Many recent films have touched upon the hypothesis regarding choice and the huge ramifications it can have on not only a life – but all across the globe.
In dystopian epic The Matrix Reloaded, Keanu Reeves’s mono-syllabic character Neo summed it up perfectly when in his signature monotone delivery, he uttered, “the problem is choice.”
Choice changes every path we take. The choice you made to grab some cereal before rushing to work changes your whole day, from the train you take to the people you meet. Choice is a chaotic animal that lords above every facet of your life.
In amongst the unruly though, certain phenomenon occur. These anomalies crop up in the form of parallels and correlations, and most of these fly past our vision with nary a batted eyelid. Perhaps this is because the minutiae of day to day routine isn’t enough to shake us from our reverie, but I think it is due to the occasion not being grand enough. If it were to happen on a scale so large that millions were affected, then we would all see it and gasp with wonder, no?
The place? Villa Park, April 1999, and Old Trafford in September of 2003.
Both games featured the same teams – Arsenal and Manchester United.
Both games saw red cards.
Both games hinged dramatically on a penalty.
Both penalties were taken by Dutchmen.
Both spot-kicks were missed.
Both incidents occurred in the dying embers of the games.
In 1999, it was injury time in the FA Cup Semi-Final replay between the Gunners and United. The first leg saw both sides unable to break the deadlock, but the replay saw David Beckham crack the resolute Arsenal defence with a 25yrd curler that left the outstretched Seaman with no chance. Not to be undone, Dennis Bergkamp restored parity with a long range shot that nicked a deflection and saw its way past Schmeichel. Plenty of chances later, but both outfits were so evenly matched that it was always going to go the wire.
No one told Phill Neville though. Ray Parlour received the ball just outside the box and took on Neville, and as Parlour darted past him, a swinging leg took down the Romford Pele, to win a penalty that would surely see Arsenal into a second final in two years.
In 1999, Bergkamp was one of the finest players in the stratosphere, never mind the Premier League. As he stepped up to the spot, confidence was high that this would make the net bulge and give Wenger’s men the victory that both teams had fought so valiantly for.
Peter Schmeichel, bedecked in brilliant green, stood between Arsenal and progress. Little did he know though, that the save he was about to make would also be the foundation from which United would go on to achieve an unrivalled set of silverware.
Bergkamp hit it to Schmeichel’s left, and that was the direction that the Dane had guessed. Minutes later and Arsenal had been left with the bill as Ryan Giggs, chest rug and all, rewrote the match – and history.
To Old Trafford in September 2003.
Arsenal had finished runners up cruelly the previous season, and the team had started the season convincingly. No matter how well they had been playing though, a visit to the home of United was always the toughest venue – and the game both sets of players looked forward to.
This game had chances as did the cup game in ’99, but there was no goals scored. Where there was a dearth of goals, there was ample aggro. United’s goal-getting frontman Ruud Van Nistelrooy was no stranger to histrionics, and his playacting and gamesmanship was irking the Gunners.
It all came to the boil when Van Nistelrooy clambered all over Patrick Vieira for a header, and ended up rolling off of the Frenchmans shoulders, sending Vieira tumbling. No free-kick from the referee, but Vieira wanted to dish out his own brand of justice, and a petulant flick of the leg went in the direction of the Dutchman.
The leg was at least a metre away from touching him, but Van Nistelrooy’s reaction provoked the referee to send of Vieira. A tumultuous gathering of players venting aggression and a few minutes later, order resumed.
The game went on and in the last minutes of the match, a ball came into the box. Martin Keown was marking Diego Forlan tightly, and both men went down to the floor. The referee instantly blew for a penalty, and it was panto villain Van Nistelrooy who stepped up.
The tension was palpable, and the Dutchman must’ve felt it too, as he smacked the ball hard against the crossbar. Some say the woodwork still wobbles to this day…..
Take a second to think about what was at stake for a single kick of the ball.
The Treble of ’99, and the Invincible season.
Both would never have occurred if it was a different penalty taker, if the chosen men had instead aimed for a different area of the goal. What about if the referee had refused to point to the spot in each game?
From such little decisions, massive consequences happen.
It beggars belief how many tangents can be visualised with every alternate choice, and if string theory is indeed true – then in each parallel universe we would have both Dutchmen celebrating, taking, not taking, and missing the penalties. That in turn leads to different winners of each trophy and the lustrous gold Premiership trophy never being made.
All because Dennis Bergkamp chose to kick his penalty to the right, and Van Nistelrooy high in the goal.
The problem is choice……