The 20 Greatest Free Kick Takers of All Time

The world can feel like a divisive place, now more than ever, but there is one thing that can bind us all together in these testing times. For at heart, we are all free kick fanatics. We all have our favourite? executors of these dead ball delights, because there are few things in football like it. A penalty? That’s just a sh#t free kick, mate. A corner? That’s just an unnecessarily hard one.

No, out of all the set pieces we possess, the free kick is by far the most coveted, the most cherished, and by proxy, the most arduous. It takes thousands and thousands and thousands of hours to perfect this mesmeric craft. And, even then, probably thousands hours more to maintain it.

And, as with most other art forms – and this is an art form – there are many different ways to execute a free kick, and thus many proponents worthy of celebration.

You can thwack it with untethered power, like, say, a verité filmmaker seeking to out some hard-hitting truths, you can caress it with curl, using the patience and panache of an impressionist painter, or you can sneak it along the floor and under the wall, like an internet writer finding a way to organically reference ‘Game of Thrones’ that doesn’t come across as coat-tailing for clicks.

And you can do a whole lot more, too. The point is: free kicks, they’re great! And, while it seems like every James Ward-Prowse under the sun can hit one top bins these days, there are still only a select few who truly warrant the label of Maester… I mean master (did it work?).

Here are 20 of the best.


20. Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane

It’s always worth reiterating, because all football fans are preternaturally riddled with short-term memory loss, Zinedine Zidane was an absolute CHEVRE. And, his CHEVREness extended to many facets of the game, including this here speciality.

Unfortunately, in his capacity as a CHEVRE at one of the CHEVRE teams, he played with many a player who will come to occupy a place on this list, but when he could muscle himself over a set piece, sacre bleu, it was almost always magnifique.


19. Gianfranco Zola

Gianfranco Zola scores second goal

The first of a *spoiler alert* three-man Tricolore, Gianfranco Zola made free kicks fun. Never one to truly thwack it from a set piece situation, and even when he did, the exertion always seemed minimal.

That was Zola. The definitive cult hero is the sixth greatest executor of free kicks in Serie A history, and translated that success to ?Chelsea to great effect. The best way to sum up his free kick style would be to say that every single goal has a look of whipped ease that can only otherwise be found on apps such as Flick Kick Football.


18. Alessandro Del Piero

Alessandro Del Piero

It’s like splitting hairs when comparing Del Piero and Zola, but the nod goes to Del Piero for his superior ?Serie A record (by two) as well his unerring confidence in his own dead ball ability, having recently told ?Gazzetta dello Sport that he would still beat Cristiano Ronaldo in a mano-a-mano free kick battle.

I rate that.


17. Roberto Baggio

Fiorentina v Brescia X

The Divine Ponytail was a jack of all trades, and master of most – especially those that required the most honed of techniques and unbridled ingenuity.

Sure, he may be best remembered for blazing a penalty over the bar – though, as revealed ?here, that wasn’t completely his fault – but, if the world was a fairer place, and positivity was preyed upon with the same eagerness as negativity, his prowess from the spot – be it inside the box or otherwise – would be the principal takeaway.

His creativity knew no bounds, and that certainly didn’t stop when he lined up a shot with a wall of players assembled in front of him.


16. Gheorghe Hagi

FUSSBALL: EURO 1996 ROM - FRA 0:1

Yeh, what was said about Zidane, but even more acutely, because Gheorghe Hagi was Romanian, and hasn’t yet won the three requisite Champions League trophies it takes to sufficiently maintain your CAPRA (GOAT in Romanian – see you didn’t even know!!) status as a former star turned manager.

The Maradona of the Carpathians (CAPRAthians) may have been more famed for his wandering runs, but he couldn’t half hit a free kick either, possessing both might and precision in his armoury.


15. Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo

An extension of that initial Il Tricolore, we have Andrea Pirlo, which seems fitting, considering the Italian’s storied obsessions with bettering himself from set pieces, which ultimately meant elevating himself above those aforementioned compatriots.

