Why having a massive arse really is a forward’s secret weapon in football 5 years ago

Why having a massive arse really is a forward’s secret weapon in football

Readers, you and I are going to make a few circles with this piece. I’m going to make a point, you’re going to call me stupid, and then I’ll explain it and you’ll (hopefully) call me less stupid, but (hopefully) a lot more weird.

Ok here goes: a big butt is a forward’s secret weapon in football

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No, wait come back.

Quick. Look at this photograph of Wilfred Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho.

Southampton v Manchester City - Premier League

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Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

That’s the 27 year old Wilfred Bony stood next to the 19 year old Iheanacho. Crude comparison of man vs boy but you get the point: one of these strikers is going to be more of a physical threat in the penalty area, and the key to all of that held in the impressive and taut posterior of the Ivorian striker.

Take a quick look at these photographs to understand why Bony's big butt helps him play football.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City - Premier League

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Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Notice what he's doing with his butt.

Manchester City v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Do you see how he maneuvers it to maintain space between himself and opposing defenders?

Sunderland v Swansea City - Premier League

Photo by Richard Sellers/Getty Images

Do you see how difficult it is for the opposition to get round him once he deploys the butt buffer?

There’s a wonderful anecdote from goalkeeper David Preece about the football intelligence of Kenny Dalglish. Meeting the Scottish striker at the end of his footballing career, Preece tells the story of how Dalglish could take the ball to feet while turning away from the oncoming defender.

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He pointed at the sun. Still, we couldn’t work it out. 

'If it’s a sunny day, like today, I can use the defender’s shadow to see which side he’s going to attack me from and stick my arse out to protect the ball and roll away on the other side.'

At the time, this blew my mind, showing how intricate his thinking must have been in moments of great pressure.'

Preece's story, (as well belonging to an incredibly handsome man you should follow on Twitter) is a testament to the on-field intelligence necessary allowed him to become one the world’s best forwards.

It also mentions butts, which is why we’re writing this feature.

Kenny Dalglish of Liverpool and Kevin Ratcliffe of Everton.

Kenny Dalglish, fresh from using his arse to marshall Everton defender Kevin Radcliffe off the ball in the 1986 Charity Shield match. Probably. (Photo: Allsport UK /Allsport)

Back to modern era of football, and Euro 2016's Player of the Tournment was Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann.

A skilled winger, now converted into a nifty second striker, what made Griezmann stand out in Euro 2016 was not just his Drake themed goal celebrations, but how at a relatively short 5ft 9, the French forward boasted the uncanny ability to shrug off tackles and leap through the air.

Of course, talking to some eagle eyed French viewers, they knew the reason why Griezmann was such a tricky player....

 

But what is it about a player’s posterior that can help them during attacking period of play? To investigate further, we’ll have to take a brief detour into the world of basketball.

Moses’ signature was his rebound work. In and around the rim there was no one better, no one sneakier, no one dominated the paint with the same ferocity as him.

Moses Malone didn’t so much crash the boards, he annihilated them. There was no one, no one better at getting rebounds than Malone in the paint. Not even Kareem Abdul Jabbar came close. 

But, as a number basketball fans would point out, while Moses had quick feet, there wasn’t that much that should have made him stand out as a remarkable attacking player. He had short arms, wasn’t a good passer and couldn’t shoot from particularly far out. He could jump repeatedly over-and-over but didn't boast a particularly high shot.

What he did have though, was a massive arse.

Noted basketball writer Bill Simmons explained it in his book "The Big Book of Basketball" (a book a highly recommend to all sports fans and writers, even those with no interest in basketball).

"He lurked along the bassline on either side of the basket, biding his time, letting everyone else get position for a rebound.. And then when he felt like a shot was coming up, he’d sly sneak under the backboard, start backing up, slam his butt into his opponent to create the foot of space he needed, then jump right to where the rebound was headed."

"There was no way to stop it. Again, you could position under the basket and he’d still get the rebound."

Moses Malone is a Top 10 all time player in NBA rebounds, and many a fan of his teams would point out his ass attack went a long way in racking up those numbers.

