By Tim Charlesworth
Amidst the joy of the Man City game, (and forgetting the one that followed it) one interesting aspect got slightly overlooked, and that was the influence of the left footers.
Left sidedness is an advantage in lots of sports. John McEnroe and Raphael Nadal are the most obvious examples in tennis. Both players benefit from the fact that their shots come from different angles from those expected. Of course the left handed player has plenty of opportunities to get used to playing the right-handed player, and getting used to the angles that result.
The right-handed player has less opportunities to get used to playing the left hander.
The sport that you see this effect most obviously is cricket. There are a bizarre number of left handed batsmen in cricket. When you look at this more closely, you find something surprising.
If you go back and watch one of England’s most sumptuously talented left handers, David Gower, you might be surprised to see him throw the ball right handed. He is in fact right-handed. The same is true of Graham Thorpe, Alistair Cook, Mark Taylor and Brian Lara. All of these players have found that batting left-handed is sufficiently advantageous to make it worth their while learning to bat the ‘wrong way around’.
The same phenomenon is apparent in baseball (a major global game not widely played in the UK). Left handed pitchers are prized, and some very talented players teach themselves to be ‘switch-hitters’, meaning that they bat left handed against a right handed pitcher and right handed against a left handed pitcher.
It’s a bit surprising that a simple trick like being left footed/handed is capable of fooling a professional sportsman and conferring a long-term advantage. After all, opponents know that Mesut Ozil is left footed and Raphael Nadal is left handed. It is hardly a surprise.
It seems that the advantage for lefties is something to do with angles. All balls sports require phenomenal subconscious mathematical calculations. In order to volley a ball passed through the air, the brain needs to carry out a series of degree level mathematical calculations. You need to do these calculations in a fraction of a second. And yet, a well coached seven year old can be taught to do exactly those calculations.
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The point is that it is subconscious. So however much the conscious brain knows that Mesut is left footed, the subconscious brain, on which players rely to calculate angles, struggles to adapt. Football is a game played with instincts, not the conscious mind.
A surprising number of the current Arsenal team are left footed. This is not easy to spot nowadays, as most modern footballers are good with both feet. However, even the best have a preference.
According to Wikipedia, 81.5% of people are right footed. So with 10 outfield players, you might expect slightly less than two to be left footed (Petr Cech is left footed, but surely this is irrelevant in a goalkeeper?). However, in the current team, Ozil, Giroud, Monreal and Campbell are all left footers. And this shows us another interesting pattern.
It is usually an advantage for an attacker to be left footed. I see no such advantage for defenders. This is presumably because the ‘surprise’ element is valuable for an attacker, but not so much for a defender. (of course left backs are often left footed for different reasons).
It is worth having a look at the goal Giroud scored against City, because the defender got his positioning subtly wrong. Firstly he had the pass from Ozil covered. If Ozil had hit that pass right footed, Otamendi was in a good position to cut it out before it got to Giroud. But Ozil is left footed, and so the ball came across Otamendi at an angle that he was not really prepared for.
He then basically allowed Giroud to go outside him in the left channel. This is quite a safe thing to do with a right footed player. The type of shot that Giroud produced is a difficult skill, hitting powerfully across a moving ball at a tight angle to the goal. A right footed player is not very likely to pull this off, so the channel that Otamendi allowed Giroud to run in, would normally be a relatively safe one.
Interestingly, Toure’s goal was also a left footers goal. If you watch it again, Flamini is perfectly positioned to block the right footed shot. Toure simply allows the ball to drift across him to his left foot. Flamini is instinctively positioned to block Toure’s right foot, and cannot react quickly enough.
Toure has a clear shot. Only a left footer is likely to get that kind of opportunity. Actually, Toure is right-footed, but enjoys the same benefit as Cazorla, that he is very strong on his wrong foot, which makes him even harder to defend against.
So being left footed is surprisingly advantageous in football. When we look at some of the great all time players, it is surprising how many are left footed. Think of your ten best players of all time.
Remember, statistically, just two of them are likely to be left footers. How many of the following were in your top ten? Lionel Messi; Diego Maradonna; Mesut Ozil; Pele; Ferenc Puskas.
If you have any doubt about the advantage of being left footed, have a look at some clips of Diego Maradonna. He is actually comically one footed, and goes to ridiculous lengths to ‘run around’ his right foot. Watch the famous goal that he scored against England in the ‘86 World Cup (the second one). In that long run, he never touches the ball with his right foot, but the England players constantly position themselves as if they expect him to.
And the best news of all is that my sumptuously talented six year old son (future Arsenal player obviously) is left footed!
Two from the 70s
- 27 December 1971: Nottingham Forest 1 Arsenal 1. It was Alan Ball’s debut for Arsenal, having been brought in from Everton to bolster Arsenal’s attempt to retain the FA Cup and League title won the previous year.
- 27 December 1972: George Graham sold to Man U for £120,000. Having had the temerity to protest to Bertie Mee about being dropped to the bench he was one of the players to suffer Mee’s policy of brooking no interference in his policy making
…and the 12th instalment of Arsenal in the 70s Part 12: Jan to June 74. Farewell Bob, hello Liam.