Master Blaster: Drogba has edge over Ronaldo in perfect free kick delivery

19 December 2009 10:21
Master blaster: Didier Drogba

Those who thought the Barclays Premier League would be a lessexciting place without Cristiano Ronaldo's dead-ball specials can thinkagain. The top flight has a new free-kick king: Chelsea's Didier Drogba.

Most of today's top players use side spin to shape the ball over a defensive wall, but Drogba has developed a unique technique.

By hitting the ball hard with the inside of his right foot, just above the midway point, he is able to generate topspin.

This produces little sideways movement, but the ball descends very quickly, making his deliveries a nightmare for goalkeepers.

The Chelsea striker's second goal against Arsenal on November 29was a prime example: a powerful free kick hit straight and with pace.

When Drogba stands over a ball in a central position there isno-one better, according to Dr Ken Bray, senior visiting fellow at BathUniversity's department of mechanical engineering and author of How toScore - Science and the Beautiful Game.

Dr Bray says: 'Drogba should be favourite for all dead-ballset-ups, especially from central positions. He hits it very straightand appears to hit the ball with a very powerful side-foot action,almost like the technique used in a side-foot pass. Drogba's style isabout beating the goalkeeper with speed and depth.

'He really just passes the ball very hard, hitting it with the side of his foot just about on the ball's equator.'

Drogba's technique is a step forward from the style of DavidBeckham, one of the first players to introduce topspin into hisdeliveries. According to Dr Bray, the former England captain generatessuch a dramatic dip at the end of his set-pieces by hitting an 'instepshot', leaning back and connecting with the ball below the halfwaypoint. Remember his 25-yard goal for England against Greece at OldTrafford in 2001?

Beckham still imparts some side spin, which is why his free kickscurve from right to left, but Drogba can create more power because hisshots are more direct.

Dr Bray explains: 'Topspin kickers can hit it harder, perhaps70mph-plus, because it's going to come down. For sidespin kickersthere's nothing to bring it down except gravity, so they tend to hitthe ball a little softer, around 60 to 70mph.'

An example of a 'pure' sidespin, free-kick taker, who does not create any topspin, is Arsenal's Robin van Persie.

'If you had to bet your mortgage on a free-kick it would be VanPersie from the right-hand side of the pitch. He creates puresidespin,' says Dr Bray.

'For a left-foot kicker who is hitting the ball with sidespin, theball will move from his left to his right, so he can be more angledtowards the ball because the curve brings it back in.

'To pull off the perfect free-kick, the ball must be struck withgreat precision. The ideal is to strike the ball perfectly on its side.'

Former Liverpool and Manchester City midfielder Dietmar Hamann, DrBray explains, often used the outside of his right foot to create afree kick that swung from left to right. Goalkeepers have less thannine-tenths of a second t o make a save, but the rule ofthumb about giving free-kick takers a tempting target by leaving oneside of the goal open is wrong, according to Dr Bray.

He says: 'You are not thinking of the goal as a target. To scorefrom 25 yards you've got to strike the ball through what I call "theletter box"; a gap above the defensive wall that's six balls wide andone deep. It's as precise as that.'

Having a go PLAYER                       FREE KICKS GOALS ON TARGET%Drogba (Chelsea) 7 2 .42.86Diamanti (West Ham) .7 0 .57.00Taylor (Bolton) 7 0 .57.00Larsson (Birmingham) .6 3 100.00Rodallega (Wigan) .6 0 .50.00Pedersen (Blackburn) 6 0 33.33Reid (Sunderland) 5 .1 .40.00N'Zogbia (Wigan).5 0 80.00Van Persie (Arsenal) .5 0 .60.00O'Hara (Portsmouth) .5 0 20.00

So what has the Premier League lost with the departure of Ronaldo?Not a topspin or sidespin specialist, or an artist who can make theball swing in or out but, it seems, a bit of a toe-poker. Dr Bray said:'I think he partially toeends it, actually. He's trying to kick theball without any spin, whether consciously or not.

'The ball deviates unpredictably in flight, completely bamboozlingthe goalkeeper, who is often left flat-footed on his goal line.

'From video evidence it's clear that Ronaldo's free-kicks are notflukes, but the ball moves unpredictably and the ball markings indicatea very low spin-rate.'

Dr Bray believes Ronaldo has discovered the knack of kicking a ballwithout spin, but the Real Madrid star might be foiled at next summer'sWorld Cup. Ball manufacturers adidas have added dimpling to their newball, the Jabulani, to make it behave in a more uniform manner. It alsohas eight panels, six fewer than the ball used during the 2006 WorldCup in Germany, which means there are fewer seams to produceunpredictable movement.

In the Group G World Cup showdown between Drogba's Ivory Coast andRonaldo's Portugal in Port Elizabeth on June 15 next year, it could bethe Chelsea star who reigns supreme.


Source: Daily_Mail