In football, much like basketball, the players who profit closest to goal are those who combine precision thinking with expert manipulation of space.

Stop for a moment and think about getting the ball from someone who has just jabbed their buttocks into you. With someone able to generate power from their legs, a butt jab is someone directing a remarkable amount of power at you, using the biggest muscle in their body to do so. Even if you stand firm, you will give up a half inch of space,  giving the person doing it an instant headstart over you when it comes to getting the ball.

As an added advantage, the buttocks is a sneak attack. It’s hard to dodge, and even harder for referees to see. If a player successfully pulls off the butt jab, they do  it with their back or side facing you, which means when you try to tackle back you end up with something like this:

Germany v France - Semi Final: UEFA Euro 2016

Only one person is getting carded after this tete-a-tete, and it's not the player with a hashtag named after his posterior. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

In fact, not only can a butt jab work as a conventional battering ram to shield the ball, but it can also be used as a way to recover the ball. Providing one can generate enough height, throwing yourself buttocks first at a defender while in the air is a particularly sneaky way to let a defender come over you and to earn yourself a free kick.

As the adage goes "the first yard is in your head"; a little digging would probably reveal the second one in in a player’s posterior to get you a little space from a defender.

But not only can a player’s posterior help as a buffer between attacker and forward, but a well conditioned butt can also help player performance and protect against lower limb injury.

As Ben Barker, a 15 year sports physiotherapist from Total Health Clinics, explains:

The hip muscles or gluteals form the largest part of your extensor chain. This is an interconnecting chain of muscles that run down your back, through your glutes, hamstrings and eventually calf.

The extensor chain drives the hips backwards, and it is this explosive action that gives footballers, especially strikers, their speed.

Having well conditioned gluteal muscles gives the faster players on the pitch that extra half yard that is needed to ride a tackle(!) or reach the ball.

As Ben explains it, a well conditioned butt could not only be a helpful tool bossing the penalty box, but could also be be helpful for quicker players who are prone to hamstring injuries.

Injuries to the hamstrings and knees are two of the most common in footballers. Making sure that the Gguteals fire first, prevents the hamstrings from overloading. The gluteals also help orientate the position and alignment of the hip.

If the external rotators are too tight, then the leg turns out (think like a ballet dancer) and if the internal rotators are too tight then the leg turns in (pigeon toed).

The balancing act of these gluteals helps orientate the knee and makes sure it points in the right direction.

Very crudely; if Daniel Sturridge wants to play more time playing football, he would do well to do a few extra squats in the gym.

Putting this all together, and one may wonder if this is feeding into football scouting and coaching. Well as Fulham Academy scout and former Arsenal and Fulham community coach CJ Ramson explains, the knowledge is there… sort of.

If you watch the players who use this more often than others (Wilfried Bony, Eden Hazard etc.) it's not a coincidence that they're using their butt to hold off defenders. So they have either been coached or coached themselves.

Smaller players with a lower centre of gravity will naturally be more agile on the ball and find it easier to turn quickly. Where the butt comes into play is riding tackles. Eden Hazard, especially in the 14/15 season, is a great example of this. He could accelerate away from defenders and use his butt to shield himself from challenges while dribbling at speed and keeping his balance. It is definitely something that can be coached to those with a 'natural gift' and it could be something that is already being coached across Europe.

So, are football scouts making a move for the more... ahem... big boned players at youth level to feed the need for strikers at the top level?

Again, not quite. YET.

Personally, this is something that I have never come across. Considering; height, weight, height of parents, school marks and a whole other range of things come into play when scouting a player it's surprising no club (to my knowledge) has ever picked up on it. It could be something Chief Scouts look for at first team level but even that would surprise. I can certainly see it being a factor in the near future.

Watford v Chelsea - Premier League

Eden Hazard putting his posterior to good use against Watford. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

So what's the future of the butt squat, and how can it be used to help you down at Sunday League?

Well, as with all many feats of physical skill, a lot of it has to be built in the gym first.

Most importantly, squat! Without the gluteal muscles there is no advantage to be had. For an attacking player especially.

 

We'll see you back out on the pitch, look out for those sly jabs in future.

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