In this blog we breakdown what is a clearance in football and how you can coach this skill with your players. In the modern game this skill has gone under the radar as the mindset has shifted to attacking football and being creative. However the art of defending is still a key requirement to prevent goalscoring opportunities and sniff out danger. An effective defence, individually, as a unit and as a team, is integral for overall success. There are many different defensive actions. These include tackling, screening, intercepting and tracking opponents runs. One of the most under-rated and under-appreciated is that of the clearance. This particular action is most common when teams are dealing with crosses from wide areas whether in open play or from set-pieces (i.e corners or free-kicks).

“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” – Sir Alex Ferguson

What Is A Clearance In Football?

A clearance can be defined as the re-directing of the ball away from pressure (usually the penalty area or 6-yard box) and into space either with the team remaining out of possession or ideally gaining possession. This action can be achieved through a kick, header or punch from the Goalkeeper and generally needs to achieve one or all of the 3 following elements:

1. Height – a clearance that involves height will allow the defending team to have time in which to either re-adjust their defensive shape or at least permit numbers to gather around or under the ball making it difficult for the attacking team to get it under control upon it reaching the ground.

2. Width – when dealing with crosses into the penalty area, a clearance that re-directs the ball into a wide area will at least move it away from the more threatening central areas near to goal. Often, clearing the ball back to the area from which it came allows the team to maintain their defensive shape and, if still out of possession, will put them in an effective position to deal with another cross if it comes.

3. Depth – this is perhaps the most critical aspect of an efficient clearance. Moving the ball far away from goal affords the defensive team time and the distance achieved also allows defenders to push up the pitch and hopefully leave attacking opponents in offside positions.

3 Types Of Clearances In Football

Volleyed Clearance – this is a difficult technique to execute as it often involves a lower trajectory and flight, but quicker speed of delivery meaning that the defender making the clearance has to adopt an appropriate body shape prior to making contact with the ball. If side on, through facing the direction from which the ball has been crossed, the defender will have to maintain balance, twist their body and make contact with their foot nearest the goal.This ‘hooked’ volleyed clearance is often executed using the side of the foot and if the speed of the delivery is fast, will allow the defender to use this speed in which to re-direct the ball away from danger. For those crosses which are even lower in flight and bouncing just before the defender, a half-volley clearance is sometimes used which also helps to ensure elevation of the ball and more height.

Headed  Clearance – this is a more common technique and is adopted when the cross into the box involves a higher trajectory and flight. Due to this, the defender may have more time in which to adjust their body shape allowing them to be more front facing away from goal, making it more achievable to gain height, width and depth on the headed clearance. The defender needs to time their jump if needed, so that they are able to make contact with the ball effectively.The defender needs to use their arms to assist the jump and propel themselves as high as is needed to reach the ball. Using their forehead, they then need to really attack the ball aggressively using their neck muscles to re-direct it away from goal. If not possible to head the ball back to the same area from which the cross came, it may be that the defender decides to glance the ball to the opposite side using the top of their head, altering the flight of the ball and taking it away from potential attackers who could be in prime positions to score from a header or volley.

Goalkeeper Punch – Whether the keeper decides to punch the ball clear using 1 fist or both, timing and hand-eye co-ordination is crucial to ensure solid contact is made with the ball. The decision to punch rather than catch or parry is often due to the number of bodies between the Goalkeeper and the ball. Contacting the ball at its highest point also means that it is above the height that an attacker can get to it with their head. A punch may carry with it a higher chance of risk due to the smaller surface area of the fist compared to an open hand which is used to parry. However, the power generated with a well-timed punch helps to ensure the 3 vital components required of an effective clearance. A 2 handed punch provides a greater level of surface area and less margin for any error in timing, as well as more power imparted on the ball. With a straight ball into the box, Keepers often prefer to use 2 fists with 1 fist being more applicable if having to reach through a crowd of players to avoid any flicked header from an attacker.

Practices For Improving Clearances In Football

Defending Around The Box Function

Opposed Defensive Drill – Entries into the Final Third.



Clearances are a key part of defending and require a high level of concentration, organisation and technical execution. For a clearance to be effective and afford the defending team more time to readjust; height, width and depth are generally needed on any clearance whether it’s volleyed, headed or punched from the Goalkeeper. The best clearances, of course, are those which are directed towards a team-mate allowing possession to be regained and a potential counter-attack to be started. This clearance / pass can be made through the defender firstly identifying the position of their team-mate and then deciding on the most appropriate type of clearance to steer the ball towards them.

Defenders need to be focused and aggressive in any such moment as often it will be within a crowded penalty area. The Goalkeeper also must be assertive if coming off their line to punch the ball away and needs to do so with positivity and direct communication to ensure their team-mates are aware of them taking ownership of the situation.