Ball-Striking 101: The Point Of Having Specialists

Roberto Carlos scored some spectacular goals but was never consistent scorer and his swing doesn’t lend itself to it.

Cristiano Ronaldo is an inspirational player but has been struggling with the same technical problem with his swing for about 15 years. One of the biggest problems is lifting the ball and he hits more than 50% of his free kicks into the wall.

David Beckham was a very good ball striker and some of his swings were top quality, but he had nowhere near the consistency or range of Juninho and Assunção.

  • Bartek Sylwestrzak


Opening The Door

Earlier this year, Arsenal hired Hussein Isa, also known as "Tekkers Guru" on social media, to serve as an attacking phase specialist. He will be responsible for coaching the attacking players of the first team as well as the academy players. Isa's focus will be on teaching essential skills such as shooting and the correct spinning techniques that will prove helpful while playing under pressure or when opponents are pressuring the players.

Furthermore, Isa will impart skills like feinting, shoulder movement, and other seemingly innate abilities that one either has or not. However, upon closer inspection of Eddie Nketiah's performance, it is evident that he has worked closely with a specialist of this nature. Nketiah's ability to receive the ball under pressure has vastly improved, his movements are more intelligent, and his first touch with his back to the goal is excellent.

These are abilities that we once believed were inborn, but with specialists like Isa, players can develop these skills over time. It's important to note that Nketiah's improvement is not a direct result of Isa's coaching as he will not be joining Arsenal until the following season.

Dan Edwards is another specialist who is believed to have worked with many top players in the Premier League and also many international players as well according to The Athletic with the long list of the clients being kept a secret for the reasons we explored in the last two parts.

The likes of Dan Edwards, Hussien Isa, and other specialists were given an opportunity due to Bartek Sylwestrzak's willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. This is not to suggest that one should question everything and rebel against established norms, which could lead to foolishness and inefficiency.

However, when skepticism of the norm is backed up by knowledge, data, research, and science, it can lead to significant improvements. It also prompts us to reconsider whether the top-rated shooters are indeed the best. This is precisely what Bartek Sylwestrzak's statements at the beginning of this series and in this post are intended to convey.

Who Are The Kings Of Shooting

According to Sylwestrzak, there is a distinction between someone who is an excellent free-kick scorer and someone who is a great shooter in general. While Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo have all scored incredible free-kick goals, they have also experienced lengthy periods of low productivity from free-kicks, relying on their previous accomplishments to maintain their reputations as great free-kick specialists.

Sylwestrzak believes that Juninho Pernambucano and Raphael Assunção are the true shooting kings. For example, in nine Premier League seasons, Beckham only managed to score 18 goals from free-kicks, whereas Assunção scored more than that in just three seasons with Palmeiras before moving to Roma and then Real Betis, where he scored nearly twice as many.

Cristiano Ronaldo's free-kick success rate has consistently been less than 8% throughout his career, and it dropped to just 3% in the last six years with various clubs. In contrast, James Ward-Prowse achieved a 15.2% success rate during the same period. Reputation, as a result, is important.

Juninho Pernambucano, on the other hand, was a flawless shooter who excelled in all types of shooting, whether it was the knuckleball or topspin, and did so consistently from various distances and against all types of goalkeepers. Even the knuckleball, which had perplexed players for decades, came easily to him over 15 years ago. All of this was accomplished for an extended period with a 44% success rate, prompting the final question:

Is It Worth It?

Is someone like Sylwestrzak really going to make a difference? Are we just talking about random topics just to kill time and fill pages? Is Sylwestrzak cloutchasing?Is this whole, overtly complicated saga worth the hassle? The answer to this question can be found in Andrea Pirlo's book: I Think Therefore I Play.

In 14 entire seasons since 1995 with Brescia, Inter Milan, Reggina, and AC Milan, Pirlo scored a total of 16 free kicks in all tournaments. That's only one more free-kick scored than the ones he scored with Juventus in his four seasons there. What happened exactly?

In his book, Pirlo says that before joining Juventus he started observing Juninho's shooting techniques intensively and attempted to copy them. For a long time, he was watching Juninho's shootings obsessively and then attempts them in training to find out the secret, or the correct way as he put it. Ever since it came down to how good he'd copy Juninho.

According to Pirlo, he discovered that Juninho's knuckleball technique was shooting the ball only with his first three toes and that's why it was so good. I can't confirm or deny whether that is actually the way Juninho's knuckleball was shot, I am just sharing what Pirlo said. But, that's how Pirlo's free-kick success rate tripled.

That's just based on Pirlo's observation, he didn't bring in specialists or anything to help him, just pure, obsessive observation. We saw Pirlo scoring 15 free kicks with Juventus and imagined that he just discovered that skill within himself, but even he was learning from someone he considered better. The question is: If you're going to learn how to do certain things, why not learn from a specialist?

In Conclusion

The way I view how the football world treats specialist is that as long as you're outside and virtually unaffected by something, you could never truly understand its impact and consider it nonsense. It's like questioning why we have neurosurgeons, wouldn't general surgeons do the job just fine? However, if any of us suffered from a brain haemorrhage, we'd want a neurosurgeon to treat it and not just any general surgeon.