One of the more light-hearted debates I’ve engaged in recently was around an issue that for many years has tugged away at me as a football lover. While sitting at an awkwardly silent pub on a Saturday afternoon, a fellow football fan and I watched a series of fixtures and picked up on a rather frustrating commonality that fuelled our conversation. We noticed how in every single one of those fixtures, a beautifully constructed attacking move was able to translate swiftly into a wasted opportunity or a goal kick, simply because the person tasked with finishing the move found himself on his ‘weaker foot’. A disgruntled viewer responded to the commentator’s “pity it landed on his weaker foot” comment by saying “He’s been playing football all his life, surely he needs to have learnt to use both feet by now”. I may be paraphrasing thanks to the potency of my pint of beer that day, but the man’s sentiment was pretty clear: players need to be able to play with both feet.
This sparked memories of a time when all young kids wanted to do was to “Bend it like Beckham”, when that one man’s right foot had the respect and envy of all within the footballing world. Then I thought about how many right footed free kicks, stoppage time volleys and stunning long-range efforts I’ve seen the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho, Eden Hazard, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Yaya Toure, Oscar, Paul Pogba, and Cristiano Ronaldo score. These players became household names just by having pieces of gold stuck in their right foot. You look at the passing prowess of Paul Scholes, Xavi Hernandez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luka Modric, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso and the likes, and you start to think that man was just too drunk to have a point. I chuckled as I reflected fondly on a game where fellow teammates started to celebrate even before Cristiano Ronaldo took his shot, simply because they were that certain of the purity of the class trapped in that right foot. You can always count on these players to play a 40 yard diagonal when needed or to deliver quality balls into the box consistently, or to offend the net with a 35 yard shot of ambition, but in most cases it’s unlikely, and even unfair perhaps, to expect the same results off their left foot. It’s often frustrating and a little embarrassing when they do try to emulate their right footed exploits with their left, and for coaches, it’s sometimes costly too.
On the other hand, or the other foot as it were, the likes of Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale, Roberto Carlos, Juan Mata, David Silva, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie have over the years shown that the left foot too has gold trapping capabilities, having dazzled crowds with absolute pieces of magic over the years. If you think of the Raul Gonzalez’ and the Lukas Podolski’s, then reminisce on the Cristian Atsu Afcon goal of the tournament and James Rodrigues’ world cup strike, and you couple that with Angel Di Maria, Leighton Baines, Ryan Giggs and Mesut Ozil’s left footed brilliance, you have a list that is enough to confirm that there is plenty of merit in having bags of quality on the left foot. Lefties have become masters at close control, short passing and in cases like Podolski, Van Persie, and Hulk, shot power that keepers get night sweats over. But flashbacks of how many times you’ve seen Arjen Robben cut in, and how many times Juan Mata couldn’t make a pass in time because he had to turn like an 18 wheeler lorry to get the ball onto his left foot, will have one thinking that maybe there is added value in being a two footed player. On too many occasions have crosses been over-hit and shots engaged the fans in catching practice because of the one footed lefty, who has become more and more predictable with each game.
The players may stress that it is through no fault of their own, but that can’t steal away from the fact that the number of counter attacks that have failed to produce a goal demand a better reason than “it was on his weaker foot”. With so many of the world’s biggest names comprising the list of talented right footed and left footed players, one might be left to wonder who in football has managed to master the two-footed challenge that has eluded so many a player. One such player is Arsenal’s Santiago Carzola, who has been seen taking a corner kick with his right foot, and then going over to the other side to take one on his left. The likes of Franchesco Totti, Franck Ribery, Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Luis Nani and Ricardo Kaka have mastered this skill and have seemingly passed on the value of the duel-foot player to younger lads such as Kevin De Bruyne, Lorenzo Insigne, Neymar, Memphis Depay and Xhedran Xaquiri, and Toni Kroos, who have all showed the benefits of having the ability to work the football with both feet. Ashley Young, Julien Draxler, Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa, James Milner, Ross Barkley as well as Bayer Leverkusen’s Heung Son Min, have also displayed decent two footed ability over the years.
The rarity of this skill has contributed greatly to it going widely unnoticed, yet its impact can be the difference between a win and a draw. The versatility and class it adds to a player’s game can’t be stressed enough, and even though it may seem but a minor part of the game, it is a trait that continues to elude many a player, and we at GSV felt, via a Saturday afternoon pub debate, that it is a commendable feat and that the players who possess it ought to be recognised, because to them, there is no such thing as a ‘weaker foot’.