If you have watched or played a football match recently and a free-kick was given, you may have noticed — or not — a part of the game that takes place without much thought. That part of the game I am referring to is the defensive wall that teams build as an attacking team prepares to take a direct free-kick.
The defensive wall has become part and parcel of football, so much so, that we don’t even realise where it came from or when it started being used. In fact, we assume that a defensive wall improves stopping a free-kick taker from scoring a goal when perhaps in modern football, it may be more useful to put all of the defensive players closer to the goal to block the ball from going into the back of the net.
Since football has been played since the 1800s, it is difficult to know when the wall became an every game occurrence. There has been debate over the years whether or not a wall is needed. In 1993, the United States national team attempted to change the way walls were constructed during free-kicks. They made two walls with a gap in the middle allowing the goalkeeper to see the free-kick taker. It didn’t work due to the opposing team putting players in the middle of the wall to block the goalkeeper’s view.
That simple move makes it seem strange that the defensive team would want to block the goalkeeper from seeing. It does the attacking team an advantage to block the goalkeeper’s sight, yet it harms the defence. So, why create a wall in the first place?
German goalkeeping great Oliver Kahn was famous for using walls in a minimal way. He only wanted them for close free-kicks as he knew his skills would allow him to save most other free-kicks if he could see the ball.
A defensive wall does block the goal for an attacking player and they must figure out how to hit it up and over. The wall does make life more difficult for attacking players and that is why it seems to have evolved little over the years.