Every time I watch live football, I always wonder how some players are paid such an enormous amount to do their job yet don’t make use of all of the tools at their disposal. The verified two-footed player is a thing of rarity. This is the expectation and the reality. To be fair, most of the top players in the world are at least adept at using their ‘weaker’ foot. The best can switch effortlessly, with Messi and Ronaldo being the obvious examples.
The problem is that the term ‘weaker foot’ is accepted as a norm in the industry. Whether you’re getting paid £1,000 or £100,000 a week, as a professional footballer you should be able to operate with both feet on the football pitch. A prime example of how being one-footed can hurt a player’s career is Antonio Valencia.
Once an exciting winger for Wigan, there were high hopes for the Ecuadorian on his arrival at Manchester United. He was even bestowed with the iconic number 7 shirt at Old Trafford. It soon became all too apparent, however, that Valencia was a one-trick pony. A decent player but too easily dealt with by opposing teams who knew which way he would try to run every time he got the ball. Nowadays, Valencia can be found operating on the right-side of United’s defence where less expectation is placed on his ability to beat defenders, which happens once in a blue moon.
The antithesis of Valencia is another Premier League player, Santi Cazorla. While he may not be ranked in the highest echelons of world football, the diminutive Spaniard’s ambidexterity is joyful to behold. Whether it’s passing, shooting, or crossing, Cazorla can use either foot with equal prowess. Such is his mastery of both feet that it’s not at all obvious which his ‘stronger foot’ is. He showcases this amazing talent in a keepy-uppy battle with Nacho Monreal (notice Monreal uses his preferred left foot exclusively during the clip):
In terms of world-class players, Angel Di Maria is an obvious example. The now much-maligned Argentinean is still undoubtedly one of the top talents in the game. A fairly miserable season for the Red Devils is an outlier in what has been a fantastic career for the supremely talented midfielder. However, for such an excellent footballer, his right foot is remarkably weak.
He recently had a wonderful chance against Newcastle to take a first-time shot with his right foot. Instead, he chose to try and engineer an opportunity to shoot with his left foot and the chance evaporated (see beginning of video above). The easy option is to chalk this down to a player in the middle of a confidence crisis. The reality is that, playing well or playing poorly, Di Maria relies solely on his left foot in footballing terms. His use of the rabona is indicative of this. While all fans marvel at the use of the rabona for crossing or shooting, and rightly so, it is a product of players who are completely uncomfortable using their weaker foot.
The best players will always find a way to deal with perceived weaknesses. Arjen Robben is supremely one-footed, yet is still one of the best wingers in the game. He is one the few players that, while opponents know he will cut inside on to his left foot time and again, still can’t be stopped. Robben is the exception though, not the rule. And imagine how much better the Dutchman might be if he could pose the same threat from the opposite wing.
It is players beneath this world-class level who could really benefit from being able to use both feet to equal effect, a la Santi Cazorla. There would be no more right-backs, only full-backs. There would be no more left-wingers, only wide players. There would be no need for clubs to aspire to have a centre-half pairing of one left-footer and one right-footer; Manchester City’s signing of Eliaquim Mangala is a clear pointer to how awry that particular experiment can go. Even goalkeepers would benefit from being able to kick the ball properly with their weaker foot. How many times have we seen keepers aimlessly throwing a leg at a backpass and the ball being sliced into Row Z? Or nearly worse, at Steve Simonsen illustrates:
The most reasonable explanation for a lot of players being unable to use their weaker leg effectively is that they weren’t coached to do so in their youth. Players are naturally much more malleable products in their teenage years. However, the players we watch every week in Europe’s top leagues are paid very well to do their job. It couldn’t be too much for their clubs to expect them to work on using their weaker foot away from training. If a professional footballer was extremely poor at heading the ball or unable to use his head effectively on the pitch, he would be highlighted in the media and required by his club to work on the skill. Shouldn’t it be the same process for those players who rely on only one foot to kick a ball?