A second before scoring the most legendary goal in football history, Diego Maradona ran into Terry Fenwick. He had just eliminated Reid, Beardsley and Butcher, when the last English central defender came out to meet him, interposing himself between the ball and the penalty area. “I should have shot him down…”, Fenwick confessed, years later. He threw a punch at her. It was as if he hit the air. “I was coming at a hundred per hour,” explained Maradona. “They didn’t throw me even with a truck.”
Few times has a footballer better described the state of trance that drives the most virtuous at certain moments. He succeeded Zidane on Twelfth Night in 2002, against Deportivo; It happened to Ronaldo Nazario in Compostela, on October 12, 1996; and it happened to Jvicha Kvaratskhelia on February 21 in Frankfurt.
The Georgian winger received the ball on the left wing and leaned on Zielinski to shoot the diagonal. When Kamada went to intercept the return, instead of using his body to protect possession, he feinted and let the ball run. As if a sensor was built into his head that measures the speeds of the opponent and the ball, Kvaratskhelia determined that Kamada would be late. He was right. The Japanese sailed past, missing a foot from the ball, bewildered as the attacker sprinted toward the double line of defenders blocking his path. Without slowing down the run he combined with Anguissa and went through the block of rivals towards the Eintracht box to receive the wall. So he was already possessed. Anguissa gave him a melon back on the wrong foot. Behind him. Impossible to master under normal conditions. If in 1986 Maradona scored the goal of the century, what Kvaratskhelia perpetrated in Germany was the control of the year. In an unnatural foreshortening, he turned on his axis, suspended in the air in the middle of the area, muffling the ball on his right foot and avoiding the fence of Gotze, Max and Ndicka within a tenth, assisted Di Lorenzo with a heel that enabled him for the most placid shot imaginable: the 0-2 was final.
They call it Kvaradona. It is doubtful that he will tie Maradona’s boots. But he inherits a piece of the imagination that the fans of the most effervescent club in the Mediterranean consecrated to their pagan god, the most fascinating player that ever lived. After 32 years of waiting, Napoli fans are witnessing the appearance of another prophet. The coach of the unstoppable leader of Serie A, Luciano Spalletti, is not inhibited. “From a one-on-one individual quality point of view,” he explains, “from a technical quality in small spaces… the god of football was the god of football, but Kvara is on the right track.”
Manchester United lead the handful of clubs that have submitted offers for the 22-year-old attacker. They all exceed 100 million euros. Aurelio de Laurentiis, the president of Napoli, says that if there is a footballer he is not willing to sell, it is this boy with a sparse beard, pale and hunchback, who signed in the summer of 2022 for 11 million euros from Dinamo Batumi. The most vertiginous revaluation that is remembered.
Several of the analysts who report to the Premier clubs, consulted by this newspaper, point out that Kvaratskhelia does not have a sidereal change of pace. They add that he must improve his inner game and his breaking clearance. If it is worth what the market dictates, they say, it is fundamentally due to the fact that it combines two extraordinary virtues. He is able to handle the ball without losing sight of the feet of his markers waiting for them to misstep; and his control in the run in the last third of the field places him among the most gifted pure wingers in history for the touch and the continuation through vertiginous walls. “Among the extremes with a designation of origin, only Chris Waddle and Frank Ribéry have equaled him in recent decades,” observes a technician at the service of a Premier League great, who prefers to remain anonymous.
Running control in confined spaces is the technical feat that separates children from adults in attacking football. Put on the scene of the decisive meters, the vast majority of players stop their run to tame the ball that is sent to them before starting again. Kvaratskhelia is capable of receiving a wall in a thrown race and making controls with a touch, millimeters, without losing an iota of acceleration. His sense of coordination is associated with his other power, the gift of moving defenders into the trap. As Spalletti says: “It’s unpredictable because it can come out to the left or to the right; if Jvicha faces you, he knows how to turn your back on him. And there you are dead. He makes you dizzy!”
Garrincha, Figo and Joaquín Sánchez
It is the ability that elevated Garrincha or Figo. The same power that has allowed Joaquín Sánchez to extend his career to 41 years of age. He doesn’t need to deploy great power. It is enough for Kvaratskhelia to move towards the defenders, alternating driving with the inside and outside of his foot, moving the waist to feint, and stomping hard to fake snatches until his opponents turn their trunks in the desired direction. When he sees his markers’ feet step on the stocks leaning at the wrong angle, he attacks their backs without the need for major changes of pace. The supreme ability to orient defenders to his liking allows him to buy so much time and come out so well from the first overflow that later, if another marker comes up, it is easier for him to dismast it again with the ritual of reading the feet.
The greatest have had this faculty. Diego Maradona, the first. A few select wingers have also perfected it. Jvicha Kvaratskhelia is the new exponent of a strange art. If its cold Caucasian character ends up being tempered by the heat of southern passion, it could become a phenomenon of the times. Today he lives possessed by the god of soccer.
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