David Trezeguet's ruthless finishing made him a memorable striker
Football is a game of fine margins, and few understand this better than French striker David Trezeguet, whose retirement from football was widely reported this week.
There's a tremendous symmetry about Trezeguet's high and low points of his career. Both came in major international finals, both came against the Italy national team -- the country where he spent his best years at Juventus during 2000-10 -- and both were utterly decisive.
One was a thumping drive into the top of the net, the other was a thumping drive against the crossbar. The first was a golden goal that won Euro 2000 for France, the second was the only miss of the World Cup 2006 Final penalty shootout. His left-footed winner sneaked under the bar by centimetres, his right-footed miss failed by millimeters.
The penalty miss in 2006 felt particularly cruel considering Zinedine Zidane had earlier seen his chipped penalty hit the bar, narrowly cross the goal line, then spin out. Both compared to Zidane's attempt, and Trezeguet's goal six years earlier, the difference between success and failure felt astonishingly tight. Considering Trezeguet had also missed a penalty in the European Cup final three years earlier, it was incredibly cruel.
If the word "symmetry" applies to Trezeguet's best and worst moments, it also applies neatly to his finishing ability. It's extremely rare to find a striker so adept at striking the ball using both his left and his right foot, to the extent that it was often difficult to work out which Trezeguet preferred. Clearly, the fact he took penalties with his right indicated that side was better, but in his first couple of seasons at Juve he actually scored more with his left, and his head.
Eventually he came to depend more upon his right, and of his Serie A goals, he scored 57 with his right foot, 31 with his left, and 35 with his head. It's an impressive balance few others can match, and when watching Trezeguet's goals in quick succession, it's almost as if he doesn't understand completely understand which is his better side. So many were awkwardly-struck close-range finishes, sometimes going with the outside of his boot, or the foot you don't expect. Perhaps that's part of the secret: because his finishing was so unpredictable, goalkeepers found him difficult to read.
The true beauty of being so capable in all three areas, though, was Trezeguet's ability to strike the ball first-time, generally in the air. Trezeguet was not a particularly talented all-round footballer; his link play wasn't impressive, other than when exchanging quick passes with his strike partner and sometimes his first touch let him down, half-controlling the ball slightly behind him.
When he could strike instantly, though, he was ruthless -- and in the manner of Mark Hughes or Radamel Falcao, Trezeguet was an expert at contorting his body into a strange shape, often falling backwards or sideways. The Euro 2000 winner was a good example -- from behind, his body shape appears ludicrous, and having stuck the ball his left arm ends up in the most unusual position. Nevertheless, it produced a remarkably clean strike - with his "wrong" foot, remember.
Trezeguet's celebration became something of a trademark -- shirt off, huge smile -- and there was a wonderful joyfulness about his game. It's difficult to remember many unsavoury incidents, on or off the pitch, and in fact it's hard to recall anything about Trezeguet whatsoever, other than his penchant for banging in the goals.
That is what made him enjoyable: there was no narrative running through his career, he didn't seek the limelight like, say, David Beckham, he wasn't an entertainer like Ronaldinho and he wasn't a loudmouth like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. You wouldn't hear of Trezeguet for six months, then you'd happen to watch a Juventus game and he was still leading the line. You wouldn't see him for 80 minutes but would then thump in the winner.
For a decade, Trezeguet had a goal ratio of at least one-in-two games, and in 2001-02 won the Capocannoniere as Serie A's joint-top goalscorer alongside Dario Hubner with 24 goals, as well as Serie A's Footballer of the Year award, at a time when Italy was packed with legends.
Trezeguet was released by Juventus in 2010, before enjoying a wonderfully varied finale to his career. There were the paydays, certainly -- he briefly played in the Arabian Gulf League for Baniyas, and recently turned out in the Indian Super League for Pune City. But Trezeguet also enjoyed two highly eventful adventures in major leagues, with very different results.
The first came with Hercules in La Liga for their 2010-11 seasons. Hercules had spent just one of their previous 20 campaigns in the top division, and have since sunk to the third tier of Spanish football, their natural habitat.
But Trezeguet helped them record perhaps the most incredible result of the past half-decade when they visited the Camp Nou early in the campaign and defeated Barcelona, at their peak under Pep Guardiola, in a 2-0 result. Trezeguet helped make Hercules formidable at home, and scored in victories over Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Levante, Atletico Madrid, Malaga and Real Zaragoza, clubs with much greater histories than Hercules. Sadly, the campaign ended in relegation.
Another surprise move was to come. Trezeguet fulfilled a lifelong dream by signing for River Plate. He'd grown up in Buenos Aires where his father, Jorge, played professionally -- and while he was born in France, he didn't speak French when he joined Monaco in 1995, where he struck up a close friendship with a young Thierry Henry. Argentina was Trezeguet's country, and River were his team -- he once said that Marcelo Gallardo and Marcello Salas, future teammates at Monaco and Juventus respectively, were like heroes to him having starred for River.
The amazing thing was that River were in the second division, following their shock relegation but Trezeguet didn't care. At the end of the season, he fired both goals in the 2-0 win over Almirante Brown, which sealed their return to the top-flight. Mission complete -- and while he played on for two more seasons, that was a brilliantly unique way to wrap up a wonderful career. Oddly, it was the second time he'd won a second division, having done so with Juventus in 2006-07 following their Calciopoli demotion.
"As I left Argentina so young, I wanted to discover more about its football," he said in an interview with FIFA.com in 2012. "It's been a powerful and interesting discovery, an important step in my career and also a unique and very rich experience.
"I've got a lot of affection for the people at River and I think it's mutual. The fans quickly understood that I came here hoping to play football...I've always been Argentinian at heart and I've always been very fond of its football." He later became River's captain.
Trezeguet might not be remembered as a true footballing great, maybe not even a French football great.
Of the 1998 World Cup winners, he didn't have the swagger of Thierry Henry or the mystique of Zinedine Zidane, the character of Marcel Desailly or the ambition of Lillian Thuram. But what a story: the ultimate high, the ultimate low, playing in three continents and winning promotion for his boyhood club, all while maintaining a gloriously low profile. For better or for worse, few have provided moments quite like Trezeguet.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.