Commentary

Alberto's goal was the final note of a classy symphony

Carlos Alberto scored arguably the most beautiful goal in the history of football.

It wasn't a free kick from the edge of the area or an overhead strike of the kind that Wayne Rooney scored for Manchester United against cross-city rivals Manchester City, causing meltdown on social media in February 2011, or a piece of individual brilliance that we witnessed when Diego Maradona subdued a valiant England side in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals.

No, this was a goal born of team dynamics of the kind that Alberto loved so dearly.

The Alberto goal was, in that sense, a metaphor. It was not about the individual actions of those who touched the ball on its journey across the pitch.

The captain of the most flamboyant and joyful team in the game provided merely the last touch, the final note of the symphony, the last brush stroke in a masterpiece of such intricacy and wonder that it bears watching again and again.

On Tuesday (the day Alberto died), it brought tears to my eyes, as I reflected not just on the majesty of that team, but the joy they brought to so many.

Pele, who caressed the final lay-off to Alberto, christened football "the beautiful game," an epithet that has been ridiculed rather a lot over the years.

But I defy anyone to do so while reflecting upon the music and magic of that (1970) Brazilian team.

It wasn't just the passion and the daring. It wasn't just the skill and feeling that - even while carrying the weight of expectation of a nation and the pressure of contesting a World Cup - they were enjoying themselves.

No, it was the subversive sense that these individuals were knitted together by something more than team spirit, something more even than patriotism. They exuded a collective intelligence that defines greatness.

Alberto, born into poverty in Rio de Janeiro, that great incubator of legendary footballers, exuded passion for the game from a young age.

He joined Fluminense at 19 and captured instant attention for his intelligence, reading of the game and cerebral use of space.

Above all, he had that rare capacity to enhance those around him, knowing when to bring them into play and provide them with cover. He also knew when to dash forward to support an attack.

Pele's lay-off (after a sequence of Brazilian passes against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final) was almost, but not quite, flippant.

So certain was he of the velocity of Alberto's approach that he scarcely looked up, dabbing the ball on the diagonal as the Italian defensive unit realised that they hadn't contemplated an overlap.

The ball bobbled at the precise moment that Alberto's boot reached it, as if the footballing gods were teeing it up for posterity. The rest is history.

You cannot understand a symphony through an analysis of its individual notes, but only by confronting it as a living whole.

In the same way, the greatest teams and organisations (and perhaps even nation states) can only be comprehended by appreciating the collaboration and empathy by which they excel.

The Alberto goal was, in that sense, a metaphor. It was not about the individual actions of those who touched the ball on its journey across the pitch.

Indeed, there were no mesmerising detonations of skill or silky step-overs, with the one exception of the cameo by Clodoaldo.

Instead, there were short passes, gentle touches and well executed lay-offs. In totality, however, you glimpse an unfolding symphony of movement and mastery.

"We only realised how beautiful the goal was after the game," Alberto would say years later, shaking his head with humble disbelief. "The emotion, of course, when I scored was incredible.

"But after the game, and still today, I realise how beautiful and how important that goal was because everybody is still talking about it."

We still are, Carlos. And we always shall.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Alberto's goal was the final note of a classy symphony'. Print Edition | Subscribe