The perfect execution of a free kick is an art. Tried by many but mastered by few, there aren’t many sights in football more beautiful than a free kick curled, swerved or smashed past the net into the top corner. Artists like the indomitable Lionel Messi, Miralem Pjanic, Dani Parejo, Sebastian Giovinco and the mercurial Neymar Jr may be the reigning kings of the dead ball, but who are the greatest free kick takers of all time? In descending order, here are the players I believe answer that question.
10. Marcelino Carioca
Aptly nicknamed “Pé-de-Anjo” (Angel’s Foot) for his tremendous accuracy and technique when striking free kicks, Marcelino was a controversial attacking midfielder who was deadly from dead balls. The former Corinthians man scored 59 free kicks in his career, placing him tenth in this list of the greatest free kick takers of all time.
9. Rogerio Ceni
The highest scoring goalkeeper of all time, the very fact that São Paolo legend Rogerio Ceni makes this list is an amazing feat on its own. The confidence and mental toughness it takes for a goalkeeper to wander so far out from his goal to take a set piece, and the belief he had in his ability already sets him apart from his counterparts. Add exquisite technique to that list and you have a goalkeeper who scores more goals than he lets in. Ceni scored 59 goals from free kicks in his career, remarkable for any player, much more a goalkeeper.
8. Ronald Koeman
One of the most technically gifted defenders of all time, Koeman was just as comfortable playing in midfield as he was in defence due to his excellent ball playing skills. He could ping a pass from anywhere on the pitch and often find his man. It came as no surprise then that he was just as superb in front of goal, scoring an astounding 207 goals from centre back. Koeman used his magnificent technique when taking free kicks and beat keepers with ease. He netted 60 goals from free kicks, placing him eighth on this list.
Arthur Antunes Coimbra, famously known around the world by his nickname Zico, is one of the greatest footballers of all time. He shone in the 80s with his passing flair and eye for goal, but he makes this list thanks to his penchant for a spectacular free kick. The “White Pele” scored 62 free kicks in his career.
6. Diego Maradona
Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, the magical Argentine thrilled football fans of all ages with his splendid skills, leaving defenders bamboozled. He won two World Cups with Argentina in 1978 and 1986, and helped Napoli to their first ever league title in 1986 amongst other achievements. Diego was also a dead ball deity, netting 62 from behind the 18 yard line.
5. David Beckham
One of the most famous footballers of all time, Beckham’s free kicks are the stuff of legend. The former England captain was idolized for his “ball-bending” techniques, with the phrase “Bend it like Beckham” becoming a popular term with commentators in the 2000s. David scored an amazing 65 goals from free kicks, including the dramatic equalizer against Greece to send England to the 2002 World Cup Finals.
Everyone loved Ronaldinho. With his omnipresent smile and lush ponytail, the flamboyant Brazilian was easy to spot on the football field where he graced with zest and panache. He could take on and beat all comers, usually with ridiculous pieces of skill and imagination, and strike balls from all angles. Ronaldinho was the very definition of a flair player and a fan favourite. It comes as no surprise then that the Brazilian maestro recorded an impressive 66 goals from free kicks in his career.
3. Victor Legrottaglie
Not much is known about the diminutive midfielder who spent most of his career in his native Argentina playing for Gimnasia y Esgrima. One piece of information which stands out about Victor however is his incredible free kick taking ability, which resulted in him scoring 66 goals from free kicks; the most of any Argentine in history.
Another player in the category of “arguably the greatest ever”, Pèle was mesmerizing. The Brazilian left adoring fans ecstatic for the better part of two decades, scoring all types of goals, from headers, to bicycle kicks, to free kicks. He stayed in his native Brazil playing for Santos for most of his career and won three World Cups with Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Pelé scored an astounding 70 goals from free kicks in his career.
Last but definitely not least on this list is the greatest free kick takers of all time, Juninho Pernambucano. The Brazilian dead ball specialist could strike a free kick from any angle and distance into the back of the net, and was instrumental in Lyon’s golden years during the 2000s. He amassed a plethora of his goals from free kicks, scoring 77 in total. He is without a doubt the greatest free kick taker of all time.
Honourable mentions include Andrea Pirlo, Michel Platini, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Gheorge Hagi, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianfranco Zola.
By Nene Afadzinu