Is it Time for Free Kick Specialists?

Last week we heard the ideas of FIFA’s Director General of Technical Development, Marco van Basten, and the changes he would like to see made to the World Game. Some have been accepted as improving the game, some have been met with derision.(Van Basten Leaves Fans Flat-Footed)

Van Basten’s ideas have come from other sports. He has looked to take rules that work and that have made other sports more exciting or more attractive to viewers, and wants to introduce them to football.

In his proposed plans he looked mainly at Hockey and Rugby Union for inspiration, however he may wish to look to Gridiron too. Although many will feel that this would be taking things too far.

As fans of America’s national form of football are well aware they have a dedicated placekicker, or kicker who comes onto the field of play purely to kick. He is responsible for the team’s kicking duties and to score field goals and extra points. In many cases, the placekicker also serves as the team’s kickoff specialist or punter as well.

There have been many footballers – the global version – in recent times who have made free kicks their specialty. In fact many in lower leagues hold down their place in the team purely as a set piece specialist. They can bend a free kick around a wall and leave a goalkeeper flat-footed, they can whip in a corner and nine times out of ten pick out with precision the run of a team mate. They can win you a game in a second with their skill.

Some will say that David Beckham was a prime example of a free kick specialist and that that was all he was good at. Many will disagree stating his vision and distribution in open play was also exemplary. There are other great exponents such as Brazilians Zico and Ronaldinho, Italians Roberto Baggio and Gianfranco Zola, Dutchman Ronald Koeman and Romanian Georghe Hagi. All of these players roll of the tongue because they contributed so much more to the team than simply masterful free kicks.

Yet some teams around the world outside of the top leagues have players who can deliver a ball from a dead ball situation better than many of their colleagues at that level, but leave the coach in a quandary as their contribution in open play is lacking. They do not like to track back, they do not like to tackle and yet they can bend a ball into the top corner with unerring accuracy leaving a goalkeeper flat footed; Sometimes goalkeepers do not help their cause when like Melbourne Victory’s Lawrence Thomas at the weekend against Perth Glory, they stand behind their wall!

So should one of van Basten’s recommendations be that teams can, like Gridiron, have a dedicated free kick specialist that they bring on purely and simply to take free kicks?

It was not until the 1940s, that American football started to employ a specialist at the punter or kicker position. Ben Agajanian, is the man who is credited as being the the first confirmed place-kicking specialist in the NFL, kicking in his career for ten teams. Yet there are others who claim that there were other such players in the 1930’s.

How much would such a move transform football? Would it be a marketers dream? Yet in a sport such as football where the team is such a key component it could also create a rift between those who work on the pitch for 90 minutes and those who come on and simply score from a free-kick. Yet as many ex pros will tell you a winning team is a happy team, and if those goals result in wins and player bonuses and medals won, then the positives may well outweigh the negatives.

Is it Time for Free Kick Specialists?
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