Ambidextrous players add guesswork to the game of football
A few weeks ago, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was excited after yet more exploits by Santi Carzola in Arsenal's match against Westham.
The Spanish midfielder scored a hard, rising shot using his left foot, which prompted Wenger to observe: "He is right-footed, but when you watch him play you don't know that."
The Arsenal manager, who was in charge of French club AS Monaco when one of England's finest players, Glen Hoddle, was there, recalled: "We had Glenn Hoddle and he was like that – left, right, you could not say which was strongest, and Carzola on that front is similar. I don't remember anyone else I have worked with who was as much as that two-footed."
He is part of a select group of players who are genuinely two-footed (the thought of a two-footed Diego Maradona is, frankly, a scary one; he made the ball talk with his left foot – imagine if his "wrong" foot could have done the same things?) Other players include Barcelona midfielder Adriano Correia, former Czech and Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved, current Juventus pass master Andrea Pirlo, Moroka Swallows striker Lerato Chabangu, former Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Jabu Pule and Orlando Pirates winger Sifiso Myeni.
It is as much a learned trait as it is natural, as in the case of Myeni. Genuine ambidexterity apparently is rare, occurring only in one in every 100 people.
"I trained my left foot so hard that people don't know I'm right-footed. It gives defenders a lot to think about," Myeni told a reporter.
It is rather unfortunate that the Chilean-born novelist Roberto Bolano, a writer who would have best understood Carzola's ambidexterity, is not around to give us his take on this. Bolano himself was right-handed but left-legged, a condition known as laterality or cross-dominance.
When Bolano was awarded the Romulo Gallegos prize, the Spanish equivalent of the Booker, for The Savage Detectives, the novelist made the kind of references in his acceptance speech that other football-loving writers and thinkers would have enjoyed. I have in mind Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano and French novelist Albert Camus (who played as a goalkeeper), French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and British novelist John Crace.
In a lecture titled Caracas Address, published in his book of essays Between Parentheses (Picador), Bolano said: "When I was little I played soccer. My number was 11, the same number as Pepe and Zagallo in the Sweden World Cup, and I was an enthusiastic but pretty bad player, though my shooting foot was my left foot and the conventional wisdom is that lefties are always useful to have in a match."
At night, he "would lie awake thinking and reflect on the sad state of my soccer career. And it was then that I had the first conscious glimpse of my dyslexia. I was left-footed but right-handed."
Bolano would have liked to have been both left-handed and left-legged, which is to say a true leftie (quite unlike some of our socialists who talk left and walk right). In fact, as a teenager, Bolano left Mexico to go back to his native Chile to support Salvador Allende's socialist revolution. He was arrested and spent days in prison; had he not been freed by a former classmate in the employ of Augusto Pinochet, who knows what would have happened?
It was not just the lack of symmetry that bothered Bolano; his laterality presented some practical problems. "For example, when the coach said 'Pass to the right, Bolano', I didn't know where I was supposed to pass the ball. And sometimes, playing on the left side of the field, at the coach's hoarse voice, I even had to stop and think: left, right. Right was the soccer field, to shoot left was to kick the ball out of bounds towards the few spectators.
"In time, of course, I learned to consult a reference point whenever anyone asked me directions or told me about a street to the right or left, and that reference point wasn't my writing hand but my shooting foot."
Should a writer's writing hand not always be his reference point?
Not that ambidexterity would really be the advantage for writers such as Bolano or Galeano that it would be for footballers such as Carzola or Myeni, unless it was an ambidexterity of the mind.