The likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have lit up Old Trafford with some stunning free-kicks in recent years.
Last week, though, the famous ground was silenced by Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse as he stepped up to curl the ball past David de Gea and haul his side level against Manchester United and did it again yesterday against Spurs thus, completing the Saints’ comeback against Poch’s troop.
Jamie Redknapp caught up with the in-form 24-year-old this week. As someone who knows a thing or two about free-kicks himself, it is no surprise where the conversation started…
REDKNAPP: We’ve got to talk about that free-kick. I was about to go on air at West Ham and was watching on a screen with Kevin Nolan. When you stood over it, I said to him, ‘He scores’. Was that the best one you’ve ever hit?
WARD-PROWSE: It was. Most of the ones I have hit well have been for the England Under 21s. It was going to take something special to do it at Old Trafford against De Gea. I said to Ryan Bertrand at the time, these are the ones that as a kid I have practised in mum and dad’s garden — scoring in the World Cup final or big games for your club. I felt like a kid again.
REDKNAPP: When I was growing up, we had a bird table in our garden. I had to hit it a certain number of times before I could go in for dinner. Did you do anything like that?
WARD-PROWSE: I was more worried about trying to get the dog off the grass so I could practise in peace! I was scared of the old man’s greenhouse at the back of the garden. I had to pop round to his house to collect the balls. He wasn’t too happy about that!
REDKNAPP: I like your technique, the way you quickly get your left foot out of the way. Was Beckham a big influence?
WARD-PROWSE: He was. Beckham winds his arm back and that helps me get the ball up and over as quickly as I can. I jump up and skip over the ball which helps me to dip it down the other side.
REDKNAPP: Do you have a routine?
WARD-PROWSE: I normally bounce the ball twice. I don’t know why — it’s just a habit. Then it’s just four steps back, feel comfortable, then pick your spot.
REDKNAPP: A colleague of mine saw you out in Tenerife during Southampton’s recent training camp. He watched you train and said you were out for ages afterwards practising free-kicks. How much time do you spend working on them?
WARD-PROWSE: As much time as I can. I would say twice a week on direct free-kicks. The games are so hard and physical that you have to be careful, but we know when to practise and when not to. I’ll be excited going to sleep knowing I can practise the next day. I don’t hit many. I’d rather take three in training and put pressure on them than take 20. You only get one chance in a game if you are lucky so I have to put it away.
REDKNAPP: There is nothing worse than someone trying to take a free-kick off you. It’s hard enough trying to focus as it is! Does anyone try to take the ball off you?
WARD-PROWSE: Hopefully I’ve settled a few doubters among the lads now. Ryan will hopefully just accept that I’ll take it. Nathan Redmond likes to get involved as well. I’ll brush him aside now. I’ve got the bragging rights for another week at least!
REDKNAPP: Nah… you’ve got five games’ grace now.
WARD-PROWSE: I’ll take five!
REDKNAPP: You are in great form under Ralph Hasenhuttl. What has changed for you personally?
WARD-PROWSE: It’s the first time I’ve had a manager who is brutally honest about me. Good and bad things. He has told me I need to win more tackles if I want to play in midfield. Not to go and smash people but to be aggressive.
REDKNAPP: I had that levelled at me, ‘You don’t tackle enough’. Sometimes you have to have that nasty streak. How have you gone about changing that?
WARD-PROWSE: We have a really detailed way of playing without the ball now. It requires a lot of running and physical work which thankfully I’m good at. The manager showed me clips of teams he has worked at before and told me what he expects of a No 6 or a No 8. A lot of the goals we have scored have come from tackling high up the pitch. My goal against Everton was similar to that. It’s just about learning.
REDKNAPP: My dad always used to say to me that when things aren’t going well, just go flying into a tackle. It’s amazing how that can lift you and the crowd.