I saw Ken Loach's film 'Looking for Eric' a few weeks ago, in a small art cinema in San Sebastián - the only place in town brave enough to put on films in 'VO' (versión original), despite the city always giving itself cinematic airs every September with its grand festival and its bevy of superstar visitors. There are certain films that I don't mind seeing in Spanish, since the dialogue in many blockbusters is hardly lost in translation, but I suspected that Loach's film needed to be seen in English, from what I'd read of it. I was right.
The film was good, but there was one point that I particularly enjoyed. This was where Steve Evets, the depressive postman who conjures up his hero, Eric Cantona, to help him turn his life around, asks Cantona 'Alright then. Sweetest moment ever?' Cantona stares across the balcony into suburban Manchester and replies 'It wasn't a goal.' The postman doesn't believe him, and in a nerdy flood of recollections, suggests a series of his greatest goals to him. Cantona shakes his head at all of them. 'It was a pass' he says finally. The postman excitedly recalls the incident - a pass to Denis Irwin with the outside of his boot against Spurs, which leads to a goal that Loach kindly shows us in the next instant. 'What if you'd missed?' Evets asks, presumably meaning the pass. Cantona replies 'You have to trust your team-mates', and the scene fades out.
You know where this is leading, of course. If you were at all conscious this weekend and vaguely interested in football you will have seen the back-heeled pass that Real Madrid's Guti conjured up on Saturday night for Karim Benzema to score against Deportivo de La Coruña, up in windy Galicia. If not, take a look now. This is because, to return to the point that Ken Loach was presumably trying to make in his film, it's the unexpected that causes the greatest impact in your life - perhaps a moment where you dared to take a risk and it came off, and then you remember it for ever as a life-changing decision because you know you could have taken the safer option. But if you had, your life would have been the poorer somehow. And so the postman decides to get his act together... but I won't spoil the film for you, in case you haven't seen it.
The wonder of Guti's 'Tacón de Dios' (Heel of God, dixit Marca) is that it has changed in an instant the player's image, from burned-out waster outliving his time in La Liga and entertaining us only with his weird declarations to the press - the latest that he intended to retire to Bangkok - to reconfirmed genius. Well, we always knew he was a (flawed) genius, but his absence from the Spanish national team since 2003 says it all. Three national managers have all agreed that he's just not worth it.
Guti confessed recently in an interview to Michael Robinson that to have never played in a World Cup or in a European Championship will stay with him for ever as a symbol of his failure - an interesting thing to say from a man not renowned for his capacity for self-criticism, perhaps his major dysfunction among several. But now, in a moment of madness, he has solved the whole problem, because as the tabloid Marca wrote on Sunday morning, people will still remember the back-heel in thirty years' time. Indeed, you do get the impression in Loach's film that the protagonist, Steve Evets, does really remember Cantona's pass, and that he suggested it as part of the script. These things light up lives. Absurd - but they do.
On Sunday morning I went to watch two junior games, and at both matches the parents on the touchline were talking about nothing else. The main focus of the chit-chat surrounded the issue of what would have happened had the back-heel not come off. Most people seemed to agree that he could easily have scored himself. 'Si no llega al francés' said one parent, animatedly, 'a la puta calle' (If he misplaces the pass, he's out on his arse'), a point which echoes the postman's question to Cantona, 'What if you'd missed?' Well it probably wouldn't have mattered, because the intent would have been lauded and the Frenchman's reputation was of such standing with the Man Utd fans that it would simply not have registered as a problem.
Guti, on the other hand, was staking it all on a split-second decision, and one that was not entirely sensible. Madrid were only leading 1-0, in a game where they were attempting to stay on Barça's coat-tails, the Catalans having won at Sporting an hour earlier in the evening. They were nervous, for good reason. An eight-point gap would have begun to look unassailable, and besides, the runes were against Madrid. They hadn't won there in eighteen years, amazingly enough. Even Raúl had never tasted victory in the Riazor, due, most probably, to the meigas, a weird Galician concept vaguely meaning 'witches' but a superstition written firmly into the rainy and windswept culture up there. The meigas apparently had it in for Madrid, and had even travelled down to the capital on their broomsticks in 2002 to help Depor beat them in their stadium in the King's Cup Final and ruin their centenary, one among various slights over the years. So when Benzema received the ball, more in shock than in expectation, one had to also marvel at his coolness. Not even breaking stride, he swept the ball low into the net with the defence in wonderful disarray.
No-one really runs to congratulate him, since all the plaudits are for the maker. 'You have to trust your team-mates', dixit Cantona. What did he mean? You have to trust them to forgive you? I'm not sure, but I hope that's what he meant. That's a great quotation for sport, a wonderful definition of the team ethic. But the players were just knocked out by the goal. You could see it in their reaction. This was probably because Guti didn't seem to look back at any point in the move. T
The whole thing unfolds as Kaká receives the ball out in space on the left, and turns inside for support. Guti makes a sudden dart from an advanced position into the centre-forward's space and pulls away to the right, so that Kaka´s pass releases him into a one-on-one with Aranzubia, Depor's goalie. Aranzubia moves out slightly to confront Guti, and you could argue that he has the angle covered. To Guti's left, a defender is charging in. But all it needs, surely, is a little side-footed shot to the keeper´s right, into the bottom right-hand corner. Then, without apparently having seen Benzema back on the edge of the area, Guti effects the famous pass, and the book of football's aesthetic high moments has a new entry.
I've watched it dozens of times now, and Guti doesn't seem to look back at any point, only after the back-heel. But as with all gifted players, he must have been aware of the Frenchman moving forward before, when he himself first made the run into space. But he takes a mighty risk. His team went on to win 3-1 in a consummate performance in which Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and even Sergio Ramos (despite giving away a penalty) were outstanding.
The only thing that remains to work out is the identity of the person portrayed on Guti's left-arm tattoo. As he fists the night sky, it looks like it might be Che Guevara or his current girlfriend. Not sure. And it remains interesting to note that Guti can apparently pick out a fellow player without even seeing him, and yet go out with a transvestite for a fortnight and not even notice. Men eh?
Elsewhere, in the land of the mortals and the sensible, Villarreal were losing miserably at home to Osasuna and then sacking their manager, Ernesto Valverde, whilst Xerez picked up their first win since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, 2-1 at home to the league's sick travellers, Mallorca. Atlético Madrid seemed to have their minds on the forthcoming King's Cup semi-final and lost 2-0 at home to less-than-scary Málaga, thus continuing their psychotically up-and-down season. In the biggest game of the day, Sevilla fnally got their home act together gain, defeating (2-1) the league's best travellers, Valencia. This win puts them back into fourth place, thanks to Mallorca's slip.
Anyway, sorry to bang on about Guti this week, but it did get me out of my sofa seat. Greatest taconazos of all time? Guti's previous to Zidane against Sevilla in 2006, or Fernando Redondo's little gem at Old Trafford? Answers on a postcard please.