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Soup of This Day #358: Better Run Faster Than My Bullet

January 31, 2014

Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, contains the minced innards of a sheep, which are stuffed into the stomach of the afore-mentioned sheep, along with some other ingredients, such as the spice nutmeg. The whole is then boiled, with the resultant savoury pudding either being eaten, or tossed from the top of a whisky barrel. The latter is a sport called haggis hurling, and it involves 500g puddings being thrown as far as possible without bursting. That last bit is crucial as it allows spectators to then eat the haggis. Imagine if we did that in football – Photo: zoonabar, 2006. zoonabar is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

There’s this move that you can make on a football (soccer) pitch that can be particularly inflammatory.

No, not twerking, although now that I think about it, that would inflame things a little.

What I’m thinking of though, is a genuine football move, a manoeuvre that aims to put the user and the ball into a better space on the pitch. Which reads good, but this tactical gain comes with a helping of humiliation for the immediate opponent. Which may also read good to those who like to practice psychological warfare out there, however there is a substantial cost attached.

Nobody likes a show-off and so the folk who routinely attempt this move in public will be shunned by all – Opponents, teammates, friends, friends not met yet, family and even the family dog. Yep, a human’s best friend will cover it’s doggy eyes with it’s doggy paws and the person it used to bring slippers to will be dead to it.

Like the tale of Old Yeller in reverse. If Old Yeller had slippers brought to him by Travis.

If me mentioning Old Yeller brings tears to your eyes then I’m sorry, but that’s how serious this move is and you need to understand that before I tell you about it – Basically, you’re stealing Old Yeller’s slippers every time you pull this technique off.

I’ve always known the offending manoeuvre as a ‘nutmeg’.

There are many theories as to why it’s called that and none of them are particularly verifiable. All you need to know is that however you label it, this manoeuvre will make somebody look foolish.

In theory it is quite simple – Suppose that you have the ball at your feet. In front of you and blocking your preferred direction of travel is an opponent. This opponent is facing you and is watching the ball. So you feint, with the ball, to your left, and then quickly feint back to the right. The opponent steps to block the ball in both directions, leaving their legs akimbo, and a resultant tunnel.

For the ball only.

You take that opportunity, flicking the ball through that tunnel and then using your forward momentum to dart around the opponent, who is now hampered by facing the wrong way. You collect the ball on the other side and your opponent is now handily behind you. Sure they could turn and chase but you’ve got a sizeable head-start and they’ve now got self-esteem issues.

That’s it in a nutmegshell. There are many variations of this recipe but they all have the same basic ingredients – Legs akimbo and ball through said akimbo legs. And the resultant dish will satisfy in the immediate future if baked right.

It is however, in strict football terms, a high risk manoeuvre. Defenders are often awake to it and they will not be willingly standing legs akimbo just so you can smugly slide a ball through. Mostly they will be backing away from you and with their body angled slightly askance, giving them the chance to turn and chase if you do find a way past. Their feet will also be moving quickly, almost dancing in place and never committing to a single position, because that static stance could quickly be worked out and compromised. All of this, the back-pedalling, the narrow body angle and the dancing feet will make it hard to nutmeg – Most likely instead they will be corralling you, forcing you in to channels out wide and where your options decrease.

Where you might be forced to try something desperate, such as a nutmeg, and if so, you face the likely outcome of the ball squirting free. Worse, the ball will often rebound off to the defender’s convenience while you will be carried forward by habit and momentum to collect thin air. So your opponent has the ball and is already advancing away from you. Your recipe entailing nutmeg has become 1 involving a goose and yours has been cooked.

That latter outcome is a common 1 – Which explains why many nutmegs are not planned with much forethought – They’re too risky and so occur as spur-of-the moment actions – A sort of intuitive and happy coincidence. Don’t be fooled though – An unintentional nutmeg is still humiliating and, if you do succeed with 1, at the next dead ball situation it’s best to give an apologetic pat or handshake to the victim of your good fortune.

Like this example from the training ground of Spanish side Real Madrid:

A quick acknowledgement can soothe any hurt feelings.

Yep, that happened on the training ground between 2 guys on the same side. Even so there is still the chance of a serious bust-up occurring out of this nutmeg. Fortunately both players are experienced pros – The nutmegger is former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso, whose silky passing skills are legendary. The nutmeggee is the former French international (and now assistant coach at Real) Zinedine Zidane. Both have extensive football resumes and so both have progressed through their careers with the mental maturity to calmly and peacefully manage their reactions to any kind of provocation.

Except that 1 time Zidane head-butted an Italian player in the 2006 World Cup Final. The Italian did say stuff about his sister though.

He wasn’t nutmegged then though, which would have been worse, and so as the video above was from 2013 then we can say that he has certainly grown as an individual.

As have I.

Yeah, I used to nutmeg opponents – It was 1 of my moves. In truth, for a time there it was my only move and I’d deploy it ad nauseam. Fortunately I never nutmegged anyone in public, at least not intentionally. What I did do was to use it on Brother of Longworth72 in the front-yard games we’d play.

And because we were playing pick-up football 1-on-1, I’d use it every single time I attacked. Maybe because it was repetitive, maybe because I wasn’t very good at it, or maybe because the ball was usually flat, it didn’t work the majority of the time.

That didn’t matter. I just kept at it. I kept at it so much that we could finish a game with a scoreline that read something like 86-84 and because our makeshift pitch was so small, every 1 of my 86 goals would have come from a successful nutmeg.

Brother of Longworth72 didn’t seem to mind – He was, and still is, an amiable sort not prone to histrionics or allowing something like a missed block to cruel his day. Plus, I was always apologetic about it. Even so, I learned in those yard kick-arounds, that nutmegging opponents was not cool.

Old Yeller (or Barney the Kelpie, as we knew him) would have been proud.

Better Run Faster Than My Bullet

  1. Seeing that pic of haggis didn’t have me twerking…but it did have me…well, let’s just say I stomached the whole experience and all remains well. I also now have a new definition for nutmeg. I’ll be keeping an eye out for nutmeg abusers and calling them out when applicable.

  2. I’ve always wanted to try haggis but the appearance has not motivated me – Yet. Mostly it made it into this post as a belated tribute to the poet Robbie Burns – The 25th of January is Burns Night and a recitation of his ‘Address to Haggis’ is accompanied by the consumption of haggis – I’ve got it on the calendar for next year.

  3. And let it be known my father’s name was Robert Burns. He did not write or read poetry…and I am fairly certain he never ate haggis. None of this is relevant to the post of course but being a Burns I am all in favor of a “Burns Night.”

  4. Then I shall raise a toast to all Burns as I consume my haggis next January, with particular reference to you and yours.

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