Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
Roberto Cabanas & the Beautiful Game
by Paul Gardner, January 12th, 2017 2:48AM
Subscribe to SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner

TAGS:  nasl


By Paul Gardner

From the happiest of thoughts and memories about Roberto Cabanas to total bewilderment and sadness ... all it took was a few days.

The memories started with a brilliant goal scored by Arsenal’s French striker Olivier Giroud. His version of what has become known as a scorpion kick. A truly wonderful goal -- I can assume that most of you will have seen it, will have been amazed at Giroud’s skilfullness and smoothness as he turned a not very good pass to him into a superbly exciting goal.

Giroud was moving swiftly toward goal, the ball came in from his left, but it was a couple of feet behind him -- yet he was able to play it forward with the heel of his trailing leg, making solid contact, sort of hooking the ball forward over his own head to send it -- at speed -- crashing off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.

A breath-taking scorpion goal, a sudden flash of soccer brilliance defying even the wildest expectations ... pulled off with such ease and control.

And that was when, inevitably, my thoughts turned to Roberto Cabanas and the extraordinary scorpion goal that he scored for the Cosmos back in 1983. The only scorpion goal that I have ever seen, I do believe, performed live, right before my own disbelieving eyes. I don’t think we called them scorpion kicks in those days -- that term was associated a little later with the flamboyant Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita.

Cabanas’ goal had the same origin as Giroud’s -- a ball that came in behind him. Giroud was running purposefully into the penalty area, fully aware of what was happening, glancing to his left where he could see Alexis Sanchez preparing to cross the ball. Even though Giroud had to break his running rhythm, had to stutter step, he was always in control, looking back to see the ball make contact with his left heel, to direct it on goal. And all in -- what, maybe 2 or 3 seconds.

Cabanas played soccer rather differently than Giroud. For sure -- after all, Giroud is a 30-year-old veteran, Cabanas was s 22-year-old wonder-kid overflowing with a blinding talent that had you convinced you were watching the next Maradona. At age 22 Cabanas did not have, could not have, the almost intellectual coolness of Giroud. But he had abundant youthful energy, the  supple movement of his gymnast’s body ... and he had that secret, inborn, well of knowledge that gives all the great players their greatness, the instinct that breeds, suddenly, miraculously, their magic moments.

Like Giroud, Cabanas saw a headed cross coming (from teammate Angelo DiBernardo). Unlike Giroud, Cabanas completely misjudged the path of the ball, diving as though to head it, but far too early. While still airborne, some three feet off the ground, Cabanas, now unable to see the ball -- even his elastic body couldn’t twist that much -- still managed a mid-air contortion that enabled him to get his heel on to the ball and slam it forcefully into the goal.

Exciting beyond any telling of it -- another of those short, sharp sporting moments, just a few seconds that challenge reality and bring on the wondrous beauty of the impossible. Utterly unforgettable.

And then, little more than a week after the Giroud goal, came another moment that challenged reality. A horrible harsh moment announcing the death of Roberto Cabanas. Just 55, dead of a heart attack. A sudden unexpected death, without any advance warning of trouble.

Watching Cabanas play was always a tonic for me -- the bubbling boyish enthusiasm that sparkled in everything he did, the constant promise of something daring, something different, or like the scorpion kick, something outrageous.

A game with Cabanas on the field was always a game that was likely to give us soccer with a smile. Off the field, only once did I encounter Cabanas not looking happy -- after a famous incident when Giorgio Chinaglia had punched Cesar Romero -- the other young Paraguayan on the Cosmos -- in the face during a practice session. Something Giorgio never explained, something Cabanas said he didn’t understand.

Actually, it would have made more sense had it been Cabanas who Giorgio punched. Because there was a goalscorer’s rivalry between the two. Chinaglia was the Cosmos goalscorer without any doubt -- 193 goals in 213 games is a phenomenal total. Yet Chinaglia was getting along in years, and here was this young super-talented kid -- that same year of the scorpion goal, Cabanas had scored 25 goals to Chinaglia’s 18, and had won the NASL’s top scorer and MVP awards.

Years later, when the NASL and the Cosmos had disappeared, I summoned up the courage to ask Chinaglia whether he had ever felt threatened by Cabanas’s goalscoring feats. He didn’t answer. Not in words. Instead, I got a look of withering scorn, telling me, I think, that I was an idiot to imagine that he would be scared of a 22-year old kid.

I was surprised, disappointed really, that Cabanas didn’t go on to become a world-class star. He played for eight different clubs, including America de Cali and Boca Juniors. Always a fan favorite, always a goalscorer. He had his World Cup moment in 1986 when he scored twice, enabling Paraguay to tie Belgium, and ensuring passage to the next round. But the breakthrough to super-stardom never happened.

My memory of Cabanas is of the sturdiest sort, of a smiling young man who gave me (and no doubt a mass of others) immense pleasure whenever I saw him play, and who helped me to understand that there are mysterious dimensions to soccer that will never be understood by those who insist on analyzing the hell out of it with their accursed charts and diagrams and schemes and formations.

Thank you Roberto for giving us the magic, the joy -- and of course the beauty -- that are so important to the beautiful game.

  1. Fidel Colman
    commented on: January 12, 2017 at 4:23 p.m.
    Thanks for your kind words regarding Roberto Cabaña's passing Mr Gardner - I really enyoy your column on Soccer Talk and always look forward to reading them - Please keep up the great work
  1. dave shinn
    commented on: January 12, 2017 at 4:53 p.m.
    I remember seeing that goal live. I had never seen anything like it. It was so amazing. I was 7 years old. Could not believe what I had just seen. We were calling it a backwards bicycle kick. Great memories. Thank you and rip.
  1. Gonzalo Munevar
    commented on: January 13, 2017 at 12:05 a.m.
    A truly wonderful article. Thank you.
  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: January 13, 2017 at 10:37 a.m.
    I thought Rene Higuita's kick was called "donkey's kick."
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: January 13, 2017 at 7:07 p.m.
    I witnessed it with total amazement. RIP

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now



Recent SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner
Wenger must stay -- even the stats agree     
Arsene Wenger should stay. That's what I think. And I think that way because I respect ...
Violent Goalkeeping (Part 2): FIFA must radically rethink the goalkeeper's role    
Last time, I asked: "What action has soccer taken to at least reduce the incidence of ...
Violent Goalkeeping (Part 1): Players at risk as soccer ignores its own rules    
Goalkeepers, we are told, need protection. No doubt we all agree. Up to a point.
The triumphant return of Bruce Arena    
Well, take that Jurgen Klinsmann. Never at any time during his five years in charge of ...
MLS games compare well with EPL but referees in both leagues reluctant to call PKs    
During this past weekend, I watched -- on television, of course -- 15 games. Well, not ...
Of tattoos and voodoo and science ... and soccer    
My calendar says March 1. But, quite possibly, global warming has advanced things. The weather is ...
Suddenly, the sport itself rebels against low-scoring Scrooge soccer    
We haven't seen anything like this for quite a while. In fact it was beginning to ...
Pep snubs Kun -- modern soccer at its worst    
Back in 2005 the word from Argentina was that maybe -- of course maybe -- a ...
Where soccer fails, the NFL gets it right    
An impertinent book, this. The title and subtitle tell you succinctly what you are getting: "The ...
More urgent than Van Basten's rule changes: soccer needs a total reversal of referees' negative mindset    
The problem is this. To praise Marco van Basten for speaking out on a topic that ...
>> SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner Archives