I could have written to Gazza for Wembley 1996 but I didn’t. The bleach blonde genius killed off my team’s hopes in a tournament they were never going to win anyway, and although I still can’t bring myself to watch that goal even ten years on, what you did was worse, far worse.
I know I would have done the same thing had I been in your position, but did you really think of the consequences when you swivelled on the six-yard line that sweltering Spanish afternoon 25 years ago? As Tardelli’s mishit shot came to you didn’t you stop and think that what you were about to do would change the beautiful game forever and sound a death knell for all-out attacking football? You see, Paolo, when you scored that third goal you knocked out the coolest, most swaggeringly brilliant team I’ve ever seen, and I’m never going to forgive you for it.
Now I know you were looking for a little personal redemption after they accused of things you said you didn’t do, and I know you did the world a favour by stopping Schumacher and co in the final, but Brazil would have done that anyway, and more gracefully, more sophisticatedly and more beautifully than you and your team-mates did. And I know Careca, Zico and the class of 86 had their moments, but it wasn’t the same. Something died that day in Barcelona, and you with your pitiless goalscorer’s instinct killed it.
Zico has since said that if Brazil had won, football would have changed. But he was wrong. If Brazil had won, football wouldn’t have changed. They would have carried on playing with the same fabulous, attack-minded approach instead of gradually sinking into a lamentable, win-at-all-costs mindset.
Perhaps I shouldn’t try and pin their near-criminal waste of talent in Germany last summer on you, and you weren’t directly responsible for team selection or tactics when the boys in yellow and green bored their way to World Cup glory in 1994. But if it hadn’t have been for you Paolo, it would have been much harder for philistines like Parreira to get the Brazil job. You see, they think it’s their duty to win the World Cup for their country no matter what, but they’re wrong. Brazil are the custodians of the world game. When they start playing 4-5-1 you know football as a spectacle is over. You can do it, Greece can do it but the Brazilians can’t. Don’t you see that? Couldn’t you see what it had come to when we all cheered as Henry’s volley hit the back of the net?
I’ve watched your goal time and again over the years and I keep hoping you shank it wide or miss the ball completely. You never do though. In it goes, over and over again, like a nail driving into a coffin.Perhaps the wheel will turn full circle and a brave new generation will emerge to carry Socrates’s torch. I’m not holding out much hope though. I wish I didn’t blame you, you were just doing your job after all. But I keep coming back to the same thing; if only you hadn’t scored.