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Crossing the ball – A technique of the past?

Is the new road to team success possession, as opposed to direct?

The game of soccer in the last few decades has evolved from a more direct style to a more possessive type of soccer. Some teams have achieved success playing counterattack soccer, notably Chelsea and Corinthians (which made it to the FIFA Club World Cup final) while others have opted for long-ball tactics, such as Stoke City. However, the road to success in the last few years shows that possession is the key to the game, most notably mastered by Barcelona and Spain's national team.

Throughout the decades, using tall target strikers and crossing the ball into dangerous areas was the prominent way to play the game. In the 1950’s that all changed, with a new philosophy widely known as 'Total Football,' introduced by the Hungarian national team. The foundations laid by that Golden Team were later polished by Ajax, whicg utilized these tactics to win the European Cup three years in a row (1971-73).  While Johan Cruyff was categorized as a center forward, he used to step away from that position during open play, leaving the team without a target for putting in crosses. This tactical tweak meant the team had to play more indirectly, passing and moving to to create pockets of space for teammates to occupy.  While crosses were still coming in from flanking defenders, this new style of play centered around quick passing through the midfield.

The current Barcelona team plays a similar style of soccer, which is no surprise because Cruyff took over the team in 1988 leading the club to their first European Cup title in 1992. Surely that “Dream Team” in which Guardiola was a central figure, inspired Pep to develop the new “Tiki-Taka” a variation of the “Total Football” style deployed by Cruyff. It would be a mistake to state the current Barcelona squad does not employ crosses as Daniel Alves, Adriano and Jordi Alba have been very effective in picking out a target in the box. However, it can be concluded that crossing is not a priority in the current philosophy at Barcelona. Instead the team looks for one-touch combinations to break down the opposition.

Another team that used this style to its advantage was Brazil in the 1982 FIFA World Cup, led by Zico and Sócrates in the field and the charismatic Telê Santana in the bench. While the team did not win the title, their composure on the ball and familiarity with one another makes them one of the best teams of all-time. Telê’s philosophy also had little emphasis on crossing. Instead, fullbacks Junior and Leandro made diagonal runs towards the center and the team played mostly possession football.

These teams changed the way soccer is played today. Crossing has become a secondary weapon for most teams, but David Beckham still comes to mind as someone who possesses the ability to drop the ball on a dime.

Do you believe crossing is still important in the modern game? Let us know!

To further your crossing ability, SKLZ recommends using the KicksterTM Nets which are lightweight and easy to set up goals that will help you practice your crossing anywhere. SKLZ also recommends using the D-Man which can be used as defenders to practice crossing away from them.

For more tips from SKLZ and to learn similar techniques used by Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and the best free-kick takers check out "The Training Pitch" series and more videos.

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