Russia 2018

Can Football Learn From the NFL?

As England still comes to terms with a crushing 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, many are reflecting on how well the team played throughout the tournament. A particular strong point for the young England side has been their prowess from set-pieces.

Kieran Trippier’s free-kick against Croatia set a World Cup record, with England scoring nine goals from set-pieces during the tournament. Russia 2018 in general has seen in a rise in set-piece goals, with a record 30% of total goals up to the quarter-finals coming from corners or free-kicks, bettering previous recent records of 23% from the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

With set-pieces becoming increasingly important to international tournament football, not much has been written about what influenced England’s set-piece excellence under Gareth Southgate. England’s attacking coach Allan Russell has been praised by Southgate and his players, whom they credit for their drastic improvement in set-pieces.

Russell has spent his entire adult life within the world of professional football, yet Southgate has looked further afield for his set-piece influences. The England manager has spent time in the U.S visiting NFL franchise the Seattle Seahawks, has visited the last two Superbowl’s and has had numerous discussions with NFL analysts and NBA coaches to find out how their players find space in tight areas.

It was frequently seen in England World Cup games, when the team was taking a corner beforehand the players would quickly huddle together, before going into a line formation. As a casual fan of both football and American football this sounds much more like an NFL play then a football set-piece.

GETTY_Colombia-v-England-Round-of-16-2018-FIFA-World-Cup-Russia_SPO_GYI990944196jpg-JS417938365

England players set-up for a corner against Colombia using a move known as “the love triangle”. Nine of England’s 12 World Cup goals came from set-pieces. Photo copyright: Getty Images. 

With England showing how vital set-pieces can be in major international tournaments, will world football begin to follow the England example and adopt the mindset of an NFL franchise when it comes to set-pieces.

In the simplest sense a set-piece in football can be largely similar to an NFL play, a chance to score from a dead ball.  The NFL is constantly using shifts and motions to buy players space in tight windows, something that could prove massively beneficial with set-pieces.

Teams could use cleverly designed set-pieces where players disguise and then go in motion to fool opposition defenses, much like an NFL offense does. Football has tended to view American sports with a certain level of ignorance, dismissing it as not relevant to football.

What Gareth Southgate and England have highlighted is that in a time where set-pieces are becoming increasingly important in major tournaments, there is a lot world football can learn from American sports in how to create space in tight areas of the pitch.

By Jordan Wilkins find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

Let me know your thoughts on this article in the comments section below. 

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