Why haven’t more European soccer stars become NFL kickers?

Leicester Citys title-winning defender Christian Fuchs wants to become an NFL placekicker but it is far from a well-trodden path

From a distance, an ocean away, it appears a cool breeze, doesnt it? In truth, the line from European soccer starring to NFL kicker is about as linear as a Christopher Nolan plot, a track lost in translation.

There? The one that gets the girl.

Here? The one that gets the water.

There? Pecs on billboards.

Here? Nipple envy.

There arent many underwear models that are a kicker, Nate Kaeding says with a chuckle. I can promise you that.

And yet that hasnt stopped the underwear models from being curious. defender Christian Fuchs, an Austrian national who lives in New York City when hes not winning the Premier League, depicted some clicks and raised eyebrows lately when he proclaimed those who are interested in kicking for an NFL team once his soccer days have passed.

Which raises the question: as the sporting world gets smaller by the download and the global village homogenizes, during an age in which the have a advocates club in Leighton Buzzard, and Leicester City claims fans in North Carolina, why havent more European football players attained the transition to the NFL as a career postscript?

Its not the most glamorous position in the world, and I think candidly that might make for a little part of it, offers Kaeding, one of the top 10 most accurate field-goal kickers in NFL history (8 6.2% conversion rate with San Diego and Miami from 2004 -1 2, No6 all time ).

Especially these English soccer players, theyre the Michael Jordans of[ European athletics ]. Theyre the Peyton Manning or LaDainian Tomlinson of Europe. You want to be a kicker in the NFL, youre various kinds of at the bottom of the glamour totem pole.

To put it another way, most American franchises and American teammates and fans dont give a Fuchs.

Unless you screw up.

I would think that the closest thing that are linked to soccer players would be the penalty-kick shootout, says Tony Meola, the US soccer Hall of Fame goalkeeper whos managed to walk in both worlds. The fifth penalty kick where if you miss it, you lose. I would think thats probably the single closest thing.

There? Goat. Here? Goat.

One, its probably not as easy as it looks, says Meola, the coach-and-four of the NASLs Jacksonville Armada, who once famously or infamously, depending on whom you ask camped with the in the summer of 1994. But its not impossible.

The other thing is being ready to have your heart racing when you figure out( theres) a 350 lb guy who can run a 5.0 40 -yard dash, and hes going at you full-steam. Trust me, theres a lot to be considered. Its not only kicking a football.

A football fan growing up in Kearny, New Jersey, Meola, fresh off the light of 1994 World Cup fever, was offered a lifeline by Jets coach Pete Carroll, every bit the free thinker then as now. The NFL had moved commencements from the 35 -yard line to the 30; Meola was signed, in principle, to try to take advantage of the distance while accurate veteran Nick Lowerys leg strength was fading only one of his five kick-off tries reached the end zone. He wound up getting cut after the third pre-season game.

Tony
Tony Meola camped with the Jets in the summer of 1994. Photograph: Bob Thomas/ Getty Images

And I fulfilled a dream, short-lived as it was, Meola says. I will tell you, from my standpoint, soccer is so much more exciting than kicking a football. Literally, we met at 8.30 in the morning with the team, met at 8.45 with the special squads[ coach-and-four] and the kickers didnt kick until 2.30 in the afternoon. So I became a guy that was in the weight room[ watching] every talk prove there was. At the time, there was Sally Jessy Raphael and Geraldo Rivera. Jerry Springer was becoming a big deal at the time. And there was nothing to do. And then you got five kicks at the end of practise. And if you dont make one, you get hollered at.

A pause. A chuckle.

It may have changed[ since 1994 ], he says.

On the plus side, Meola says Carroll let him run with the broad receivers and work with the hands squad for onside kick returns. But otherwise, you can expect to live what youd call the athletic life of isolation, he notes. Youre isolated and waiting for your[ opportunity ].

There? Action. Here? Atrophy.

The other thing is, I grew up with football, Meola says. I knew from the time I was 10 years old that I always wanted to try kicking. I dont know how many guys[ overseas] grow up watching the NFL. Its probably less[ embedded] in their culture just wanted to do it.

And the culture hurdle is a biggie, even if everyone on the field is ostensibly speaking the same tongue. When former Chelsea and Milwall striker Derek Smethurst was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1977, he turned up to find that Abe Gibron the Joy-to-the-World-singing, pot-bellied head coach-and-four of the Chicago Bears from 1972 -7 4 was in charge of putting him through his special squads paces.

Its like taking a Great White Shark and putting it into the Disney World tank, laughters Smethurst who, like Meola, didnt stick. Its strange to them. Its very strange to them. The surroundings strange. I dont know. The money cant be the problem. The opportunities cant be the problem, because theyll give you opportunities to walk in and do it.

Smethurst was 29 when he hooked on with the then-fledgling Bucs, having already find his feet Stateside with the NASLs Tampa Bay Rowdies. The South African aborigine wanted a change of pace, and the Creamsicle Bucs, after a disastrous 0-14 mark in their 1976 debut, required all the positive press they could muster.

Everybody thought it was a joke until they signed me to four one-year contracts, says Smethurst, who netted 57 aims in 71 outdoor contests for the Rowdies from 1975 -7 8.

