Anatomy of an own goal: Jefferson Lerma. - (2021)
There is arguably no bigger lie in football than “that’s the last thing we want to see”.
Whether it takes the form of a petty scrap on the pitch or an individual error, the next best thing to seeing your own team succeed is seeing others fail.
As failures go, the comedy own goal ranks about as highly as they come. It’s a chance to see an opposition player embarrassed in a manner which can stay with them for weeks, with none of the guilt of witnessing them suffer any physical pain.
Speaking of inflicting physical pain, Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma is certainly making an impression in his first Premier League season. The Colombian midfielder, who stayed out of the book during his appearance against England at the World Cup, has committed 17 fouls and picked up five yellow cards in his first 10 Premier League appearances.
Only Watford’s José Holebas can beat him in the latter category, marking Lerma out as the sort of player you’d be keen to have on your side when you need to break up play and interrupt the opposition’s rhythm.
He’s been a little less influential in front of goal, but came close against Arsenal with a shot from range which bounced back off the post. That wasn’t the highlight of his performance on Sunday afternoon, though – own goals override any other discussion points, and Lerma’s was a cracker.
Lerma’s interception was done with the best of intentions, but that hardly matters in the grander scheme of things. As Sead Kolasinac plays a ball across the Bournemouth penalty area, the midfielder knows he needs to cut out the danger, but at the same time he knows it’ll take a monumental effort to do so.
No bother, though. Lerma is an intelligent midfielder in the best physical shape of his life. He has both the wherewithal and the athleticism to throw himself towards the ball in the most efficient way, ensuring it doesn’t reach an Arsenal boot. What happens, however, is a pure encapsulation of the phrase “no, not like that!”
He measures his flight perfectly, getting as sweet a connection on the ball as he could possibly hope for. The idea of scoring a goal an opposition striker would be proud of is a cliché, but in this case it undoubtedly applies.
It’s like sprinting for a train and jumping on just before the doors close, only to realise five minutes later that it isn’t scheduled to stop at your station. You begin by wanting everyone to marvel at your grand achievement, before realising you’d much rather be invisible.
With great power comes great responsibility, and when you’re good enough to pull off a flying volley your only concern is ensuring it flies the way you’re aiming. In no uncertain terms, this was the last thing Lerma wanted to happen.
As the Arsenal players peel away in celebration, in the semi-muted way we only ever see after own goals, we can glimpse Steve Cook in the corner of the frame, shaking his head and trudging away.
It might seem as though the Bournemouth centre-back is lamenting his team-mate’s misfortune, but in fact he’s simply embarking on a display of dejected introspection.
Cook is more than three years older than Lerma, and it’s at this moment, even with the ball nestled in the back of Asmir Begović’s net, that he realises his days of flying volleys have come and gone – if they were ever there at all. Sure, the centre-back is temporarily feeling less shame than his younger colleague, but at what cost?
Lerma, meanwhile, has at least done one thing right. In diving in feet-first, his finishing position will leave him looking extremely suave if he succeeds in putting the ball out of play, allowing him to lie flat on his back, hands behind his head, admiring his handiwork from afar.
However, it also gives him a cop-out: on those occasions where he gets it wrong, his head and hands won’t have far to travel to meet in a display of despair. Oh, and it’s probably easier for the ground to swallow you up if your entire body is lain flat, as close to ground level as possible.
Jefferson Lerma might end up doing nothing else in his Premier League career, or he might achieve everything within his capabilities, but it will be some time before he’s able to outdo this own goal.
His best bet, for now, is to embrace it, and not let it stop him diving in to make extravagant interceptions going forward. After all, what are the chances it happens again?
(Tom Victor of thesetpieces.com).
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