“Somewhat of a luxury player…capable of anything but usually produces nothing. Doesn’t track back, can’t tackle, can’t head the ball, no pace…but is quite good at corners”
As my bio suggests being able to cross a ball is something I take pride in. It’s one of the few strings to my bow. Deceptively slow and often shunted to the left wing due to rare left footed tendencies, swinging the ball in early became a force of habit as searing down the line past a full back was never a realistic proposition. Such a reliance goes hand in hand with me gratefully accepting the prestigious designation as my amateur football side’s official set-piece taker.
Whenever I shank a corner, be that behind the goal, into the keeper’s grateful clutches or over the crowded penalty area and beyond into the gorse bush running alongside the far touchline I feel an overriding sense of shame. I dutifully acknowledge this by raising of a hand and shaking my head for failing my responsibility.
Poor delivery, even at amateur level where practice takes place once a week if we are lucky, is a cardinal sin. This is why I find it incomprehensible why it seems almost blissfully ignored and accepted when a professional player, training on a daily basis for hours on end, repeatedly fails at a seemingly simple task.
A number of factors are to blame for this. In an era where tika-taka reigns supreme the primeval arts of crossing and corners are receiving less recognition and are often just taken for granted.
However, set-pieces still contribute hugely as a simple route to goal and play a central role in the winning and losing of games. So when the man designated the responsibility to deliver, earning £80,000 a week based on his footballing talent, fails repeatedly questions have to be asked.
Having all day every day to practice the skill is a luxury only awarded to those at the highest level yet many continue to find that crossing a football into the danger zone from the corner flag is as difficult as crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a dingy. The likes of Beckham and Gerrard, who could put it on a sixpence from 30 yards, are testament to the motto that practice makes perfect with regard to delivering a great ball. This ability didn’t arrive through luck but through countless hours spent whipping in cross after cross after cross.
Repetition makes any task easier, be that playing video games or lifting heavy weights. The inner drive to be the best they possible can is what separates the great set-piece takers and crossers of a ball from others at the top level. With elite coaching available to players nowadays there really is no excuse.
A few weeks back Man United launched in 81 crosses to no avail. That served to emphasise just how uncomfortable and inept some players are when asked to cross a ball. The majority settle for mediocrity and reap what they sow as a result whilst your Beckham’s of this world continue to strive for perfection.