Cristiano Ronaldo's bicycle kick: Practice makes perfect
For a minute the Juventus Stadium in Turin, Italy, forgot about the woe that would follow. Forty-one thousand spectators rose to their feet and applauded a spectacular piece of skill from the enemy. At that moment, it was more important to recognise art than lament failure.
Cristiano Ronaldo's majestic bicycle-kick can be described by much more eloquent, fanciful, and compelling writers. Although perfect sums it up for me, that isn't the point of this article. Five hundred words on technique, the strength and coordination in the spring that preceded the scissor motion that thrust the ball past a static, helpless, stunned Gianluigi Buffon, who himself had just made a monstrous save, can be reserved for the real writers.
As Ronaldo saluted himself in that staple statue pose, and then the Juventus fans he suddenly realised were applauding rather than jeering him, my initial amazement navigated from astonishment to reflection. To pull off such an audacious move, to execute it with such unpreventable accuracy, under the intense scrutiny of millions worldwide: how does one do it?
This effort wasn't a fanciful attempt in a low-pressure environment; a way to entertain oneself in a hum-drum La Liga drubbing, as a collection of Ronaldo golazos has been compiled. This try was in a Champions League quarter-final, a rematch against last season's other finalist, with the looming spectre of a season without significance if victory was not achieved, because Madrid sit third in La Liga, 13 hopeless points behind Barcelona.
Conviction drove this bicycle kick. Belief that now was the time. That this was the moment. So many attempts are consigned to memory's trash bin because there is only hope. Through belief, Ronaldo has become a player who knows his abilities. Call it arrogance, superciliousness, contempt, condescension. Without that imperious personality, the footballing community would not have been reminded how the beautiful game can truly, and forgive my pretention, be an art.
The thought probably occurred because I am reading Mathew Syed's 'Black Box Thinking', an investigation into how we learn from failure. Syed asserts that "the paradox of success is that it emerges from the ruins of failure." This maxim offers an invitation into the world of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.
The video below contains many, if not all, the Portuguese's failed attempts to pull the move off during a match. Thanks, Mr Real Madrid 7 CR, whoever you are. It demonstrates how Ronaldo is an archetype in learning from failure. Time and time again, the Portuguese's attempts collapse into obscurity. There is some success, granted, but he fails more often than not.
Some would be reticent to keep embarrassing themselves. Failure exacts a price before it rewards. Most people accept they cannot do something. Not Ronaldo. Perhaps vanity motivates him to produce the perfect spectacle, but who cares? Van Gogh cut off his ear for his art.
Artificial intelligence in computers is a product of constant alterations. Not burdened by embarrassment or pride, machines can fail, and fail again, repeatedly until they find the path to success. Computers have an infinite resource for failure: producing thousands of algorithms, lines of code, formulae. Our smart devices fail so they can eventually create workable software. It's trial and error taken to an extreme most humans cannot endure.
It's a process of relentless adjustment. Artificially intelligent machines can beat humans at century-old games precisely because they have trialled all the different scenarios, experienced myriad failures and, crucially, learnt from them.
People already consider the Real Madrid and Manchester United legend to be artificial. Now it's just confirmed that he is intelligent, and a machine. So, if you wish, you can still hate him for being so great. But you can bet he has reviewed every insufficient bicycle-kick, analysed it, sought to subtly change his technique, then practised it, time and again, until he found the method that worked. That's how Cristiano Ronaldo did it, in a cauldron of intimidation, on one of the biggest stages in football. It was the most inflated ego in at least the footballing world enduring more failure than most humans can bear.