Fabian Balbuena knew what was coming before Eden Hazard even touched the ball.
Mark Noble scrambled over frantically but it was already too late. No sooner had he closed the Belgian down than he was doing the can-can.
Hazard then invited Declan Rice, Angelo Ogbonna and Balbuena into a phone box before sneaking out through a hidden exit. Ryan Fredericks was the last man standing but his despairing dive was just a token gesture.
In five seconds West Ham went from having ten men behind the ball to being a goal down, all thanks to the Premier League’s best player.
Professionals who’d defied the odds to reach the giddy heights of the top flight were briefly transformed into Sunday League footballers with odd socks and ill-fitting shirts.
Hazard’s goal was a work of art. Not the type of shit in a cup in the name of art art, a majestic Renaissance painting straight from the brush of *checks Google* Michelangelo or Sandro Botticelli.
And yet Hazard’s goal won’t be in the conversation when it comes to the Goal of the Season. You may not realise it, but we’re all longrangegoallist.
Football fans are built to be pleased by goals from long range, leaving the dribble to be forgotten about at the end of season awards. Sofiane Boufal’s weaving dribble against West Brom last season aside, the solo golazo may as well be a bundled tap-in as far as the award ceremonies are concerned.
The BBC’s Goal of the Season award has tracked the ‘best’ strike of every Premier League campaign since the league was repackaged in 1992, unlike the Premier League Goal of the Season award which has only been running since 2017.
You’ve got to go back to 2003 to find the last time an individual effort was given top billing, as was the case when Thierry Henry took half of Spurs’ defence on a wild goose chase from inside his own half in the north London derby.
Fifteen goals have since been honoured, ranging from Maynor Figueroa’s inexplicable punt against Stoke to Papiss Cisse’s gravity-defying swipe against Chelsea, yet dribblers remain ignored.
Even the humble passing move gets a nod in the shape of Jack Wilshere’s ping pong match against Norwich and Wayne Rooney’s surprisingly swift counter-attack against Bolton.
For a dribble to win the Goal of the Season it seems a player has to beat every member of the opposition twice while reciting Nicolas Anelka’s career path in reverse. Or just be Thierry Henry.
The current campaign won’t be any different. Andros Townsend already has Goal of the Season tied up after his hammer of a volley against Man City in December.
It’s undeniably a special goal. A strike of the highest order. A goal even the crazed wordsmith that is Peter Drury- he of Kostas Manolas’ header against Barcelona fame- would struggle to find enough superlatives to describe.
But give 100 random Premier League players 20 goes at replicating it and all of them would eventually find the back of the net. I’ve got absolutely no proof of that, so you’ll have to just take my word.
Give the same group 20 chances to recreate Hazard’s goal against West Ham and it’s a different story. How many players in the league can you name who possess the dribbling ability required? Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane? Heung-min Son? Anthony Martial? It would be a small dinner party.
The solo goal is a more difficult skill than the long-range strike, and yet the Goal of the Season awards don’t reflect that.
It’s time for a new category. Somewhere that celebrates the individual. A place for the Hatem Ben Arfas and Yacine Brahimis to call their own.
Therefore, the snappily-named Dream Team Award for Having a Go Instead of Passing When All Your Team-mates Are Shouting At You is now up and running, with the first recipient being Eden Michael Hazard.
Don’t forget to pack it when you head to Madrid in the summer, Eden.
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