Euro 2016

Corners not cutting it anymore

Switzerland's Fabian Schar rising high to head his side into the lead against Albania. The defender's goal is a rare success from a corner at Euro 2016, with teams rarely converting the set pieces into meaningful efforts on goal.
Switzerland's Fabian Schar rising high to head his side into the lead against Albania. The defender's goal is a rare success from a corner at Euro 2016, with teams rarely converting the set pieces into meaningful efforts on goal.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • Of all English football's notable quirks, only one has ever really baffled Jose Mourinho.

"How many countries can you think of where a corner kick is treated with the same applause as a goal," the now Manchester United manager had asked, rhetorically, during his first spell in the Premier League. "One - it only ever happens in England."

On the evidence of Euro 2016, the Portuguese may have underestimated the corner's enduring appeal.

It is not just the English who roar when their team win one.

In what has in many ways been a fractious, tense tournament, one thing that seems to unite the continent is the ripple of excitement that comes from seeing central defenders ambling towards the opposition box.

Where Mourinho cannot be faulted is in his bemusement that anybody should anticipate a corner with quite such fervour.

Before yesterday's games, Euro 2016 had produced 328 corners.

They had led to the distinctly unimpressive tally of seven goals, a ratio of one in every 47 taken, or just a shade over two per cent.

  • 1 in 47

  • Goals that result from corners at Euro 2016

Nowhere near enough, in other words, to justify the noise that accompanies each one.

"Increasingly, corners have become an irrelevance," said Tony Cascarino, the former Ireland international. "There are a host of factors behind that; it is not enough to say players simply cannot deliver them any more. The fact that defenders get away with so much in the box is important, and so is how protective referees are of goalkeepers.

"As soon as most goalkeepers come off their line, nine times out of ten the referee has his whistle in his mouth. More and more fouls are given as soon as players jump - whether from set pieces or open play - for things like raising an arm or climbing.

"They have all combined to make crossing in general less effective, so more and more teams are moving away from it, playing it short."

Indeed, the absence of goals from corners is not a recent phenomenon.

In last season's English Premier League, a total of 4,107 corners brought a grand total of 141 goals, meaning just 3.4 per cent of them were converted.

More significantly - in an age in which more and more managers are obsessed with "expected goals", a measure of how likely any given situation is to result in a high-quality chance - they are not even an efficient way of producing shots on goal.

In a study conducted by StatDNA- an analytics firm subsequently bought out by Arsenal - using data from the 2010-11 Premier League season, it emerged that just one in five corners even leads to a chance at goal.

"To put it another way," wrote Chris Anderson and David Sally in The Numbers Game, a book on football stats citing the study, "four in five did not lead to a shot on goal".

Managers, looking for any method to make their team more efficient in attack, regard that as wasteful.

"Corners are next to worthless; given the risk of being caught on the counter-attack with your central defenders upfield, their value is next to none," wrote Anderson and Sally.

Only five sides - France, Switzerland, Russia, Slovakia and Poland - had scored from corners at Euro 2016 before yesterday, with the Swiss leading the way: six chances, two goals, from 21 corners.

It is not bad, but it most definitely is nothing to get excited about.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Corners not cutting it anymore'. Print Edition | Subscribe