Heading for success
Brazilians are renowned for their mesmerising footwork. Flicks and tricks, defence-splitting passes and ferocious, swerving shots are among the traits they perform masterfully and frequently across the fields of planet football.
Luis Eduardo Schmidt, by contrast, is employing an attribute rare in his countrymen to seize the headlines. With seven headers in his last eight games for Real Betis, Edu, as he is better known, has cemented his name on a short list of Brazilian aerial specialists that includes the likes of Baltazar, Pele, Dada Maravilha and Jardel.
"Edu is the best header of a ball in La Liga," declares his Betis team-mate Hugo Pavone. "My crosses are providing goals for him, but the most important thing is the jump and the header."
And Edu's hot streak is no flash in the pan. It was his head, after all, that rescued the Andalusian club from a humiliating relegation from the Spanish top flight in their centenary year. With his team just ten minutes away from demotion last July, Edu nodded home and 80th-minute opener - and then struck a second goal - to snatch Betis an imperative victory at Racing Santander, which preserved their La Liga status at the expense of the midfielder's former employers, Celta Vigo.
A mere three points clear of safety this term, the Béticos will be praying their No10 can extend his run of headed goals. "I can't recall anything like this," said Edu. "Although in my first season at Celta Vigo I scored six headers from a total of 12 goals. I was the leading scorer of headers that year alongside (Darko) Kovacevic. I learned a lot from [ex-Celta and Spain striker] Catanha back then, and now he calls to congratulate me."
Edu is not the only player currently terrorising teams with his head across the globe's major championships. Washington's headers proved fundamental to Urawa Red Diamonds winning the AFC Champions League and finishing third at the FIFA Club World Cup last year, and he is now utilising his aerial ability to spearhead Fluminense's bid to seize the Carioca State Championship and Copa Libertadores trophies.
The latter is currently in the possession of Boca Juniors, whose sixth continental crown owed much to Martin Palermo's contribution. The hulking 34-year-old is presently spearheading Boca Juniors' assault on the Clausura, yet he is not short of rivalry in the aerial department. Arch-rivals River Plate now boast towering Uruguayan Sebastian Abreu, who also shares Palermo's El Loco nickname, along with Colombian marksman Radamel Falcao Garcia.
Europe is, nevertheless, where the majority of aerial specialists ply their trade. Among them are Juventus' David Trezeguet, Michael Ballack of Chelsea and Nurnberg's Jan Koller, while the likes of Luis Garcia of Atletico Madrid and Everton's Tim Cahill excel in the air despite lacking the physical stature of these aforementioned counterparts.
Bayern Munich possess two undoubted experts. A collection of headers helped Luca Toni claim the European Golden Boot in the 2005/06 campaign, and the German giants have already benefited from the Italian's aerial prowess following his pre-season move from Fiorentina.
Miroslav Klose may not be able to match Toni in terms of height, but his incredible spring - coupled with an unerring accuracy upon connection - make him one of the sport's most feared frontrunners in the air. The German international netted five goals during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ - all headers - and he followed this up by nodding home an 80th-minute equaliser against Argentina in the quarter-finals at Germany 2006. The host nation ultimately won the tie on penalties and went on to clinch bronze, with Klose taking home the adidas Golden Shoe.
"I have the strength to jump high from my mother who was a handball international," Klose explains. "But I am also a perfectionist. I practice with a lead vest and try to jump to a ball that hangs above me on a rope. The most important thing is the many short steps before I jump."
And this practice has made Klose untouchable, according to former Alemannia Aachen goalkeeper Kristian Nicht, who once attested: "If you see Klose jump up in the air, you can get acrophobia. Nobody in Germany, maybe even in Europe, can currently live with him up in the air."