Soccer is a sport of aesthetic delights. The ball crashing into the net off the underside of the crossbar, a perfectly timed sliding tackle, a goal in front of a raucous away end, a dinked finish over the goalkeeper; they’re minor facets which strike a chord with the game’s fanatic followers.
Seeing a player who is genuinely, and I mean genuinely, two-footed is another. Of course, every footballer has a favored side, but someone who is just at ease cutting inside and fizzing in a shot with one foot as he is bursting down the outside and belting in a cross with his other? That’s rare and enthralling.
Being thrilled by such versatility is not unique to soccer either, as showing ambidexterity is a quality often associated with the brashest and most talented sportspeople.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally gifted player ever to pick up a snooker cue, has delighted crowds down the years, switching between left and right-handed shots insouciantly. England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, another raw talent, has also changed his stance at the crease in the past, switching to left-handed and smashing quality bowlers out of the ground.
Entertainment value aside, for soccer players, it can be a crucial and hugely beneficial quality. Andreas Brehme, who was Germany’s left-back at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, famously took two penalties, one with his more powerful left and one with his accurate right, in consecutive tournaments. The kick in 1990, with his right foot, was the winning goal in the World Cup final.
During his time with Internazionale, Juventus midfielder Hernanes scored free-kicks with both his right and left foot. Earlier in his career while playing for Sao Paulo, it’s also been said he notched two free-kicks in a game, one with either foot.
Indeed, thinking back to some of the greatest players of this generation, men like Paolo Maldini, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, all were equally proficient on either side. Currently, Arsenal’s midfield maestro, Santi Cazorla, arguably the most technically gifted player in the Premier League, has been taking set-pieces with both feet this season.
Overall, it’s still rare to see players who possess these ambipedal attributes. And that’s peculiar. After all, anyone who remembers playing soccer as a youngster will remember their father instructing them in the park just how important it is to practice on either side? These giants of the game are surely no different?
And yet, according to a study conducted by the Centre for Economic Performance in 2009, only 18% of players in the top five European leagues said they were as confident on each foot.
In a sport which requires an elite level of skill and dedication to get to the very summit, this scarcely seen mastery would be a way of manufacturing an edge over others. But we still see players who are hugely reliant on one side.
Antonio Valencia taking a touch with his left foot for Manchester United became a social media hit earlier this week, while some of the best players in the game are so dependant on one foot. Superstars like Arjen Robben and Gareth Bale, to name a couple, still pose massive problems for defenders, despite their huge left-sided bias.
Watching those kind of players, you’d be forgiven for thinking being strong on both sides isn’t really a requisite for being a world-class player. If you can do everything with one foot, why bother learning how to do it with the other?
Two-footed talents are especially difficult to tame, though, as defenders would tell you the planet over. So it begs a question, is being both-sided a inherent human quality, making it exclusive to only a few?
“Being able to use both feet is something that came quite naturally to me ever since I started playing,” admitted Cazorla in an interview with the Arsenal website earlier in the year. However, it seems as though his ability to spray the ball on either side has been forged by appropriate training methods and diligent work.
“Everything comes from a base of hard work,” Cazorla continued. “After training sessions, I would stay an extra half-an-hour and kick the ball against the wall with my weaker foot over and over again to make sure it becomes stronger and better.”
Neymar also had the importance of being strong on either side instilled from his youth, per FIFA: “My father always said to me, ever since I was a little boy: ‘You shouldn’t choose which foot to shoot with. If the ball falls on your left side, shoot with your left, and if it falls on your right, then shoot with your right.’”
SEE MORE: Neymar shines for Barcelona amid controversy.
David Villa credits his ability to slot with both feet to an injury he suffered to his right leg. As a four-year-old, he broke his right femur and there were fears it’d have to be amputated, but during six months in plaster his father meticulously taught him to use his left foot, per Metro. He went on to become one of the most ruthless finishers in the game today.
Like a lot of human behaviors, it seems being able to use the right and left foot with equal composure is a balance between nature and nurture. But given the previous examples, it’s clear being ambipedal is something which can be cultivated through practice, making it odd that even the finest footballers in the game haven’t completely mastered that balance.
It wouldn’t just be for aesthetic values either. Being accomplished on either leg is a quality which would be to the benefit of every player, at any level, at a plethora of points over a 90-minute match. As the game continues to move forward, hopefully talents like Cazorla will inspire the next generation into converting a genetic weakness into a learned strength.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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