Mark Lawrenson, unbelievably, spoke for us all when, about 60 minutes into the Argentina v Switzerland game, he let out a groan followed by a rant as Ángel di Maria (who the BBC were keen to tell us gave the ball away 51 times during the game) broke in behind the Swiss defence, only to attempt an ill-advised rabona and send a would-be pull back skewering off into the crowd. The rationale behind this odd decision, when most players would have simply used their right foot to cut the ball back to one of the three team-mates running into the penalty area, was, apparently, that di Maria didn’t trust his right foot enough to do that. This incident crystallises one of my pet hates about contemporary football: the significant number of players who are so absolutely, unapologetically, hopelessly, one-footed.
The king of one-footed players is Robin van Persie, whose weird shovelling body language is his unique way of getting the ball onto his left foot. He’s lucky he’s got a great shot on him when he does, finally, get it onto that left peg, because sometimes he looks like he’ll be turning in circles for hours before he gets a shot away. If van Persie’s one-footedness is conspicuous enough when he plays for his club side, a one-footed klaxon goes off when you watch the Netherlands because his partner up front is Arjen Robben, not only another one-footer but another left-footed-one-footer. How they ever manage to pass to each other is beyond me. There’s Gareth Bale too, and of course, a discussion of one-footers wouldn’t be complete without a mention of David Beckham, who made such a career of whipping in crosses and free-kicks with his right foot that it’s conceivable one could actually come full circle and claim that he’s actually a two-footed player because his standing (left) leg was so important to that relentless reliability of his right.
Why does this rile me up so much? Surely if your left foot is as good as either van Persie’s or Robben’s, or, for that matter, as di Maria’s, it makes sense to use it? Obviously that’s a fair point, but my gripes don’t come so much from them using their best foot – all players do that – but from their over-reliance on that foot. I react to it as a sort of insult to the profession: they’ve spent their whole life playing football (almost literally, given how early academies sign players these days) and yet they can’t work out how to kick the ball with their weaker foot. What’ve they been doing all that time? Yet, in a way, one-footedness is a kind of ultimate professionalism, a physical paean to the late-capitalist division of labour, just taken a step further and extended not only to defenders and attackers, but to the two feet of individual players. If there’s been a lot of talk recently about team selection, and in particular whether you should take lesser but more team oriented players, or better but more individualistic ones, might one-footedness hint toward an answer (of sorts) to that dilemma and be an argument for even more specialism, rather than less? To indulge in a bit of futurism, might we see new rules emerge to better account for this increased sub-division of tasks? Might FIFA take a leaf out of hockey’s book and allow players to be brought on just to take a corner or free-kick and then go off again? Why leave it there? Why not have time-outs every time a defender is about to play a long raking diagonal ball up to the forwards, in order to get your right-footer or left-footer on in time to take it down on their perfect one foot? Then they could stop the game again while they go off and your more all-purpose player comes on to finish off the move. After all, a World Cup is supposed to be an arena for the world’s best players to show off their skills. Aren’t we just depriving ourselves of more beautiful moments of the footballing art – the kill-it-dead left-footed trap, or a geometrically bedazzling right-footed free-kick – by asking the 11 players on the field to be able to use both of their feet? Is the trend of having one pink and one sort of luminous greeny-bluey-turquoisey boot actually a rather subtle campaign strategy on the part of one-footers?
Posted by Mark West