The Lost Art of the Cross
With the rise of speed, tricks and goal-minded players in modern day soccer, the cross has lost its value and potential. As opposed to having the ball do the running for the players, many players have decided they will showcase their skills and cover large spaces of the field dribbling the ball rather than passing it.
Forwards have become less effective in the air and more effective on the ground. We witness fewer goals out of the air and more goals from the ground. Although I have briefly addressed why I believe this is happening, the reason is still very unclear. It becomes increasingly unclear because present day soccer is played in a 4-4-2 formation for the most part. This formation stresses the use of the wingers and crossing the ball in, yet, we are still witnessing the lack of good crosses and the lack of abundant crosses.
On a professional level, the cross is still used effectively (although not as much as it should be used). At an amateur level, it has been completely watered down and lost. The reason the cross has been watered down and lost is because it is not being executed successfully. The art of the cross has been lost. Coaches and players alike have avoided learning how to use it to their advantage.
If you go to a local soccer game, begin analyzing how the cross is used (if it is at all). For the purpose of this study and this blog, I want you to study how often the ball is crossed into the box to create a scoring chance. I do not want to study any kind of pass across the box, specifically the crossed ball into the box.
As a parent, family member, friend or even soccer fan, you might already have an answer to this question suggesting it’s used quite often – or maybe it’s not used very often. Whatever the result is, and bearing it in mind, I want you to take this analysis to the next step. Of the crosses you see carried out – irrelevant of the age group – how many crosses were delivered well?
Now you will ask, what distinguishes a well delivered cross?
- The ball is placed in the vicinity of a player (ideally most open player)
- The ball is hit hard
Pretty simple, right? Well, it should be. A well delivered cross involves the player who is crossing the ball to look up and actually pick out a target. More than ever, players feel satisfied if they simply get the cross off and get it into the box – for them, that is a check mark as job complete. Wrong! You need to actually pick out a target.
Once that target is picked out, that ball needs to be placed within the reach of that player. Whether for a header or volley, that ball needs to be accessible. Now the most important part – how is it crossed. If the ball is not struck well, that cross is useless more often than not. Players have developed a terrible habit of just chipping crosses in. As a result, balls float into the box and require extreme amounts of strength and skill to hit the ball with authority. If the ball is coming for their heads, players must use their entire upper bodies to generate enough energy to hit the ball hard enough to get it by the keeper.
Alternatively, imagine that ball being crossed as if it is a shot. When that ball reaches the target, little to no energy will be required to generate power. In fact, all the target will have to do is direct the ball – that’s it!
The benefits to a ball being struck like a shot are numerous. As mentioned, the target must only direct the ball, not hit it. Even if that ball was to strike a piece of wood planted into the ground, it would hit it with enough force that it would bounce into the net. Secondly, when a ball is struck like a shot, it travels much quicker and gives the goalie less time to (1) attempt to come out and make a play on the ball and (2) position themselves correctly to stop the ball. Similarly, defenders do not have enough time to find the player and measure the flight of the ball.
When a ball is chipped in like a balloon, not only will the target lose momentum they might have gained running into the box, but the goalie and defender will have ample time to recover lost ground and make a play on the ball. Worst of all, even if the ball reaches the target, he must now deal with trying to create power, pushing off a defender and beating a well positioned goalie.
The art of crossing is so simple: hit it like a shot. If you need to curve it for accuracy, do so. If you want to hit it in-step and keep it down, do so. But, stop chipping balls into the box; you are wasting your time and the team’s time.
Watch here as the Portuguese superstar Deco gives you a few hints about crossing the ball:
If the art of crossing can be brought back into soccer, the amount of goals will increase drastically. Not only will goals increase, but your team can create another means of approaching the net. It does not always have to be about shits and tricks, cross it in hard and hit your target.
So, when you watch your next soccer game, analyze how often a well delivered cross is carried out. If not very often, suggest they be carried out more often. Enjoy the results.