Roma striker Osvaldo's work of art stolen

One blustery spring morning a few years ago I was strolling through Milan's art district Brera. It happened to be the third Sunday of the month, and the market stalls were out on the streets selling their wares. I wasn't looking for anything in particular but that's usually when you stumble upon something special.

In a damp cardboard box on an antiques stand were a number of dog-eared Panini albums, about 30 in total. Each of them had been painstakingly completed by the man on the stall. He wanted €50 for the set, a price I considered to be a bargain considering the sentimental value they might have held. So we shook hands and I spent a train ride back to Rome that evening leafing through their contents.

The faces on the stickers change from season to season, and with them the styles of their shirts and hair, but one player has been on the front cover since 1965. His name is Carlo Parola. He won the Scudetto twice with Juventus, but that's not what he is famous for. He is famous for executing the perfect scissor kick in a game against Fiorentina on January 15, 1950.

Parola didn't score - he was clearing the ball from his own penalty area in the 80th minute of a goalless draw - but aesthetically, it was a thing of beauty, and as the crowd rose to their feet to give a standing ovation, the photographer Corrado Bianchi captured it from the byline. It would be used by the artist Wainer Vaccari as the basis of a commission from Panini to come up with a symbol for their albums.

Vaccari didn't need to do much, just paint his subject in a neutral football kit. It would feature on the front cover of more than 200 million copies printed worldwide, making Parola's iconic scissor kick immortal.

That image crossed my mind again while watching Roma play Lecce at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night. The hosts were showing glimpses of what a fine team they could become under Luis Enrique, opening the scoring in the 25th minute when Miralem Pjanic finished off a 16-pass move.

Things got even better early in the second half after Fernando Gago doubled their advantage with an angled shot into the bottom corner from outside the box. But when Lecce pulled one back through the midfielder Andrea Bertolacci – a superb young player currently on-loan from Roma - there was a suspicion that for all their dominance, a win might once again slip through their grasp.

Then in the 74th minute, it happened. Erik Lamela received a reverse pass from Francesco Totti. He swiveled and played in Gago on the right-hand side of the box. Gago crossed to the far post and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo was there waiting. As the ball curled away from him, he leaped. At that moment it was like Parola appeared again.

Osvaldo produced a scissor kick that was identical in its shape and in its form. But there was a key difference. The Roma striker scored. His shot fizzed into the top corner. It was the goal of the season. The Italy international striker wheeled away and as he knelt down to do his Batistuta inspired machine gun celebration, he saw the linesman holding up his flag for a non-existent offside. 

Crestfallen, he pulled his shirt over his head in disgust. So many emotions ran through his head and those of the Roma fans. After all, they have been here before. Disallowed goals have cost them the Scudetto in the past. Think of Ramon Turone on May 10, 1981.

Fortunately, Roma held on to win this time around and besides, this wasn’t about the scoreline. Before the game, the Curva Sud had unveiled a banner on which they showed their support for Enrique’s philosophy by writing on it: “Never slave to the result.”

No more so was that true than in this case. The result paled into insignificance. Everyone was talking about the injustice suffered by Osvaldo. “They have committed more than a mistake,” wrote Carmine Fotia in Il Romanista. “They have committed a murder. They have killed poetry. Or better, they have tried, because as happens with poets killed by dictatorships, the aura of their verses remains beyond mortal life.”

For me, the parallel lay elsewhere. When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, people queued to stare at the empty space on the wall where it had once hung.  And so it is with goals that are taken from us, from Karl-Heinze Rummenigge’s for Inter in the UEFA Cup against Rangers in 1984 to Michel Platini’s for Juventus in the Intercontinental Cup against Argentinos Juniors in 1985. They are each lost masterpieces that continue to hang in our minds.

Osvaldo’s is the latest exhibit to be added to the gallery, the goal that never was, but always will be.

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