Speaking in his autobiography ‘I Think Therefore I Play‘ (the greatest footballing autobiography title of all time?), the midfielder admitted: “The best ideas come about in moments of total concentration … My own Eureka moment arrived when I was sat on the toilet. Hardly romantic, but there you go.

That Eureka moment had been that Juninho Pernambucano‘s inimitable technique was actually somewhat imitable, as long as you used three toes instead of five at the moment of impact. Using this as a platform, he moulded it to his own unique feet, crafting the ‘Maldetta’ – his signature free kick – which translates to ‘The Cursed One’.

With 43 goals coming from it, I think it worked.


14. Pele

FRANCE-PELE

What??!?!?!? Pele?!?!??! Only 14th?!?!?!?

Well, yeh. Some aggregators may have him at second in the all-time free kick scorers list (with 70 goals), but how many of those came as part of the 526 he scored in unofficial games and coordinated friendlies? We don’t know.

Even more pressing than that, though, is the fact I have received many a Pele lecture in my life, most of them justified, but not one has leaned on the player’s set piece prowess. #sorrynotsorry.


13. Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos

Here’s where that Pele placing gets tricky, because at least the guy actually scored a few.

Roberto Carlos’ only scored 26 free kicks at club level throughout his career, and his ?La Liga conversion rate was 4.5%.The thing is, though, that fails to take into account all of the international thunderbolts (as a lot of these stats do), the most important of which being THAT mind-bending effort against France.

He may not have been consistent, but he was always unbelievable.


12. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

Make no bones about it, this man will rise.

But, for now, it’s a testament to ?Lionel Messi’s unbending desire to improve on what many would describe as perfection, year in, year out. Because it feels like the Argentine has only become a free kick master in the last few years and yet he already has 42 goals for club and country.

Oh, and his La Liga conversion rate (8.5%) is better than Carlos, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Esteemed company, as you’ll find out.


11. Jose Luis Chilavert

Jose Luis Chilavert of Paraguay

Nothing to see here, just a Paraguayan goalkeeper perfecting his craft at the 2002 World Cup.

The second highest scoring keeper in the history of the world is probably most famous for scoring the only ever custodian hat-trick ever recorded, but they all came from the penalty spot, so we’ll skip over those and head to his free kick exploits, because they were just as impressive.

His most impressive, you ask? Well, in 1996 he scored from inside his own half against River Plate. Yeh, seriously.


10. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo,Lucas Vazquez,Sergio Ramos,Gerard Pique,Sergio Busquets

There’s no doubt that ?Cristiano Ronaldo’s powers from the set piece spot have waned since his Manchester United years – we all remember the drought at Real Madrid – but he’s still a legacy dead ball specialist.

And that was proved once more in last summer’s World Cup, when the Portuguese forward produced that last-gasp winner in that most pulsating of opening clashes against Spain.

Still got it.


9. Michel Platini

WORLD-CUP-1986-FRANCE-HUNGARY

?Ok, I think I played the ‘don’t-forget-this-guy card too early’. Because, let’s be real, Zinedine Zidane has not been ousted from the GOAT conservation in the same coarse way as Michel Platini. But that’s for principally political reasons (you know, UEFA). So, here, let’s just enjoy the player.

The thing is about those few generationally gifted players, is that they can do pretty much whatever they like on the pitch, and Platini showed this more than ever when a ball was stationary before his feet and the referee blew his whistle to allow him to strike it.

Sure, he could bend it into the top corner if he wanted, but he seemed to prefer to tease it along the ground, under the wall or otherwise, to maximise the opponent’s hurt. Just like, I don’t know, Cersei Lannister? That’s a call back joke, which, if you didn’t read the intro, makes zero sense. Shame on you… Shame. Shame.


8. Ronald Koeman

BRAZIL V HOLLAND

?Corrr, could this guy do the business from a free kick.

Ronald Koeman, first of his name, shall be known from here on in on as: ‘Ronald Koeman, Eighth Greatest Scorer From Free Kicks Ever’.

