The ultimate YouTube footballer?

One of the minor tragedies in the life of Italian midfielder and water polo legend Luigi Burlando is that YouTube hadn’t been invented when he was in his heyday.

If this online archive of the great, good and compellingly weird had existed in the 1920s, Burlando would be a household name because he is probably the only player to score with a header for Italy – from 45 yards.

Burlando played 17 games for the Azzurri and scored just once – that remarkable headed strike in Italy’s 4-2 win over Belgium in May 1922.

Reproduced today, that feat would surely make him the ultimate YouTube footballer.

Many footballers are now described as “a YouTube player” but what does it mean?

Gary Parkinson, who edits the network, defined this phenomenon perfectly in an email the other day:

“Players who have enough eye-catching moments to fill a YouTube clip show but are, in fact, pants. In Bolton, such a player is known as a ‘Daniel Braaten’.”

The quest to identify the ultimate YouTube footballer reached FourFourTwo on Twitter where Oftd pointed out that this phenomenon has pedigree:

“This is the contemporary equivalent of the Championship Manager player – Cheron Samba’s going to be the best striker in the world.”

When he was 13, Samba had a fair shot at becoming the world’s best striker. The Gambian prodigy had just scored 132 goals in 32 games.

But his career nosedived after Millwall spurned a £1.5 million bid from Liverpool and his subsequent meandering progress around Europe  – ending up on trial at Portsmouth after spells at Cadiz, Malaga, Plymouth Argyle, Wrexham, FC Haka (in Finland) and Millwall reserves – has, as far as the stats can be confirmed, yielded just one first team goal.

The Guardian analysed his spectacular fall from grace in 2005 and, though he’s changed clubs since, their piece still conveys the essence of his story.

Ali Dia, the man who wasn’t a cousin of George Weah, may be, as twitterer bicyclekicks suggested in his tweet, the patron saint of YouTube footballers.

His “Bambi on ice” cameo for Southampton against Leeds is faithfully preserved here where, after 45 seconds, the clip cuts to the footage that proves he was “Dia by name, dire by nature.”

But Dia’s pantomime antics give the game away too easily.

There’s no glorious promise to beguile us, as there is with Kerlon (thanks to jakepjohnson for the suggestion) whose seal dribbling antics have earned the 20-year-old Brazilian a loan to Ajax.

I did consider Oleg Salenko, still the only player to score five goals in one World Cup game, as a candidate for this dubious honour.

But after watching his goals against Cameroon at USA 94, I was more struck by the naivety of the defending than by the Russian’s ruthless finishing.

Salenko never scored in a full international either before or after the 1994 World Cup.

Osvaldo, the Argentine-born striker who has broken into the Italian U21 team and now plays up front for Bologna, but apart from a prolific 2006/07 for Lecce (banging in 18 goals in 31 games) isn’t pants.

But he is best known for this remarkable over-head kick in Fiorentina’s 1-0 win over Torino in May 2008.

Glorious isn’t it? This goal wasn’t just beautiful it was important, securing the Viola’s UEFA Champions League place in 2008/09.

But Osvaldo only scored four more for Fiorentina and joined Bologna this summer.

Birmingham City supporter sameboat suggests Carlos Costly, a name which, in my ignorance, I took to be a satirical play on Alan Sugar’s foreign mercenary Carlos Kickaball.

Having googled this fabulously named Honduran striker, I found a YouTube compilation which only lasts three minutes and 15 seconds.

It includes a minute of him running around the pitch looking chuffed, shows one goal – and the skilful build up by a team-mate – three times and features tantalising snippets of such stupendous feats as Costly chipping the ball in a team-mate’s general direction.

The Honduran may have been pants at St Andrews but he bagged six as his country qualified for their first World Cup since 1982 so next summer the world can judge for themselves.

Do suggest your own YouTube stars but, for me, the ultimate YouTube footballer whose most eye-catching moments are preserved online is Obafemi Martins.

If a football match was the duration of the typical YouTube clip, the Nigerian striker would be as great as Pele.

His strikes against Reggina and Ireland are mesmerising glimpses of a talent that waxes and wanes as if he was a poet in intermittent touch with his muse.

Still, even coaches, who do this for a living, have failed to solve the mystery of talent.

Until they do, we can all watch every game, hovering between expectation and disappointment, sustained by the hope that this is going to be the one when we see something – maybe even a headed goal from 50 yards? – we will remember for the rest of our lives.

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