If football matches were played out in boxing rings, then the ultimate knockout punch would have to be the overhead kick. Often attempted yet rarely successful, there is nothing quite so stunning to watch in the beautiful game. Nor, for that matter, is there anything quite so difficult to execute.
It is little surprise that all the talk among Chelsea and Everton supporters has centred around "those two goals", from Eidur Gudjohnsen and Steve Watson respectively. Both players scored overhead kicks in midweek, and both will have set the video for the highlights show. "As a player," the Chelsea striker said after the game, "you never forget a goal like that."
Bearing in mind that human beings are at their best with both feet on the floor and both eyes facing forward, kicking a ball while performing the Fosbury flop is just about as far as the human body can be stretched. The BBC's online Soccer Academy calls it "the most tricky of moves", and goes on to give a step-by-step guide to performing the perfect overhead kick. Most telling of all is the little proviso at the end which reads: "Following this advice is entirely at your own risk."
Even those who have made the overhead – or bicycle – kick look easy, cannot really explain how they managed it. Just ask Duncan McKenzie, the king of kick tricks. "It's unquestionably the most extravagant way to score a goal," says the former Leeds, Everton and Chelsea player, who now does media work and after-dinner speaking.
"It's also, by the way, a bloody difficult manoeuvre to achieve. You have to remember that all overhead kicks come from bad crosses. That's why I am in such awe of the guys who've made the headlines this week. The Gudjohnsen strike was as good a one as I've seen in my whole life. I was brought up on Pele and Rivelino, but I call tell you that beat the lot. Not that Stevie Watson's effort wasn't special, too. If either of these guys were Brazilian, everyone would be raving about their skills a lot more."
McKenzie knows a thing or two about scoring spectacular strikes. "My best overhead goal was against Southport," he recalls. "I was 19 and on loan from Nottingham Forest to Mansfield, and the ball was launched downfield to the right winger, who then crossed the ball towards the back of the box. I was actually outside the area, but thought, 'What the heck'. So I jumped up in the air, went for it, and the ball ended up in the back of the net."
McKenzie may have given the impression that he mastered the art of the overhead kick during his career, but he now freely admits that luck played a large part. "Don't get me wrong," he explains, "you have to be very skilful to get near the ball in the first place, but after that, you're in the lap of the gods. The thing people maybe don't realise is that you can't really practise for it. Basically, you can either do it or you can't. So many variables need to come together for an overhead kick to come off. The most important thing is to be sure you will land properly, otherwise I can tell you it's the last leap you'll ever make."
Get it wrong and the player will be the laughing stock of the crowd; get it right and he will be immortalised. There is Rivaldo, whose acrobatics secured Champions' League football for his former club, Barcelona, with just one minute remaining in regulation time on the last day of the 2000-01 Spanish season. Or Jonatan Johansson, who had the temerity to score two in the third round of the FA Cup against Exeter last month. No matter what the Finn does in the future, his reputation at The Valley is secure.
One final question occurs. What makes one overhead kick better than another? "Performing it in a match situation, for a start," McKenzie says. "Mike Summerbee once told me that it took Pele more than 25 goes to score the winning goal in Escape to Victory, which just goes to prove that everyone is human." And that the bicycle kick is the hardest skill of all.
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