Craig Foster is one of the most influential people in Australian football.
Aussie teams are regularly lionised and glorified as the underdogs, a David fighting against overwhelming odds and tribulation of Goliath, and for good reason.
From Mark Schwarzer’s body-on-the-line stops to John Aloisi’s ice-cool penalty in 2005, Aussie teams have shown courage in spades. It’s therefore a pity that they are timid in one particular area of football: heading the ball.
It starts at the top. Coaches are afraid, and their fear infects the players. Clubs end up hamstrung because of this.
Consider this scenario. A keeper punts a long kick upfield from a restart. The players gather at the drop zone, waiting in anticipation. A scene repeated ad infinum in world football.
Yet here is where Aussie teams differ from their Asian counterparts. Whereas Korean and Japanese teams tend to chest the ball down or control the ball with their foot, Australians smack their foreheads against the ball.
This is not an isolated example. In every situation where the player has a choice between heading and controlling the ball, Austrlians head nine times out of ten.
Leaving aside the concern that excessive heading of the ball is linked to brain injury, there’s another problem with this: it’s a cop-out. It’s the easy choice.
It’s why Japanese and Korean teams have technique streets ahead of Australian ones – it’s because they take the harder option. They opt to control the ball. Sure, its stressful and high risk, but its precisely this pressure that allows them to develop the skill of controlling a ball under pressure.
And this is something Aussie coaches need to realise instead of reverting to dated tactics like, “Smithy, head the damn ball away!”.