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.