I’m no football expert, anyone that’s read any of my articles will no doubt testify to that, but I do watch a lot of it and am able to occasionally question certain things. Usually my questions are explained or answered within a short amount of time and I’m left to ponder new wonders such as ‘can I allow myself to get carried away with England’s start to qualifying ?’ or ‘When will Mick McCarthy stop being so excitable?’
One question though that I’ve had been pondering ever since I saw Jason Wilcox in an England shirt that has yet to be answered is ‘why can’t players use their weaker foot?’
It’s one of the most shocking aspects of professional football that men who can bend 30 yard free kicks round walls, can volley a ball on the turn past the keeper and into the top corner and can pick out a 70 yard pass that drops into a player’s stride cannot be trusted to even shoot when the ball is on their weaker foot.
Wait I hear you cry ‘most Premier League footballers can use their weaker foot’ Really? Let me ask you this how many times when watching a top player miss a decent chance have you heard yourself – or the commentator make the excuse ‘it was on his -usually- left foot.’ The thing that baffles me most about a lot of player’s inability to use their weaker foot is the simple fact that as a professional footballer you’d think that not using 50% of the feet available to you would be barmy. Take boxing for example, all fighters have stronger hands, but would a boxer not use his left at all because it’s his weaker one? No of course not, he’d train just as hard with his weaker hand as he did with his stronger one. So why don’t footballers do the same thing? Why are so many top class players unable to use their weaker foot for anything other than standing on?
Not all players are like this of course, anyone who remembers Denis Irwin will know that some players seem equally at home using either foot. Irwin was one of the few players who it was almost impossible to tell which his stronger foot was. He spent nearly all his Manchester United career in the left back position yet was actually naturally right-footed. If it wasn’t watching him on dead ball situations you’d never have guessed as his passing, crossing and even finishing with his left was world class.
One of the biggest debates you can get into with a United fan when it comes to which was the better team, player era, etc, is who’s the better left back Irwin or Patrice Evra? I’ll go for Evra because I’m blinded by love, but to be honest many would say Irwin shades it. When you consider that one of them is actually right-footed it seems amazing there’s even room for a debate.
Of today’s crop of players not many can be considered ambidextrous when it comes to the feet department. Look at the England national sides problems over the years with the left midfield position. It actually makes you wonder how any of us- myself included- can think ‘this is gonna be our tournament’ when we can’t even muster up a player who feels comfortable for one of the essential positions. Unlike some positions on the pitch such as the anchor or supporting striker role, which can be abolished with different formations, the left sided midfielder is fundamental.
Some of the names who’ve donned a three lions shirt in a bid to solve the problematic left wing position merely highlight how few top players can use their left foot. As well as the aforementioned Wilcox, there’s also been the likes of Kieran Richardson and Stewart Downing- neither particularly bad but are they honestly England class? Then there’s the host of players who’ve been played there out of position- Paul Scholes- yes you read that correctly Scholes, one of the finest central midfielders of his generation was actually moved over to the left wing to play in a system that accommodated Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in Euro 2004.
Then there’s been Gerrard himself, a player who’s made his name either just behind the striker or in the middle but yet again has been moved out to the left. Now you could argue that Scholes and Gerrard were moved simply to accommodate the Lampard/Gerrard ‘partnership’ – if you can call it that. But let me ask you, if we had a real top class left footed attacking player- or a right footed one who could actually use his left would it be possible to use the left wing position as a form of tactical quarantine zone, to stick players we don’t want to drop into so there still on the pitch just out of harm’s way? No. If we had a Ryan Giggs – it was inevitable he would have to get mentioned- then the England manager would be forced to play his strongest midfield pairing. Of course Giggs is just as guilty as any other player of being unable to properly use his weaker foot; he just gets highlighted because he’s naturally left-footed.
Players like Steve McManaman and Joe Cole have also been used for England on the left with varying degrees of success, it’s just a shame that over the years there haven’t been more who’ve been able to successfully make that position their own.
The point I’m making is that it still shocks me that so many gifted players are unable to use their weaker foot, youngsters are often encouraged to regularly practice with their weaker foot so why aren’t fully developed professionals?
Part of the problem may be that once you are fully developed its much more difficult to get accustomed to using your other foot, although considering many footballers spend hours training this argument is a little shallow to say the least.
Even someone like Wayne Rooney who is one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen, can still struggle to finish, what for him should be a fairly routine shot, with his weaker foot.
Part of the solution may be a weaker foot day in the Premier League where each player is only allowed to kick it with his weakest one, sounds crazy? Well so did playing Premier League fixtures in Africa but that nearly came about so you never know.