The new year has begun with an urgent inquiry. Forget the one about Celtic and whether they can win a treble and what’s more go unbeaten. Never mind the one about Gordon Strachan and whether he can pull off the impossible and get the national team to the World Cup. The question is this: whither Scotland’s scorpion?
Monday’s Fife derby between Raith Rovers and Dunfermline Athletic passed off without a player scoring a goal by heel-flicking the ball over his own head and similarly no such acrobatics were recorded in the Angus derby, the good men of Arbroath and Montrose failing in their efforts to replicate the wonder strikes of Olivier Giroud and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
With the Scottish Premiership on its winter hols, the focus is firmly on our other leagues and the next opportunity for a scorpion is Friday’s table-topping Championship clash between Hibernian and Dundee United which just happens to be live on TV. Come on then, Grant Holt, burly target-man in the Easter Road frontline: you may not have impersonated the fiendish arachnid with the sting in the tail for a while, if at all, but there’s no time like the present.
Manchester United’s Mkhitaryan was more or less awarded England’s goal of the season – despite there being five months remaining – for his scorpion kick against Sunderland on Boxing Day but the Armenian’s claim on the title lasted just six days when it was trumped by Giroud’s astonishing goal for Arsenal against Crystal Palace.
We should not have been surprised that one scorpion kick should immediately have been followed by another as football people are highly suggestible and quick to copy. When one player tugs at his lughole in the post-match interview they all start doing it. When one manager refers to his team or squad as a “group” they all follow suit. When players take on water it’s always drunk from the side. When coaches on the bench discuss tactics they always cover their mouths with their hands. And all pundits are nice and polite and non-controversial, or at least they were until Chris Sutton came along.
So it has been with the scorpion. I don’t think England’s Premier League have seen the last attempt on goal by a player contorting himself into the insignia on the Isle of Man flag. But where is Scotland’s contribution to what Gunners manager Arsene Wenger called football-as-art going to come from?
Our most acrobatic goal in recent weeks might have been the one scored by Scott McDonald for Motherwell against Aberdeen just before Christmas. He has the ingenuity to pull off a scorpion kick. Celtic’s Moussa Dembele has the litheness. Faissal El Bakhtaoui of Dundee has the trickiness. Rangers’ Joe Garner gives the impression he would desperately love it to be him. And turning our attention back to Easter Road on Friday surely Hibs’ Jason Cummings has the gallusness, the ballsiness and the memorable quote at the ready for whenever he’s invited to talk us through his stunning effort.
Scots, we like to think, have been right at the forefront of wow-inducing innovation in football. Didn’t the great Denis Law invent the overhead kick? And the back header? While we’re at it, has there ever been an own goal that’s travelled further to its embarrassing destination than Willie Donachie’s for Scotland against Wales in 1978?
There’s absolutely no doubt a Scot was crucial to the wonder goal of 1970; also that it can never be repeated. Wee Willie Carr of Coventry City has his place in history for the donkey kick which set up Ernie Hunt’s volley against Everton. Right away, officialdom decreed it couldn’t happen again, ruling that at free-kicks the ball had to travel its circumference forwards or backwards.
“They don’t come much better than that!” screamed commentator Barry Davies. Everton manager Harry Catterick was less impressed. “Like something out of a circus,” he grumbled. You wonder, then, what he would have made of the scorpion kick.
Maybe the first time it was glimpsed in Britain was when Colombian goalie Rene Higuita used the technique to make a save in a friendly against England in 1995. El Loco, as he was dubbed, Higuita spent some time in jail for being involved in a kidnapping before he astonished Wembley with his high-risk manoeuvre. A scorpion kick to save will always beat one to score, but the goals from Mkhitaryan and Giroud were thrilling.
There’s a debate over which was the best. The cross from which Mkhitaryan scored was harder hit but his goal shouldn’t have stood as he was fractionally offside when he produced that stunning angle on the delivery to score. Giroud’s goal had slightly less degree-of-difficulty but was more aesthetically-pleasing as it was the result of a flowing team move, including a neat back heel in his own half from the man himself. Then, never a bad thing, it scudded the crossbar on its way into the net.
Yes, yes, merveilleux, Olivier. What I want now, though, is for Scotland’s scorpion king to show himself.