The first, explains James Ward-Prowse, is to quell the buzz of anticipation that comes when he puts the ball down and focus as quickly as possible on the scoring opportunity that awaits.
“You analyze the wall, see if there is a weakness or a smaller player you can get the ball over,” he continues, inviting Sportsmail in the mind of a free-kick specialist, in this case in the precious seconds before his amazing effort last week at Watford.
“I put it in a row, decided I wanted to go over the wall and then it’s just back to the muscle reminder to hit the ball, how to get it up and down so fast to get under the bar.
Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse has revealed the trial behind his free kicks
Ward-Prowse has scored five direct free kicks in the Premier League since the beginning of 2017-18
“I watch videos on the goalkeeper before to see if he has a slight tendency. I think I’ve scored a few against Ben Foster before so maybe I had a bit of an advantage but he was also a great goalkeeper and I still had to execute my skill.
“The bottom line is that if I can put the ball where I want it, the goalkeeper won’t get a chance.”
That should not be misunderstood as arrogance. Ward-Prowse, 25, the new Southampton captain, is not the type.
Instead, it’s the words of a man who has spent years working on the art of free-kicking, from his backyard to the Premier League, and only knows that if he repeats everything, he’ll get the results when it matters. is doing.
It has taken place over the past few seasons, with no one in the Premier League scoring more than his five direct free kicks since early 2017-18.
“That’s nice to hear. If you had told me a few years ago [I would do that] I might not have believed you, ”said Ward-Prowse, a phrase that made sense when he later recalled a time when he was struggling with sets.
After working hard to improve his technique, Ward-Prowse is now a significant threat
He is also just one shortcoming of Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier’s club record of seven Premier League free kicks.
“He supported me to beat that,” Ward-Prowse revealed. “Hopefully this season is where I can get it. ‘
Two other former Premier League stars have provided further inspiration, Steven Gerrard, one of his role models as a captain and player, and in particular David Beckham.
“Watching the goal against Greece was a very special moment,” said Ward-Prowse, who was almost seven at the time. Those moments rub you off on a child and make you want to go outside to exercise in your mom’s gardens. That’s where I started. ‘
Much later, there was another defining point under Mauricio Pochettino in 2013.
He is short of legend Matt Le Tissier’s club record of seven Premier League free kicks
Ward-Prowse was labeled a ‘machine’ by Ralph Hasenhuttl due to its condition
“He put me on set pieces for a friendly game and they weren’t great,” confessed English midfielder Ward-Prowse, who then scored his favorite free kick ever against Pochettino’s Tottenham last March.
“The boys got annoyed that I might not put the ball in the right place. I had to be brutal, know it wasn’t good enough and my game did better.
“We had players in the box who could score, so I had to make sure I gave them the service and if you have people like Rickie Lambert in the box, he’ll let you know when the angle wasn’t right. I didn’t want to be called by one of the boys anymore! ‘
When he was younger, Ward-Prowse’s priority was to “do as much as possible” while trying to refine and establish his technique.
Sessions with Lambert – ‘the benchmark’ for a while in Southampton – were part of the process along the way.
Ward-Prowse emphasized that working with striker Rickie Lambert helped him improve
As he got older and the league’s requirements had to be factored into the amount of extra practice he can do, the focus has shifted to quality over quantity, trying to better replicate competition pressure.
“Now I might take six to eight free kicks a few times a week,” says Ward-Prowse. The challenge is to make those fewer chances count, just like he should in a game.
“It’s so rewarding when it pays off in games and helps the team,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid, I scored free kicks and things I always wanted to do and it all started in Mom and Dad’s backyard.”
Another childhood dream of Ward-Prowse was captain Southampton, an honor he received from manager Ralph Hasenhuttl prior to the restart of the season.
“It was goosebumps,” said Ward-Prowse, who replaced wanton Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
Ward-Prowse is now reaping the benefits of exercising in his parents’ backyard
The midfielder says he had goosebumps when he was made captain of Southampton
“I have had this goal and my dream since childhood, so I will not miss this opportunity. I want to be the best version of a captain I can be.
“The most important thing the manager emphasizes to me is not to change.” And why should he?
He has been captain of material for quite some time and ticks all the boxes as a natural tone setter, role model and figurehead for the club.
“Everyone leads in different ways, but the best captains lead by example,” said Ward-Prowse, who didn’t need the bracelet to do that.
His work ethic has long been known to the club. One of the first to arrive on the training ground, relentlessly at the gym, topping all pre-season fitness tests. Even the bleep test is beaten.
On the field, Ward-Prowse missed just 50 minutes of the Southampton season and his fitness levels prompted Hasenhuttl to call him a ‘machine’.
Now one of the more experienced players, Ward-Prowse is helping Will Smallbone’s progress
“I was shocked to face Tottenham [in the FA Cup] with the cut on my knee. I missed 50 minutes and it still haunts me.
“I was just myself. I have always applied myself 100 percent to what I do. I want to give myself the best chance and make really high demands on everything I do.
“I think the manager saw that and liked it. Hopefully that can help the others as well. ‘
Before captaining, he made a point of helping the club’s youth, like Will Smallbone, transition into the first team tuck, and providing support like players like Jack Cork did before his Premier League- debut against Manchester City in 2012 aged 17.
He said, “Now that I’ve come through the academy and am a young player myself, I know what it’s like to be in their shoes. It is scary at first to think how fast time goes.
“To be that person on the other side now to help them as a number of players have helped me is a big responsibility and it is nice to see that they are also successful on the field.”
Born in Portsmouth, Ward-Prowse has been in Southampton since the age of eight and also has a strong affinity for the city, its people and problems.
He then finds it important to represent the club in the community and is an ambassador for the charity of the Saints Foundation.
A particularly heartwarming example is the bond he built with young fan Leon Mooney, who wrote a letter to the club last year prior to their annual hospital visit asking if his favorite player Ward-Prowse would visit him in the cancer department .
Ward-Prowse did, spent time with Mooney, handed him autographed boots and a shirt, and offered him a personalized stadium tour and kickout at St Mary’s as his health improved.
Mooney is now in lymphoma cancer remission and was able to include Ward-Prowse in his offer last year, while the midfielder stays in touch with the family.
“We are role models for the community and the club is huge in the city,” said Ward-Prowse.
Ward-Prowse has a connection with Leon Mooney, who is in lymphoma cancer remission
“I’ve been young before, looked up to footballers and maybe they’ve been too busy signing or saying hello.
“That upsets you as a young fan, but in Leon’s case it was very special in his situation and I didn’t want to be the player who didn’t stop to help him. Giving Leon something back was great and it was great to see his trip wherever he went.
“ We can talk about scoring free kicks and winning games, but seeing the smile on his face when he was able to visit the stadium because he was good enough again was much more rewarding than scoring a goal . Those kinds of moments are very special. ‘