ALFREDO DI Stefano, Diego Maradona, and Arjen Robben, past and present stars of the beautiful game, are all delightfully one-footed.
Di Stefano, the famed ‘Blond Arrow’ of the all-conquering Real Madrid teams from the 1950s, the magically skilled Maradona, and Robben are all among the best ever in their positions, and Maradona is some people’s pick as the best footballer ever. They are examples of success without matching skills on both feet.
The mercurial Dutchman Robben is notoriously right-footed, too. Yet, because of his speed of thought, he is wonderful to watch, and, for defenders, hard to contain.
At lower levels, being one-footed is a footballing disability. Too often in the first round of the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/FLOW Manning Cup wing men and flank players would lose opportunities for quick shots and first-time crosses because the ‘wrong’ foot was on the ball. By the time the ball was put on the good foot, the opposing defence in most cases had recovered.
As Jamaican football seeks higher ground, the development of rounded players has to take centre stage. Whether they play in attack, defence, or midfield, rounded players offer their coaches more.
Those who rank the Brazilian Pelé above Maradona cite Pelé’s sublime skills with both boots, his unearthly dribbling and control, and his heading as the full package.
That debate has raged for decades, but one thing is certain: young players will benefit from being taught all the skills he or she will need to be really good.
By the way, in the games I saw, the heading skills displayed in the Manning Cup first round were moderate. As a rule, the defensive headers were better than those intended to score goals.
Ironically, it was a defender, Ian ‘Pepe’ Goodison, who headed the goal that clinched qualification for Jamaica to the 1998 World Cup in a memorable 1-0 win over Mexico at the National Stadium.
Thankfully, all those who coach high school teams are required to be certified by FIFA, the governing body of football. That regulation is in force for prep school teams. In time, this will ensure that good footballing habits are instilled at the earliest stage possible.
Some believe that talent overcomes all obstacles. In athletics a few years ago, it was felt that many very tall boys would follow the 6’ 5” Usain Bolt into the 100m and 200m with great success. However, because Bolt is so special, the next flight of extra-tall and superfast sprinters is hard to find.
The truth is that work, and not talent by itself, conquers all. With qualified coaches teaching good fundamentals, the chance of Jamaican players having rounded football skills is far better.
Along with the development of better playing fields and the creation of a Jamaican playing philosophy that is used by all national teams, the footballer who can use his right foot as well as his or her left foot is a national asset.
Practice still makes perfect. Perfect practice, directed by good coaches, can make Jamaican football even better.