While sports — football, in particular; Chelsea, specifically — are no longer happening, we can take time to remember that they indeed have happened. And also that some of what happened was extremely funny.
Because the normal pace of match/result/analysis/interview/injury update/next match is so furious, we didn’t adequately dissect just how funny some of these moments were. So in this series I will make up for this error, because I have the time, and my god do we all need to laugh.
People don’t get much better than Kurt Zouma. He’s kind, always laughing, with a smile that’s less a gesture and more an energy source. His middle name is even polite enough to drill home the hint for the more literal among us: ‘Happy’. In fact, there’s a decent chance that I’m about to decrease my life expectancy by making fun of Kurt Happy Zouma.
It will be worth it.
Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Ajax, which featured two own goals, one scored with a face, two penalties and a double red card for the same team, was the only appropriate stage for football to try its hand at improv. The following happening in any other Champions League match would’ve been like Mr. Bean having a scene in The Dark Knight.
Here is the time when some leftover bits of the spirit of Eden Hazard briefly infused into, and then swiftly vacated, Kurt Zouma.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Kurt Zouma is a large man, and large men doing anything spectacularly unlike their size, then immediately something spectacularly befitting of it, is hilarious. Like your uncle nailing the graceful and fluid approach of an Olympic high-diver, laying out a somersault half-twist, before losing control and plummeting into the backyard pool belly first with the whole family watching.
Ajax players’ size and refusal to get anywhere near Zouma also adds to the hilarity. Sure, getting in the way of a barreling Kurt Zouma doesn’t sound like much fun at all, but an entire team turning themselves into plastic G.I. Joe figures glued to the top of Roombas is a bit of an extreme way to cope. You can almost see every player he breezes by exhaling the words ‘Thank god, he’s someone else’s problem now.’
The stepovers serve as the final bit of overt world-building you need to understand the moment.
Until then, it’s just Kurt Zouma sprinting and pushing the ball away from wholly disinterested Ajax defenders. We’ve seen Zouma attempt stepovers before, they looked like this — (ed.note: to be fair, here’s a better one from Happy) — but against Ajax they were fluid and had the effect of a preset animation in FIFA20. The defender is so completely undone that he vacates a prime area of space at the top of the box, dead center with the goal. Zouma suddenly had nothing between him and glory except the whites of the keeper’s eyes ... and the expanse of space.
Noting the moment, Zouma chose space.
But given that the lid on this day’s calamity shaker was left unscrewed, lunar abuse was only the beginning. The whole thing became a lesson in quickfire slapstick comedy that they could teach in film schools:
- Zouma puts the ball into orbit
- a grown man is flipped into the air
- Zouma hides his face in shame
- the man in the air falls on top of Zouma’s legs
And then Frank Lampard laughs.
Most managers are compulsively obsessed with only the parts of a match in which they can yell or thrust a fist in the air. It would have been an egregious mis-appreciation for a manager to do anything but laugh, let alone manage. You’d have to be a monster to shout for Zouma to get back to his line.
Thankfully, whether Lampard laughed because his managerial career is too young to have inflicted him with perma-scowl, or because this would have broken any manager, he’s one of us.