A Wall or No Wall?

This is something I have thought about for years.  I remember talking to a goalkeeper coach a few years ago and he thought I was out of my mind.  This only spurred me on even more to thinking I was on to something.  After all, sometimes it takes thinking out of the box and going against tradition before things get changed.

What happens when a team gets a free kick 25 yards from goal?  Simple, the defending team sets up a wall of 4-5 players.  This wall is designed to cover one side of the goal while the goalkeeper covers the other side.  Walls are often set up with kicks up to 35 or more yards out, although the number of players in the wall might be just 2-3 at this distance.

Up until 20-30 years ago, putting a wall up for a free kick that was 25-30 yards out made sense.  The ball was heavier than it was now and didn’t do crazy things like a knuckle ball or dipping at the last minute.  In those days, if a ball was hit hard enough and high enough to get over the wall, it would most likely end up above the crossbar.  The only way it could keep below the crossbar was if it wasn’t hit too hard.

Another thing that was different 20-30 years ago was the wall was often allowed to be set up 7-8 yards from the ball whereas now, the officials do a better job of setting up the wall closer to 10 yards.

So with the wall being closer at only 7-8 yards, the shooter had to strike the ball on a higher trajectory and then the heavier ball had little or no chance of dipping below the crossbar if struck hard enough.  If it was struck with less pace, then the goalkeeper would have a good chance of getting across the goal to make the save.

Think about it.  How many goals from free kicks in the 60′s, 70′s and even 80′s, did you see that were struck hard over the top of the wall and stayed low enough to go under the crossbar?  Not many, if any.  Most of the goals that were scored from free kicks in those days were swerving balls that curled around the wall.

So in a nutshell, in those days, the wall did it’s job.  It covered one side of the goal so the goalkeeper could cover the other side.

But things have changed since then, and yet defending these kicks have stayed the same.  What’s changed.  Mostly the ball.  The ball is now lighter and made with space-age material.  The ball now does all kinds of crazy things and moves in ridiculous ways.  Not only that, players are stronger and more athletic and hit the ball harder and hit it harder while still swerving it.

So why does this mean that these kicks need defending differently?

Quite simply, these days, players can hit a hard dipping shot over the wall that will drop below the crossbar and into the goal.  They can hit this shot while the goalkeeper who is covering the other half of the goal has no chance to get across to make the save.

So now, in most cases the wall isn’t suitable for defending these type of free kicks.  So what should the defending team do?  Well here is my crazy suggestion.  Or at least I was told it was crazy.

DON’T PUT UP A WALL.  Yes it’s that simple.  Now before you laugh it off, bear in mind what I have said earlier and then take this into account.

First, there will be an optimum distance where it is effective to put up a wall.  Maybe 25 yards or closer.  But anything further than 25 yards, I contend that a goalkeeper would, could or should save a direct shot.  Put it this way, in training line up your players from 25 yards out and have them take 25 shots.  The goalkeeper is on his line.  How many of these shots will score.  I would suggest that 25% or more might miss the goal and the goalkeeper should be able to save all if not most of the shots.  I also suggest that this % would be as good or a better % than if the players took 25 shots with a wall present.

As I said, I think a goalkeeper should be able to save most shots from 25 yards out and this gets more effective as the distance increases.  For example, in training, if your players took shots from 30 yards and 35 yards, would you expect your goalkeeper to save them?  I would think so.

Here are a couple of reasons not having a wall helps the goalkeeper.  First, he has a better view.  He can see the ball directly leaving the players foot.  So he has more time to react to the shot.  With a wall present, he doesn’t see the ball until it has traveled maybe 10 yards. And the other factor that is a help is that the shooter will often use the wall as a guide for his shot.  Don’t believe me, have your players try and curve a ball into the top corner of the goal in training.  Then have them do it with a wall present and watch the success rate increase with more shots getting closer to their target.

So there you are.  I have given you reasons why a wall was effective in decades past and why it is less effective now.  My suggestion is that a goalkeeper should be able to save shots easier with no wall.

Don’t dismiss it without giving it some thought.  Even better, I would love to hear from anyone who is willing to give this a test on the training field.  Let’s say a minimum of 50 shots with and without a wall from 25-30 yards.

6 Comments

  1. Michael Humphrey says:

    I think there should still be a wall.

    They do block shots.

    In a real life example, I look at Manchester United 2009-2010 season vs 2008-2009.
    In the earlier season, when you have Cristiano Ronaldo standing over the ball, yes, maybe the wall isn’t going to be very effective. IMHO, his free-kicks are godlike – and a real thrill to watch, even if he does have a lot of posturing just prior to taking them. But in the following season, without CR in the line-up, I watched so many Man U free-kicks fail to deliver – smashed into the wall or off-target. The threat was gone.