It took me about a week to get used to it. The NFL football is harder, tougher on the outside, and the pressure in it is what we used to call a brick in soccer, like hitting a brick. When you put the extra ounce of air in it, you might as well make it a brick. The NFL football feels like that in the beginning.

There? Its about the now. Here? Its the zen.

If youre technically minded, its easy, says Smethurst , now a soccer coach-and-four and instructor in Valrico, Florida, just outside Tampa. The only thing is youve got have, like a putt in golf, youve got to have ice in your veins when youre kicking. And considering everything else, its all technique. Basically, it comes down to a penalty kick. Ice in your veins. If you have that, youre going to be fine.

Some guys have a knack for it, adds NFL placekicker Billy Cundiff, most recently of the Buffalo Bills and a veteran of five different clubs. Rarely[ in soccer] are two shootings ever the same in a game. Youre trying to get a soccer guy to take a golfers mentality. If you watch the Premier League, those two truly dont equate.

Which isnt to stay the stars cant align its merely rare. Also, its been a while. The most noteworthy European professional to succeed in the NFL ranks was, like Fuchs, an Austrian Toni Fritsch, who led the NFL in field-goal tries( 35) and constructs( 22) in 1975 with the Dallas Cowboys and was selected to the Pro Bowl with Houston in 1979.

I always used to say the difference between kicking a football and a soccer ball if you miskick a soccer ball, you are able to miskick it 60 yards. Meola muses. A football, it doesnt go where you want it to go. The sweet place is so small. Its either kicked well or not kicked well there really is no middle ground.

There? Bend it like Beckham. Here? Slice your way out of a job.

When Meola got to Jets camp, he recollects the coach-and-fours describing a little circle on the ball where they wanted kickers to aim.

( And its) the size of a 50 piece, Meola says. A soccer ball has a big circumference. You can hit it one side or the other side and it still runs 60 yards. Thats not the case with a football.

There? Variety. Unpredictability. Here? Consistency. Monotony.

Its not how good your best kick is, Kaeding says. Its how good your worst kick is.

The technique is different, No1, Cundiff says. And No2, guys in the States has only been recently practising for so long.

When I was in college, I had just was beginning to specialize with it by the time I was a senior. Thats nearly unheard of now. Guys are specializing in high school. Some children now in the NFL, when they get in the league, theyve been specializing for 10 years youre going to tell me a Premier League guy is going[ to come over] and work on his technique and be ready? Hes got nothing to fall back on.

Still, Meola guesses a guy such as Fuchs could stimulate the switching, dedicated enough practise and a long rope. He says hes curious what PSGs David Luiz, Chelseas John Terry and Arsenal keeper Petr Cech would look like on an NFL stage. And Smethurst has wondered the same about Fuchs teammate, forward Jamie Vardy.

Watching Vardy, the man has a pure, short delivery, the coach-and-four says. Even when hes got a wild backswing, he comes down through the ball very short. And you better be aware to catch it because it just comes at you very quick.

They could do it, yeah, theres no problem. Technically, they could do it. They have to take their technique and apply it now to another system the wind will push it a little bit, but not a lot. If I start turning a lot is when you hook your[ endeavor ]. Three inches of knee hook will take you 12[ inches] to the left or right, you know what I mean? And welcome to my golf swing again.

There? A starring. Here? A specialist. The median Premier Leaguers wage is reportedly 2.29 m annually, or $3.25 m. According to OverTheCap.com, the average NFL kicker contract is worth $1.7 m a year, and much of that money isnt assured. And only five NFL kickers wages average out to more than $3.25 m the Ravens Justin Tucker tops the charts, at $4.57 m while 19 average out to $650,000 or less.

The Premier League is bigger than the NFL, Cundiff says. Theyre global stars. The NFL is big in the US, dont get me wrong, its huge these[ soccer] squads have worldwide access. It voices cool on paper, but if youre playing well and even if youre playing for a Spanish squad, youre with Barca, youre going to now play for the Jets? No offense to the Jets, but a lot of these guys, I think they grow up wanting to play soccer where a lot of[ American] guys who go into the NFL grow up wanting to play[ American] football.

The median duration of a kicker or punters career is reportedly 4.87 years, according to the NFL Players Association, better than the overall league average of 3.3 seasons. But like Premier League directors, opportunities to remain in one township for long stretches such as Kaeding had with the Chargers tend to be rare. Cundiffs experiences have fallen more in line with nomadic norm: the Iowa native was with Dallas for four seasons( 2002 -0 5 ), hooked on with New Orleans( 2006 ), then returned to an NFL roster after a three-year absence to kick for Cleveland( 2009 ), Baltimore( 2009 -1 1 ), Washington( 2012 ), Cleveland once more( 2013 -1 4) and Buffalo( 2015 ). Hes currently a free agent again at 36, seeking postgraduate analyses and business opportunities with one eye while scanning the waiver wire with the other.

You have a great game, that( devotes) you at least two or three more weeks, Kaeding says. If you have three bad weeks in a row, the management and coaching faculty is going to look toward[ whatever options] are out there. Yeah, its a very fungible position.

There? Indispensible. Here? Disposable.

But its not impossible, theres without doubt, Meola says. Its not impossible. I wouldnt be surprised if a soccer player like Fuchs comes over here and does it. It would not surprise me at all.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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