Math is an exact science: one plus one is two, whichever way you look at it. And anyone who has spent time on a football pitch knows how limiting having just one ‘good’ foot can be. Who at one time or another hasn’t found themselves wishing for both the poise, power and precision of Roberto Carlos’ left foot and David Beckham’s right?
The former Argentina midfielder and current coach of Argentinos Juniors, Claudio Borghi, something of an expert in his day at the rabona cross-legged trick, has admitted in previous interviews how restrictive it felt to rely on just one foot: “Doing a rabona isn’t just showboating, nor is it a mark of your quality – it’s simply you admitting loud and clear to anyone watching that your other foot is completely useless.”
This is not, however, a problem that Gallic genius Zinedine Zidane ever had to face in his career, capable as he was of unimaginable exploits with both feet. One such triumph was the goal he scored for Real Madrid in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final versus Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park. His left-footed volley from the edge of the penalty area that soared into the top corner of the German side’s net will remain engraved in the memory of football fans the world over for many years.
Left foot forward
It is remarkable how often naturally right-footed players score outstanding goals with their left. While sporting the colours of Juventus, Zidane provided another unforgettable example of this phenomenon in a match against Reggina, as he skipped past three defenders, surged into the box and dispatched an unstoppable left-footed shot past the opposing goalkeeper.
Of course, fans of the attacking midfielder were already well aware of his prowess in this domain – in his international debut against the Czech Republic in 1994, Zidane unleashed a ferocious bending shot with his ‘wrong’ foot, opening his account for France in the process.
The Frenchman’s incredible skill elevated him to a different level from his peers, leading most onlookers to take his innate two-footed dexterity for granted. Back in the land of mere mortals, there are a few players who have acquired this revered status through necessity, such as the Sevilla star, Adriano, who sustained an injury to his right leg as a child. Too impatient to wait for it to heal, he taught himself to control the ball with his left foot, an effort that he is now unlikely to look back on with regret. A similar set of circumstances also turned Spanish forward David Villa into the genuinely two-footed player he is today.
Former Russian international, Igor Kolyvanov, current coach of his country’s Under-21 team, displayed almost unnerving accuracy with both feet in his time with Bologna in Serie A. His expertise was such that it was not unheard-of for him to score from two direct free-kicks in the same match, one with his left foot and one with his right!
The unique skills of these types of players have the potential to create nothing but trouble for opposing defenders, who can never be completely sure which side to block or cover. Nobody knows this better than Sergio Goycochea, who kept goal for Argentina during the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ in Italy. On football’s biggest stage, in the closing minutes of a tightly-contested Final, Germany’s left-footed wingback Andreas Brehme opted to strike the match-winning penalty with his right foot, fooling Goycochea and breaking Argentinian hearts.
Perhaps not quite at the same level as the graceful German, but nonetheless exceptionally accomplished with both feet, the former England international, Glenn Hoddle, holds forthright views on the subject: “It is amazing so many talented players are one-footed. Even Maradona was unbelievably one-footed. The options that open up for you – all those angles – as a two-footed player are incredible, and I can speak from experience.”
Hoddle, one of the players Maradona left in his wake before scoring the most memorable goal of his career, the second of the infamous Argentina-England FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final in 1986, had the advantage of being born ambidextrous: “I was lucky; I was naturally two-footed, but I also put in a lot of practice. If I ran at someone, I always felt more natural on my left side, but if I had to take a penalty or free-kick I would take it with my right foot.”
A European exception?
To this exclusive list can be added the illustrious names of David Ginola (France), Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy), Lubomir Moravcik (Slovakia) and Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands), among others. Despite appearing to be a particularly European tendency, the free-scoring Uruguayan, Diego Forlan, and the versatile Brazilian, Anderson Hernanes, firmly disprove this theory.
Due to these dual abilities, Hernanes has been asked to play in a multitude of positions over the years, and is as much at home up-front as in central midfield. In a recent interview with FIFA.com, the Sao Paolo player weighed up the pros and cons of being a truly two-footed performer. “I’ve played all over the park. Sometimes this can be a good thing. People will say that I’m flexible and that I offer a lot of different things to the team. On the other hand, there is also definitely a negative side to it. People will look at it and say that there’s someone who doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing on the pitch.”
And goalkeepers? Enter some ambidextrous individuals with a very rare skillset – those whose ‘good’ hands and feet do not match. For example, former French international keeper Fabien Barthez used his left foot and right hand with enviable accuracy. And he is not alone – goalkeepers who also fall into this category include Spanish No 1 Iker Casillas and the former Brazil international, Dida.
But it seems likely that, short of changing the rules of football, nobody will ever be able to confirm whether or not a two-footed player such as Barcelona’s Pedro, for example, is capable of using both of his hands as well as he manoeuvres both of his feet.