Real Madrid’s David Alaba came on as a 74th-minute substitute for left-back Ferland Mendy against Almería on Sunday, with the match tied 1-1. Plucky Almería had snatched an early lead against their sleepwalking guests, but by the three-quarter mark they’d been hanging on for dear life for half-an-hour straight on increasingly dead-looking legs. Rodrigo Ely had just stopped a nifty Madrid attacking move by fouling Luka Modric in a dangerous area: a few yards beyond the edge of the Alméria box, a few yards to the right of center, well within shooting range.
Then a cool thing happened: Toni Kroos, one of the world’s great set-piece takers, deferred to the left-footed Alaba—normally a central defender who, again, had literally just walked onto the pitch, after a few hours of not playing soccer—for the kick. The English-language ESPN play-by-play guy was right in the middle of noting that this would be Alaba’s first touch of the game when Alaba did this with that touch:
He had not even had occasion to jog yet, after coming onto the pitch. Alaba literally just walked out there during a dead ball, walked over to the free-kick spot, and scored what turned out to be the match-winning goal the first time he made contact with the ball. Look at the hook on that sucker. Look at the speed! I really must emphasize again that the fellow had not touched the soccer ball prior to this.
Alaba came up as a midfielder years ago, before converting to defense; his remarkable versatility is part of what makes him special. So is his rocket-launcher left foot. It announced its presence in La Liga last season, in an otherwise miserable and unmemorable El Clásico, when it did this to the then-imploding Catalans in their own building:
So maybe if you had to predict which of the world’s big defense guys would stroll into a game in the 74th minute, after a foul, and immediately whip in the game-winning free-kick before live play had even resumed, you might think to pick Alaba. But before you did, you would say I predict that no defender will do that, c’mon, don’t be ridiculous right now.
Correct for the somewhat less glamorous occasion—this was lil’ Alméria’s first game in Spain’s top division since 2015—and Sunday’s free-kick goal is, to me, just as impressive as the inside-out blast against Barcelona. Walking directly off of the bench in the 74th minute, being like I got this to one of the world’s best free-kick takers, and hooking in the match winner on your very first touch, man … this is pretty much exactly like me sitting down on Sunday night, opening the laptop, and immediately writing this blog for Monday morning. With zero blog reps in the whole weekend before that! After having done nothing but watch TV for the previous several hours! The kind of person who can do something like that—David Alaba, that is to say, and few others, of whom one is me—lemme tell you, buddy, that kind of person is the real deal.
Are David Alaba and I equally heroic, equally Herculean, because of these identical feats—him blasting in the perfect free-kick match-winning goal on his first touch after entering the affair; me writing a blog—that unite us and attest equally to our skill and professionalism? Let history be the judge. (History says that we are, it just told me so.)