Probably one of the most underrated and over looked aspects of the game of football is the pass before the assist. Even a defender’s last ditch tackle or a goalkeepers fingertip save receives more recognition that one of the key aspects of the game – the killer pass which was made just before the assist which contributed to the goal.
What the pass before the assist essentially does is it opens the play up completely for the attacking team putting the defending team on the back foot immediately. This ultimately leads to a player passing the football to the goal scorer (the assist) who then slots the ball home into the opposition net.
Not to take any credit away from the assist or the goal itself (and the players responsible for each respectively), but the pass before the assist always tends to stay in the shadows even though it deserves credit. At the end of each season, the assists and goals stats are racked up and compared. But, no one bothers about the pass before the assist. A player making such a pass is contributing as much to the team as the goal scorer and the assister.
The pass before the assist is made by players who can play in any position on the pitch. Quite often it is made by the goalkeeper or a defender when a team is launching a counter attack. In such cases the pass before the assist is the most crucial pass in determining the success of the counter attack. Even in the case of team goals which involve heavy link up play between several players, the pass(es) before the assist contribute as much towards victory as the assist and the goal.
Just as I write this, the Greece national team gives proof of the importance of the pass before the assist. Greece are 1-0 down at the quarters of the Euro 2012 against a German team who are running them ragged. Theofanis Gekas manages to get possession in the middle of the park and sends a fabulous through ball (the glorious but much ignored pass before the assist) to Salpingidis who makes a simple pass to Samaras to slot it home into Neuer’s net. Of course, Samaras and Salpingidis will be the name on everyone’s lips, but the brave and valiant efforts of Gekas, which in fact created the entire attack, will never be remembered. The pass before the assist will always remain in the shadow. (P.S.- Khedira just equalized for Germany, so the goal may be irrelevant, but the pass before the assist will remain beautiful.)
However, I repeat, we have stats only for the number of assists and goals. As a result, many, in fact most, viewers of the beautiful game tend to ignore the pass before the assist. As a result, many quality players with raw talent have been touted as overrated or unworthy. Definite examples would include Luka Modric from Spurs, Michael Carrick and from Manchester United, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing from Liverpool FC, Matthew Etherington from Stoke City, Seb Larsson from Birmingham City and many more (these are just a few from the English Premier Division). Admittedly, some of these players like Steward Downing have underperformed over the last season (0 Premier League goals and assists says it all). But, many of these players are instrumental in contributing towards the goal by making the pass before the assist on several occasions thereby ensuring the success of the team in the league/cup.
True appreciators of the game will be able to fully understand the value of the pass before the assist and the fact that it remains as important and as beautiful (if not more) as the assist and the goal.