    With a wall, your players are closer to the ball and the opponent’s net to pounce on a blocked ball.

    I would think that most *youth* can’t hit it over the wall. At least not with pace.

    The wall will prevent the more direct shot – usually the keeper will want players to take the shooter – with the 10 yards this is the best you can do. At least it shouldn’t be a direct bullet/laser putting some real sting in your keepers hands. It’s gotta bend or get up and down.

    A wall will block off a direct pass forward/easier chip for the attacking team to run on/volley/attempt a header too.

    Even if the kicker is skilled, the shot is not easy – the kicker still has a smaller target to shoot at – harder to see the target even if it’s being used as a guide – and it will be through that skill that they get the goal – kudos to the shooter. It would be even easier for the skilled (and even less skilled shooter) if they have an unopposed route to the goal.

    Sure, a direct route ball can seen by the keeper all the way, and they may make the FIRST save better – but how many more rebounds might their be – and goals resulting from not making the SECOND save. Or having to face more corner kicks from parrying the ball over the net instead of the harmless field goals flying over the net?

    Not having a wall is still not going to prevent the new balls from swerving and dipping, etc. The Jabulani took the sting out of a lot of free-kicks during the World Cup. I think only Diego Forlan was Jabulani’s master on the free-kick, bending it to his will. I saw plenty of field-goals.

    I think walls are effective. It’s important that the players in the wall stand tall and are ready to take it for the team. Not fun in youth soccer, and you watch even the pros flinch and shy away from taking the ball in the face (often to the chagrin of their keepers).

    So – *I* think walls will help reduce the percentage of goals off of free-kicks.
    I would be interested in others feedback, too, especially if try this in training.
    For my youth team, this situation occurs so infrequently, that I won’t be spending time experimenting, and will continue to erect a wall for the reasons I have above.

  2. Matt Roderick says:

    The wall does require a longer distance for the ball to travel thus giving the keeper more time to react. Without a wall, a shooter can hit a line drive at full speed which will get on goal very fast.

  3. Mike Alzagha says:

    Here is the problem with this analogy. If the defending team does not make a wall, this will give the attacking team the opportunity to make the wall themselves (to blind the goalie) which will be more dangerous,in my opinion. Since the shooter will still have the same advantage from the wall, in addition, you could have the advantage of sending straight powerful shots through the wall as the wall creates a planned crack – which will have a higher scoring percentage.

  4. Ed G says:

    Well Mike has it right. The attacking team has a vote on the tactics for a free kick. Although setting a wall by an attacking team may not be a good tactic it should be considered especially in the fact that many a free kick is deflected into the goal or to another attacking player.

    Of course an alternative is to play offsides and force all opponents to be behind the ball.

    If this said, I refer you back to the English study or direct plan or better yet to the wonderful goals scored by direct kicks during the 70-90′s world cups, EURO to name a few.

    The argument that players are stronger, ball construction is different are valid, one must also realize the goal area has not gotten larger while the keepers have outsize the 6 foot giants of the earlier years.

    I had a chance to play with the old leather ball that weighed 10 pounds after a light rain and yes, the number of goals were less than a comparison to today.

  5. Chuck Coan says:

    I know this works with youth teams. None of my youth teams set a wall if they will be outside or on the 18. We do always have one player there but then we always have one player 10 yards from the ball wherever the free kick is on the field. The player usually stands directly between the ball and the center of the goal and the keeper moves them so they can see the strike. We have had our one player hit a lot of times as well!
    Tony Waiters advocated this for years. I have used it for at least 20 years myself.
    I just do not know if I would want to face the best men and women in the world ripping free kicks at me from 35 yards with out some part of the goal covered. I think the people to ask are the top level keepers. If you are 6’5″ and incredibly agile it may not bother you at all.
    You would think there would be a scientific paper or 2 written on this!

  6. Oscar says:

    This is something I’ve thought of recently. A wall appears to be more of a hindrance than a help. When it goes in, we nearly always see that the keeper sees it late, even when it’s going far post, and beforehand the keeper is shouting like a maniac at his wall because he can’t see and needs them to move a bit more. Especially if they score afterwards…

    Would I rather go up against a shot from a distance and seeing it all the way, or a free kick where I don’t see how the ball is travelling until it’s halfway to the goal?

    I’d rather see it all the way, and if it’s at an angle that gives me more favour.

    The wall becomes even more of a problem when there’s a dummy free kick taker, because it can unbalance the keeper who can’t see out of one side AND s/he has to react to the real shot also.