With his nearly unlimited array of skills and his penchant for breaking down defenses even when they’re almost single-mindedly set up to stop him, Lionel Messi presents a unique threat to opponents. Unfortunately for his rivals, it’s difficult to dream up some newfangled tactic that could help bottle him up. Unfortunately for us spectators, the one opportunity we did have at seeing a new and potentially revolutionary counter was undercut by cowardice.
Recall about a year ago, when Nice B of the fourth division in France (fittingly, as innovation’s true home at least in sports is usually far from the high-profile teams and leagues where it would potentially be most effective) presented us with this admittedly strange yet impossibly fascinating twist on the free kick defense:
What you’re left with after watching this are even more questions: could this work regularly? What would be the best counter strategy for the free kick taker to adopt? Would this be more effective at keeping out free kicks near the box than the standard routine?
Us laymen weren’t the only ones intrigued by this strategy. Sevilla manager Unai Emery admitted just this week that he had wondered if this reverse-wall technique could help his team concede fewer goals, particularly when going up against a free kick specialist like Lionel Messi.
Messi, you may also recall, terrorized Sevilla at the start of this season in the UEFA Super Cup with not one dead-ball goal—
(Funny coincidence: after that second goal, one of the commentators actually posits that perhaps a different, no-wall strategy might be the best way to stop Messi’s free kicks.)
Hoping avoid a similar fate in the two teams’ La Liga clash last month, Emery remarked at a coaching forum yesterday that he considered trying out Nice B’s method. From Marca:
Emery said that in the last league match played at the Camp Nou, they seriously evaluated the possibility of placing the wall in goal whenever Barcelona had a free kick at the edge of the area.
“We saw that a team in France had done it and we thought it might be a valid method against the effectiveness of Messi, who had already scored two free kicks against us in the European Super Cup. If we had done it, we would have been either the inventors a new footballing strategy or a bunch of fools, depending on the result of the experiment, and in the end we decided against it,” said coach from Hondarribia.
Sadly, Emery and his team didn’t want to be made to look like kooks, so they bailed on it. You can guess what happened in the match:
Fortune favors the bold.
Photo via Getty