ISL 2015: Exclusive interview with Chennaiyin FC's Elano on the art of taking a freekick
Elano seems to spark into life when standing over a dead ball. Seven of his 10 ISL goals have come from freekicks and penalties.
By Pulasta Dhar and Vinayakk Mohanarangan
Elano's career has a bit of a statistical hole. Detailed numbers on his football journey have been recorded only from the 2004-05 season, when he joined Shakhtar Donetsk. Since then, he has scored 15 direct freekicks and 23 penalties in his career. That adds up to a whopping 50 percent of his goals from dead-ball situations.
Just like the crowds that come to see him during the Indian Super League, the 34-year-old Brazilian seems to come to life when standing over a dead ball. Seven of his 10 ISL goals have come from freekicks and penalties.
There's something about these situations — all the lessons on closing down, tackling, tugging, sliding and and blocking don't count — in that moment, defenders are reduced to a mere human wall.
As Elano himself says, dozens of calculations are running through a player's mind when they stand over the ball: the distance to goal, power to apply, the choice to let rip or dink or swerve, to go low and hard or over the wall and into the corner, the wind-speed and the goalkeeper's position.
Finally, it also comes down to fear. That bit of psychological advantage the attacker enjoys over the goalkeeper. And Elano has plenty of that, personified by the slow gongs that the DJs in the ISL play as soon as he counts his steps and sets himself up for that one moment of genius. He's so good that even opposition fans want him to score. Maybe it's down to a craze Indian football fans haven't enjoyed yet, but an Elano freekick and penalty is an event within an event.
In part one of Firstpost's exclusive two-part interview, Chennaiyin's footballing superstar Elano explains the art of taking a freekick:
How much time do you spend in taking set-pieces? Especially freekicks? To get more specific, is there a particular number of minimum freekicks you practice per session? Or is it till the time you're satisfied?
In India it’s a little less, because of all the travel. But in Brazil I practice my free kicks daily. Of course, I try to maximise the results during the game when I have to be very accurate. Because during the play, you can’t afford to make mistakes.
When I was younger, I used to take nearly 50 kicks every day in practice. Now as I get older, I don’t have that much control. But I always practice still whenever I get a chance.
There's a research that says doing anything for 10,000 hours will make you good at it. Is it the same with kicking a dead ball into goal? Or is it more of a natural, in-born trait?
Logically, it’s a combination of both. Practice plus a gift that I was born with. But the gift that I have is worth only if I practice it and dedicate to it. Practising everyday and with dedication is how this gift I have has come out with good results.
Are free-kicks from every angle practiced differently? Which is the hardest angle to take a freekick from?
No particular angle. It depends on the situation. From wide angles, sometimes I see the goalkeeper expect a shot, then I cross. If I see him move for a cross then I shoot for goal. (laughs)
Let us know what goes on in your mind when you're standing over the ball in a dangerous area. What are you thinking? What are you looking at? How is the pressure?
I try to concentrate. I have to be watchful of the position of the goalkeeper - if he is making his move early, a bit before time or he waits. Then I have to give as accurate a kick as possible.
Do you look at the wall when taking a freekick? Or do you just discount their presence?
The wall is important for a free kick. But when the opposition makes a wall for a freekick, I also set my own wall with my team, our players to make it difficult for goalkeeper to see the ball.
What is the hardest part about taking a freekick?
Of course, the farther away it is, the more difficult. There is the difficulty of the wall, the difficulty of beating it, there is also the difficulty of me getting away an accurate kick. You also have to realise the goalkeeper is also as prepared as you to defend his goal.
What do you look for in a goalkeeper when taking a free-kick?
I see his positioning, that helps me make up my mind to which side I am going to shoot.
Ronaldo and Bale have a particular technique, Beckham had his way of taking a freekick and Juninho had a different technique. Who is your inspiration when it comes to taking to free-kicks? Do you have your own style?
There is a Brazilian footballer (Brasilierao) Marcelinho Carioca [known in Brazil as "Pé-de-Anjo - Angel Foot for his free-kick skills]. He played with me in 2001 when I was in Santos. He is a terrific converter of free kicks. It was his training and by watching him take free kicks, that I improved a lot.
What gives you more joy? Scoring from a dead ball or scoring from open play?
Goalscoring is important irrespective of how it comes. Every goal scored is a pleasure of football! It always depends on the occasion of when the goal is scored.
Which are your favourite freekicks from your career?
In England, the one for Manchester City vs Newcastle. In 2007, it was my first goal in England. Then one for Flamengo vs Emelec in Copa Libertadores which I scored in Maracana, in 2012. And for Manchester City vs Middlesborough in 2007.
There is the notion that top players are very good mathematicians -- constantly calculating wind, speed, angles, spin etc. How true is that?
Yes, we have to read all that in the moment that the kick is taken. How fast to kick the ball, amount of spin all that has to be measured perfect in that particular instant. The wind speed etc makes it difficult for the goalkeeper too.
Who is Elano's favourite free-kick taker of his generation?
Beckham. Has to be David Beckham for the accuracy with which he placed his free-kicks.
How are you enjoying connecting with the fans? How does it feel to have the Chennai crowd chant your name every time the referee awards the freekick?
It’s great that they recognise my talent and I thank them for that. It’s a fruit of my hard work. Maybe this year it’s been a bit difficult to score free-kicks because I am not being fouled as much as last year in the right areas! But I am still scoring and making assists, so I am doing my role so far.
This interview was conducted on 17 October in Mumbai with the help of a Portuguese translator.
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