H is for headers…
The basic allure of football is often put down to the innate intrigue and weirdness of watching fellow humans control a ball with their limbs less well-evolved to master the task. Chucking a ball about through hands is mundane—most people could cope with that—but feet? In many ways it’s a testament to humanity’s taste for seeking out unnecessary challenges for fun.
Maybe headers feed into this juxtaposition too? After all, the act of putting your noggin in the way of a ball more easily reached and manipulated by hands—Diego Maradona and Luis Suarez seemed to think so in the past—is another example of the contrarian beauty of the world’s most popular game.
In attack, bullet headers are the feared aerial armament of the typical bolshie No. 9, who leap into the skies to out-muscle defenders and outfox goalkeepers with their spring loaded, 12-gauge neck muscles.
At the back, diving headers, centre-backs of imposing stature and defenders clearing off the line with their heads at either post all require ample use of the brain box to intercept the flight of the ball.
Glancing headers can either be strokes of luck or well-engineered touches of subtlety to evade a keeper’s mitts or set-up a fellow attacker who are able to gobble up the opportunity of a knock down or two.
Yet headers are often spoken about as if they were artefacts of the past: a dying skill forever losing relevance and champions within the modern game. Is that really true though? Football’s never been more physically demanding, competitive and full of genuine, world class athletes.
Goalkeepers have arguably never been under greater threat from spring-footed goliaths able to rise into the rafters and power home a head butt, either straight into the net or downwards to bounce up off the turf, to find that vital breakthrough.
It may not have been unleashed within the confines of the Premier League, but if ever proof was needed of the prevailing power and status of the headed goal, Robin van Persie’s goal against Spain at the World Cup was the ideal article of evidence.
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