Brad Friedel, who has more experience than anyone of facing Gareth Bale's free-kicks, did not say it was impossible to save them: "No, not impossible," mused the Tottenham goalkeeper, "but very difficult."
Bale scored twice on Thursday against Lyons with those thrilling late dippers, a technique he has taken from Cristiano Ronaldo but which owes much to his hard work and talent. "I've been practising for ages now," Bale revealed. "I think if you keep practising, it does come off in a match."
Bale did not shy away from the Ronaldo comparisons in a recent interview. "Everybody knows what Cristiano Ronaldo has done with his free-kicks – the way he hits the ball, the style he does it in – and it's working for him," Bale said. "A lot of players are now trying it out and, thankfully, it's started to pay off for me, as I've scored three goals like it this season.
"At the start [when trying to learn the skill in training] the main thing is to get the technique right, so at first it's best to have nothing in front of you. As you get better you start adding the wall and the mannequins, and then eventually you bring a keeper in. It's more of a progression and it does take a while to master."
According to Friedel, it is the lack of spin on the ball which makes it so hard to read. "If you set your wall up correctly you see it come off the foot, and then you have to react to the first direction that it goes – and the problem is that there's no spin on the ball.
"If there's no spin on the ball and then in mid-flight it goes the opposite way, there's no way to train your eye to deal with that. You just have to try to react the best you can."
So Friedel would not blame the Lyons keeper Rémy Vercoutre for failing to get near Bale's first on Thursday: "You have to take your first step off the first movement of the ball," he said, "and I'm afraid that is the goalkeeper's left and he moved left. Once he did that then he's dead. However, that's 100 per cent not a goalkeeping mistake."
And having no wall is no answer adds Friedel. "If you didn't have a wall then he would just smack the absolute bejesus out of it, low and hard, and you would have no chance."
Not that everyone is going overboard. Arsène Wenger said yesterday that Bale could not yet be bracketed with Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. "Messi has won Champions Leagues, championships and scored 95 goals per year. Let's not go too quick."Reuse content