Some of the world’s top football strikers have spent countless hours on the training grounds perfecting the art of finishing, making them some of the deadliest and most in-demand players on the planet.
The likes of Fernando Torres, Robin van Persie, Didier Drogba, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic – the list could go on and would include some of the biggest names from the past like Pele, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo – have broken all kinds of goal scoring records, but their results and careers have been made on one thing – practice.
Sure, they do have the supply of some of the best ball players to have ever played the game, putting the ball exactly where they want it so they can take the glory of firing into the top corner; but they’ve spent hours working on their technique in front of goal.
Coaches have played a huge part in this development, teaching the modern strikers the best way to draw the keeper, make him look a fool and make the crowd go wild, but for many this ability starts way before they sign on the dotted line at a professional club.
It all stems from the back garden and the parks. As a child they would have been given a football, their parents might have been to a sports retailer to buy a goal for the back garden and the education would start from there. They would soon learn that blasting it as hard as possible isn’t always going to work, that they actually need to focus on picking their spot – even one particular square in the netting that they need to hit, and continue to develop from there.
So how did they develop? It’s not as simple as kicking a ball into an empty net. Far from it. One traditional training method was to hang a tyre or “hoola hoop” from the crossbar and attempt to put the ball through the gap.
An alternative to this was to place a board of wood, maybe even a bed sheet, in front of the goal and cut out target holes just big enough for the ball to pass through for the strikers to hone their skills, placing the ball rather than blasting it in.
The “fox in the box” kind of player is a bit of a dying breed these days. We don’t have the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Filippo Inzaghi, Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer around any more, the kind of players who were quiet in games and then popped up with a moment of brilliance inside the box, finding the net with what seems to many like their first touch of the whole game. The closest players you have today would be the likes of Javier Hernandez at Manchester United or Gonzalo Higuain at Real Madrid, the players who feed of scraps inside the box and are always in the right place at the right time when the cross comes in.
In an era where forwards tend to play “off the front”, like Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez as opposed to the traditional number 9 role, there is still a place for the natural goalscorers. The game is all about scoring goals and if you don’t have a predator in front of goal who might be quiet for 89 minutes, popping up with the winner in the 90th, you’re not going to score goals or win games.