15 July ~ Most professional sportsmen are dedicated to their craft, often to the exclusion of social lives and leisure time, especially in individual sports where the level of competition demands it. Athletes, gymnasts, tennis players and golfers, for example, spend hour after repetitive hour, day after day, honing their skills, striving for improvement. Cricketers also spend much time on the practice ground, attaining a technical excellence – certainly in terms of fielding – that few other team sports can match. Footballers, on the other hand, turn up for work at ten, do a couple of hours' training, go for a massage, then lunch and are on the golf course before two.

No wonder Man City's pampered poodles were up in arms over Roberto Mancini's demand for a double shift. Then there was the wretched England team in South Africa complaining of boredom between matches. How about spending a few extra hours practising penalties, then? Clearly, in a sport where so many are in the comfort zone, with mid-ranking Championship players living in mansions and driving Bentleys, lack of hunger and motivation has to be an issue. But that alone does not explain a culture in football that tolerates mediocrity and is immured to the demand for better skills and techniques.

Professionals generally refer to football training rather than practice. There is a belief that you can't "train" for more than two hours a day because what it adds in fitness it subtracts in terms of wear and tear. If this is the case, why is not more emphasis placed on practice? Nowadays the top professionals are superbly honed athletes who benefit from all the latest fitness and nutrition technology.

In comparison, the technical development of players seems a distant priority. How else can you explain a player earning millions a year who is unable to take a corner? It is not a difficult skill, the margin of error is large, yet Premier League players often underhit, overhit or put corners straight out of play. Almost as incredible is the fact that so many top players are now exclusively one-footed.

The reason for these technical shortcomings can only be that they don't practice enough. Thus, the right-footed player is forced to check inside because he doesn't have the confidence to use his left – and when this deficiency applies to England's most talented player, Wayne Rooney, you know we have a problem. I remember a coach at Lilleshall, which produced Michael Owen, being asked why they hadn't done more to improve Owen's left foot. He replied: “When your right is that good you don't need to." With attitudes like this is it any wonder we produce so little talent.

Every young player should be drilled until they can cross and shoot easily and accurately with both feet. It is so simple, so obvious, and such an advantage, yet few in the game, including even the top managers – judging by the number of one-footed players their teams produce – seem to grasp it. One person who does is Cristiano Ronaldo. He rightly gets criticised for his vanity, self-pity and lack of sporting integrity, but no one can question his dedication to be a better player.

All those little tricks and shimmies only come from hours of practice, likewise his unique shooting ability which seems to become more unerring, unpredictable and unstoppable with every season that passes. On top of that he has great heading technique (another skill that seems to be neglected by modern coaches and players) and he is two-footed. He has virtually no weaknesses in his game because he has identified them and eradicated them.

This has to be a lesson for coaches to learn: identify a player's failings and work on them through repetition until they become strengths. Better still, for the richer clubs at least, dedicate an individual coach to each player to analyse and run a programme suited to his needs. And the more hours put in the better. Just think what a player Michael Owen might have become if he'd committed himself to improving his first touch and left foot as he did to improving his golf handicap and horse-racing knowledge, because at 18 he was better than Ronaldo at that age. And if that is not testimony to the value of dedication and practice, and the resultant rewards, I don't know what is. Stephen Griffiths

Comments (10)
Comment by caleyi 2011-07-15 11:50:30

This is so accurate it's unbelievable. When I was 12 I realised I wasn't going to get in my school team and was dropped into the B team for my village club, but neither team had any decent left-footed players, so I practised until I was nearly as good at controlling, passing and shooting with my left. It took about 3 years of playing with my mates and in the garden, and it worked - now at 39 my son's mates don't know which is my stronger foot. I am incredibly average at football but was able to develop my "other" foot - why can hugely gifted players not do the same?
Until recently I used to play 5-a-side with a few ex-pros (from Premier League clubs) who scoffed at my puzzlement that this should have happened - I was told it's just not part of the training which was always fitness, practice games played to win and then some tactics, all to be finished up in time for lunch. So every time I see England players exchange passes until an oposition player is within 5 yards then ...err... PANIC!, I understand.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-07-15 12:32:01

I think this article is spot on.

