There is a lot of retrospective football action at the moment, both on social media and on television. Indeed, ITV has made the decision to show Euro 96 in its entirety over the coming weeks to make up for the lack of live action on television.
It’s funny, however, when you watch back these games, as what’s on screen does not always match with your memories. Nostalgia works in mysterious ways, and it can cause us to glorify certain performances, and forget others.
A good example is Roy Keane’s much-celebrated performance vs Juventus in the 1999 Champions League Semi-Final. Keane himself admits that it has been blown out of all proportion. He played well, and was arguably the man of the match, but it was just another excellent performance by a man who was ridiculously consistent. Had he not received the yellow card that caused him to miss the final, we would probably not be talking about it today.
But sometimes great performances remain great, even if you watch them decades later. Here are three such examples that are worth sparking up on YouTube now:
Paul McGrath vs Italy: World Cup 1994
Irish football fans can still picture every delicious second of Ray Houghton’s spectacular winner every time they close their eyes. But this gruelling match was about two other players, Franco Baresi and Paul McGrath. Born within months of each other, Baresi and McGrath obviously had very different careers. The Italian won just about everything in football, whereas off-field issues derailed McGrath’s chances of fulfilling the mainstream criteria to become a great.
However, on this glorious day in Giants Stadium, McGrath came out on top. An incredible defensive performance, as McGrath did all that was possible to repel those Italian attacks and see Ireland home with that 1-0 lead. But this was not all blood and thunder tactics. McGrath, who had been voted PFA Player of the Year in 1993, was full of poise and grace, keeping Roberto Baggio firmly in his pocket. At the other end, Baresi, who was at fault for the goal, could not compare. The most famous day in Irish football history. And, even if it was just for 90 minutes, Baresi looked across the pitch to see a better defender than he.
Messi vs Real Madrid: La Liga 2007
When you look and see Messi’s name at the top of the football betting odds for the Balon D’Or year in year out, it’s worth remembering just how far back that dominance goes. Messi made his El Clasico debut in the 2005 season. In this 3-3 thriller, and still a teenager, Messi showed that he was the future of Barcelona. Grabbing a hat-trick, with each goal an equaliser for 10-man Barcelona, this was Messi at his very best.
For some perspective, this was a showcase of two (relatively) poor sides in this fixture. The likes of Ronaldinho and Eto’o would soon be heading off to Milan, whereas, in the Madrid dugout, Fabio Capello mind may have been on a looming contract as England’s head coach. A sense of transition was in the air, with two teams suffering from problems of bloating due to excess. The 19-year-old Argentine, however, demonstrated that there could be a new Barcelona. Boy, did he deliver on that promise.
Ronaldo vs Manchester United: Champions League 2003
A really strange game here, and it’s worth being a little bit critical about Ronaldo’s performance. The Brazilian is rightly lauded for his hat-trick, but when you watch the game back you can see that it was by no means the perfect 67 minutes of football. In a way, it was like watching an ageing boxer who is still capable of delivering a knockout blow when it matters. That’s what happened at Old Trafford. One. Two. Three. Ronaldo hat-trick. United were knocked out.
In addition, it’s worth remembering how good United were in the game, and they deserved the 4-3 victory as a consolation prize for being knocked out on aggregate. Juan Sebastian Veron was excellent in midfield, as was Ruud Van Nistelrooy up front. But nothing could be done about Ronaldo. When the Old Trafford faithful, famously, gave him a standing ovation, it was as if there was a sense of “What else can we do?” about it.