Beckham proves England have only one leg to stand on Inability of homegrown players to make passable stab at kicking with their left foot is a big worry

the national dilemma that is threatening to undermine Kevin Keegan's grand design
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In his search for a footballer who can kick with his left foot, Kevin Keegan might not have noticed a fixture in the First Division of the Meadowhall League in Sheffield this weekend where, according to local reports, a tasty left-winger has been recruited by Brunsmeer Athletic. Tall, angular, with an ungainly, shuffling gait and an ability to deliver crosses to order, his name is Chris Waddle, once of Newcastle, Tottenham, Marseilles, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Torquay United, and England's last genuinely world-class left-sided player.

In his search for a footballer who can kick with his left foot, Kevin Keegan might not have noticed a fixture in the First Division of the Meadowhall League in Sheffield this weekend where, according to local reports, a tasty left-winger has been recruited by Brunsmeer Athletic. Tall, angular, with an ungainly, shuffling gait and an ability to deliver crosses to order, his name is Chris Waddle, once of Newcastle, Tottenham, Marseilles, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Torquay United, and England's last genuinely world-class left-sided player.

At the time, particularly in his more distracted moments, we probably did not appreciate the value of Waddle's contribution. But if Keegan could put back the clock a decade, Waddle would surely be near the top of his fantasy list for Euro 2000. Waddle used his right foot for standing on, which was just as well because he stood on it quite often. But just by standing still on the left touchline, Waddle provided England teams with a balance that Keegan's England desperately lack.

"Balance. That's the key word," says Dave Richardson, head of youth development for the Premier League. "Unfortunately, with Jamie Redknapp playing out there for England, there were times when he had to drag the ball back on his right foot, which immediately made it easier for the defenders. If we had a player who was able to go around the outside and cross, like David Beckham on the right, that would stretch the opposition defence and pose a lot more problems."

Keegan has to solve the dilemma before next summer. The makeshift combination of Redknapp and Philip Neville simply did not work. Stephen Froggatt, who Richardson helped sign for Aston Villa, will be next for audition. Naturally gifted left-footed players are treasured by scouts and coaches alike. "They usually catch the eye," says Richardson. "They always have a little something about them, their gait or movement. Once you find them, you hang on to them."

The wider concern is the inability of homegrown Premiership players to make even a passable stab at kicking with their left foot. Early in the first half on Wednesday night, Michael Owen attempted to compensate by flicking in a cross with the outside of his right boot. Owen's effort ballooned embarrassingly over the crossbar. Owen was recently voted 44th best player of the century by readers of World Soccer , two places above Duncan Edwards and 12 higher than his England manager.

Balance is not just the key to a tactical formation; physical balance marks out the great players from the rest. Though he brushed past one Argentinian player on his left side for his World Cup goal in St Etienne, Owen's instinct when faced with another took him automatically on to his right foot. Asked now to play predominantly down the left side of the England attack, Owen is struggling not just because his body wants to take him back into the middle but because his mind is straying that way too, a tendency that top-class international defenders will now readily anticipate.

By coincidence, a Norwegian dance troupe came to London last week to perform a piece entitled A Dance Tribute to the Art of Football . Not much relevance to EnglandScotland derbies, clearly, except that, like footballers, dancers favour one side over another yet must develop near-perfect balance. "For pirouettes, for example, most dancers will prefer to turn to the right," says Judy Steadman, assistant manager of the City of London ballet company and a classically trained dancer. "But if a choreographer says 'No, I want it done the other way', you can't just say, 'Sorry, I can't do that'. Most teachers will get their pupils to practise moves off both right and left sides as a matter of course, but it's comic sometimes to see how difficult it can be for some people."

That tuition starts at the age of 10 so by the time the best of them reach centre stage the balance between left and right is almost instinctive. With footballers, necessity more than education is the mother of invention. Dave Sexton, still one of the sharpest coaching brains in the country, learnt to kick properly with his left foot after two cartilage operations had weakened his right knee. Not having a decent left foot, he says, can be resolved technically. "At West Ham, they used to have what they called 'front foot' drills which meant passing with the outside of the right boot and I carried that on in my coaching career.

"Bobby Moore became a master of that type of pass because he practised it and I can remember Lothar Matthäus laying on a super goal for Germany against Wales with a ball delivered with the outside of his right foot. It's a skill you can learn."

The advent of the all-purpose wing-back, Richardson believes, has prompted the present dearth of genuine old-fashioned left-wingers. "I've seen situations at clubs where players who have been signed as wingers found their roles had been changed and suddenly they weren't wanted anymore unless they were prepared to track back and fill in the hole."

Ryan Giggs, a natural winger, has adapted successfully to his role on the left side of Manchester United's midfield, but often at the expense of his attacking flair, while David Ginola's unwillingness to fulfil the defensive obligations demanded by Kenny Dalglish brought him from Newcastle to London where he has surprisingly been given a licence to roam by George Graham. There was some delight, even in English souls, that Neil McCann, a throwback in size and style to the old wizards of the wing, was the architect of Scotland's goal at Wembley.

Keegan's misfortune is that he is paying for years of neglect on the training ground and the new academy system has come too late to help him. "For years we've been moaning about not having access to the kids from the right age," Dave Richardson says. "We've always looked at continental players and seen how composed they seem to be on the ball, whether on their right or left foot. Well, now we've got the same access and it will be interesting to see what improvements are made.

"I saw a session at an academy the other night for Under-11s where they were being actively encouraged to use both feet. They were trying the right foot stepover, then the left. You've got to encourage young players to turn both ways because that happens in a game. One thing I do, I suppose to compensate for the old street or alley football, is to get them passing against a wall, 10 with the right foot, 10 with the left. If a player sticks with it, he might not have a brilliant left foot, but he'll be able to get himself out of trouble with it, which is a start."

For Keegan, the options are depressingly limited. Get Graeme Le Saux fit again, hope that Froggatt or Steve Guppy fits the bill or go and watch Brunsmeer Athletic. Failing any of those, he could always sign up Ken Livingstone.

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