What's the point of paying full time players and nor working them for the whole 37.5 hours that most of us are under contract to work?

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2011-07-15 13:07:52

They could also visit sick people in hospitals.

Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-07-15 13:50:34

This article is so true that it is sad.

How any player can take a big salary from the game and not be able to kick a ball with his weak foot is unbelievable.

The thing is coaching doesn't ever encourage it. My daughter has a weak left foot and she practises with it. I saw some dad at a school fair, having a kick around with his boys and he was telling them to pass back with their left foot. But as soon as they get to their teams it's all about winning rather than self development.

Left to themselves. most kids will practice...the majority of the pros don't.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-07-15 13:56:31

Amen to that Stephen.

You know what really gets my goat? Not just the paltry amount of training they do, but the fact that so little of it is centred around ball skills, and so much of it is centred around fitness - ie, running, stretching and other physical activities which don't involve a ball. Whenever you see pictures of the England squad training for a match, what are they doing? Well, normally they are jogging around in one big group, not very fast, all laughing and joshing as they go. Not a football to be seen.

The bottom line is: we're paying Signor Capello five mill sovs a year, to supervise a bunch of twenty or so adults jogging slowly round a field. For pity's sakes, it's more like a school PE lesson than a professional training session. My old PE teacher could have done what Capello's doing - and I don't think he was getting 5 million a year for his efforts.

And on the rare occasions our heroes are actually spotted working with a ball in training, it is normally the case that one of them is dribbling round a few cones while the others are all standing in a queue, watching and waiting for their turn to have a go. One of them with a ball, the rest of them standing around watching. BRILLIANT.

Comment by donedmundo 2011-07-15 17:22:52

George Best was naturally right footed but practised so much with his left that he claimed it to be better than his right. This was something Georgie did on his own, not during Man U training. When a ref makes a mistake he is pilloried by the ex pro providing the 'expert' summary on TV. When a player tries to kick with his 'wrong' foot and fails the summariser chuckles understandingly.

Comment by JimDavis 2011-07-15 18:41:29

Same could be said of journalists.

Comment by Martin Hatter 2011-07-16 12:31:05

Good article and, of course, WSC has been here before:

It's as true now as it was then and it's hard to disagree with the view that it's better to be two-footed than one-footed and therefore an average two-footed player is better than an average two-footed player but not better than a good one-footed player.

There's clearly a lack of desire amongst players to work on their weaker foot. I've read that only a sixth of footballers in the top 5 European leagues are considered two-footed and the better a player is on one foot, the less incentive there seems to be for most of them to work on the other.

I sometimes wonder if a key reason for the avoidance of practicing on your weaknesses is a reluctance to lose face?

Comment by Red Adder 2011-07-16 20:46:10

Bobby Charlton also workedor ages on his own improving his weaker left peg. Beckham would have been decidely average but for all the lone effort he put in on his ball striking skills.

Trouble is it takes times and the average manager has 18 months to achieve or be sacked so all he can generally do is to concentrate of a few basic tactics and lung-power. The football culture discourages players from doing much in their spare time but chasing a bit of fun (booze / birds / bookies / baccie) rather than anything designed at long-term self-improvement.

Comment by Jongudmund 2011-07-17 20:17:00

@Red Adder See I don't buy that. If I was under pressure in my job I would be making my workforce pull out the stops. To say that managers are under too much pressure to devise a training schedule that covers ball control, heading etc instead of jogging seems unlikely. Practising how to trap a ball isn't going to knacker anyone's knees or ankles the same way doubling the length of training runs would.

Another thing - when I was a kid I had a 'teach yourself football' little book that I read several times. (I was a geeky kid who liked reading about football almost as much as playing it!) Anyway, in there it had that 'golden rule' of never passing across your own goal.

I see this frequently happening in the professional game, and sure enough there are often occasions where a poorly placed pass gifts a striker a shooting chance.

I mean, that's basic, right? If I knew that at 8, how come pros don't know it?

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