles trying to enter the region from various directions to no avail. The resistance was stiff, and it would turn to be that way in months to come. Conspiracy theorists would begin asserting that the insurgent militia received foreign funding to withhold their stand. It was entirely none of the boy’s concern, though. At that time the only thing filling his mind was recovery and preparation for his debut in the World Cup.

The most prestigious international cup tournament and his first to that date started in high note, with the national team beating two teams and drawing one, advancing past the group stage on top of the table on goal difference. Miraculous it was as his injuries seemed to hardly impede his performances. They were, however, halted by the hosts in the quarterfinals after a dramatic play ending with a penalty kick defeat despite of them taking the lead and the hosts leveled 10 minutes shy of time. The thrilling exit was a good start. At an age not even 20 years old, his contribution was still minimal, but within him there was a fiery spirit which will perform a key role in the future of the Albicelestes.

As soon as the Azzurri brought home their fourth world title, he was back to the league again. In August he was introduced to a friendly Scotsman named Moyes. Apparently he had this heavy patronage from a Middle Eastern industrialist who had a strong interest in football and desired to invest on a team. By the end of the transfer window, the boy signed a long-term deal with Moyes and the team, with an undisclosed fee worth £12 million. The amount appeared ridiculous for someone of his age. Sometimes, numbers speak louder than words. And one would not wait for long to see the adage came to fruition, as history would remember the day he signed the contract as the day which forever transformed English football.

With the number 20 shirt, his season with Moyes and the squad went quite well. By January they held firm grip on fourth place, drawing thrice and losing just four games, three of which are away. The boy exemplified growing consistency in scoring and creating goals, and was included in Moyes’ starting eleven more and more often. His goal tally recorded 9 goals when the mid-season window opened, only 2 goals short of the leading goalscorer Johnson.

Sadly, the team still ended the season trophyless. They reached the cup finals but ended getting beaten three goals without reply by Arsenal. His sublime attempt to lob over the German goalkeeper was ruled offside. A heartening fact was that the team qualified for Champions League playoff, signaling their return to the continent after two seasons.

And they did, unlike two years ago. The following season’s transfer window saw a number high-profile signings, with Moyes’ bringing in the boy’s compatriot; an agile striker named Agüero, a comical Belgian sweeper Kompany, and a veteran England international Jagielka, all under the auspices of the Sheikh. The squad’s entrance to Europe’s most anticipated cup competition was affirmed when they ripped apart the French team Toulouse’s goal five times, thrice at home and twice away. An excellent strike partnership blossomed with his compatriot, possibly due to their communicative understanding. Each of them scored a brace, also assisting each other, in the opening game of the season against Wigan.

Time flies, and the squad suddenly found themselves near the end of the season. In the FA Cup finals against Chelsea, the boy clenched a last gasp winner and took home their first silverware under Moyes, and their first after thirteen years. They have been trailing by two goals to nil half-time and nearly forced an extra time with the boy setting up two counterattacks for Arteta and Pienaar. He won the man of the match award by overwhelming vote, and the top scorer too packing 11 goals.

The Champions League still proved to be an arduous undertaking for the squad, as they narrowly fell in the quarterfinals against the same team who beat them in last year’s FA Cup. A morale-boosting 3-1 victory at home, with the boy grabbing a brace and his compatriot added a third, was avenged with three unanswered goals at the Emirates.

The final fixture of the season, dubbed by many as The Merseyside Showdown, was contested with their cordial rivals. They had gone through this far and the ultimate prize they wanted to grab is the double. Their neighbor topped the table, bagging 86 points from 37 games, with them themselves tailing dangerously closely in the second with 84 points. It was a sweet moment for vengeance and redemption, as their neighbor beat them 1-0 away at Anfield.

Nobody at Goodison Park expected the match would start sluggishly. Persistent defense of both teams created tough opportunities for the attackers to launch a breakthrough. It was Arteta, Cahill and Pienaar who battled Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard for their rights to play most often for the first half an hour. On one occasion the boy sent a perfect through-ball, only for his compatriot Agüero to lose his footing and shot wide. After the half-hour mark passed, the visitors suddenly became more inspired. Howard sent Torres’ low drive to the wrong way only for Gerrard to net the rebound, but the home side breathed a relief when it was correctly ruled offside.

Then the goals started to come.

Howard kicked a long pass to the opponent’s half, where the ball met Arteta, who sent it through to Pienaar, who shot beyond Reina’s reach... Just to hit the bar. The home crowd rose in jubilation when Aguëro, who was onside, calmly flick the ball home. It was the 38th minute, 1-0.

Within the final minutes of the stoppage time there was a dispute in the opposition’s 18-yard box as the boy, controlling the ball, seemed to receive outbound tackle from Arbeloa. The referee dismissed the penalty appeal, but indeed conceded a corner. Arteta swerved the ball into the box, and Lescott nodded it in. 2-0.

The referee whistled, signaling half-time, with the home side comfortably retaining their two goals cushion. Nobody expected for a chaotic second half.

An offensive scheme by Gerrard was clinically finished by Torres in the 59th minute, credits to a defensive error. The home side looked increasingly anxious when the referee awarded a penalty after Kuyt was dubiously brought down inches within the box. Howard guessed the right direction, blocking Gerrard’s shot, only for the ball to bounce perfectly to Torres, who drove home for his brace. With 20 minutes left, Goodison Park blue-shirted crowds fell into silence as Kuyt, receiving a superb Gerrard pass, sent a lob over Howard and sealed the visitors’ comeback. The clock seemed to tick more rapidly as the home side put heavy fight to regain their lead and clench the throne.

It was in the final 10 minutes when the boy finally cemented his legacy to the club forever.

He skillfully dribbled past Alonso and Carragher and Hyppia in a sudden outburst of decisive counterattack. Reina moved forward only for the boy to fire a high drive home over him. The time was 87’ and the score was once again level.

The home crowd once again roared in elation when Cahill brilliantly sent a through ball to the boy, which he converted to his brace. His night, and the team’s, had an ecstatic denouement as he grabbed his forever-remembered hat-trick deep into the stoppage time thanks to an inspired pass by Agüero, condemning the visitors into oblivion, and snatching their first league title in 21 years. When the final whistle blew, it was Everton five, Liverpool three.

As exultant Toffees inundated the pitch, one could hear them chanting the twenty one-year old’s name. “Leo! Leo! Leo!

* * *

Dimas Aditya Hanandito is s junior ucroniador from the Far East currently in his final years of college who sometimes delves into the alternate past out of boredom of the present reality.

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