Sure, it’s a clunky nickname, but it’s completely factual. If you want the perfect distillation of Koeman’s set piece dexterity, and it’s wild variation, then watch that stonker ?against Sampdoria in the 1992 European Cup final followed by that deftest of dinks ?against England in 1993.


?7. Zico

WORLD CUP-1986-FRA-BRA

You may not have heard of Arthur Antunes Coimbra, but you’ve definitely heard of Zico, his one-word moniker. One of the first true free kick specialists, he outmanoeuvred most goalkeepers armed with just his all-encompassing footballing intelligence and a two-step run-up.

Indeed, such was his ability from that range, his Brazil teammate Leonardo Nascimento de Araújo has been quoted as saying: “For us, a free kick from the edge of the penalty area was almost like a penalty. For Zico, it was almost a goal already.”

Some put his record at 62, others stretch it to 101, but one thing’s for sure, he was a master.


6. Diego Maradona


???A definitive CHIVO if ever I’ve seen one, you might think you don’t need another lecture on the greatness of Diego Maradona, but then, have you seen the latest teaser clip from the upcoming documentary about him? Watch it, it’s right there.

See, you’re now susceptible to all things DIEGO and CHIVO. 62 golazos from free kick range. Yes, that’s the sixth-best total.


5. Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho

?We may have used all the creative ingenuity nods too early, because this man was more creative and more ingenious than just about anybody ever. Bloody hell.

With 65 registered free kick netbusters, the Brazilian Barcelona man is the fourth-highest scorer of free kicks ever…. so why is he fifth? Well, you’ll find out.


4. David Beckham

FUSSBALL: WM QUALIFIKATION 2001, ENGLAND

??See, the thing is, Ronaldinho was a better player than David Beckham in almost every way… except for this very specific way. Despite notching one more set piece score than the Englishman, Becks’ whole legacy was built upon his delivery from free kicks/corners.

He is also probably the owner of the most famous free kick in history (at least on these shores). I don’t even have to say which, because everybody knows. EVERYBODY KNOWS.


3. Sinisa Mihajlovic

Sinisa Mihajlovic

A controversial character off the pitch (by that I mean almost every kind of terrible), Sinisa Mihajlovic could sure wow us with a dead ball.

No, he wasn’t as good technically as those that have come before him on this list, far from it – he was a no-nonsense centre back, FFS – but that’s what makes him so special, and what gives him the Bronze medal here.

It’s like this: you wouldn’t call Alfonso Cuaron the greatest Cinematographer of all time (the GCOAT) just because he won an Oscar this year, because he’s overqualified in other areas, just as Maradona, Messi, Pele, Ronaldinho, Platini, Zidane and more in this list are. That’s why Sinisa gets the nod.

Not because I’m a big racist.


2. Rogerio Ceni

Rogerio Ceni

Now that we’ve got that chat out of the way, the anointing of Rogerio Ceni as the second greatest free kick taker of all time can go ahead without distraction.

Rogerio Ceni, the greatest goalscoring goalkeeper of all time. Rogerio Ceni, scorer of 59 free kicks, the ninth best total of anyone, ever. Rogerio Ceni, the Sao Paulo hero who scored 132 goals in his career, putting himself in the ten greatest all-time scorers at the club.

Rogerio Ceni. Quite literally, a man like no other.


1. Juninho Pernambucano

Juninho of Lyon shots a free kick during...

?Who else? Seriously, who?

From everywhere you look, it’s indisputable. Juninho Pernambucano is simply the greatest free kick taker of all time. It’s not even a discussion. Is he the top scoring set piece taker in history? Yes, with 77, he is indeed.

Did he do it with the greatest flair? You bet.

Could he do it from anywhere? Are you ?kidding?

?

That link will send you to his ‘Best Free Kicks Ever’, but, to be honest, that feels discriminatory. Just watch them all. ?Now.


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USWNT Coach Jill Ellis Expects 2019 to Be ‘Hardest World Cup’ to Win After Rise in Global Quality

?USA coach Jill Ellis is anticipating this summer’s 2019 Women’s World Cup to be the toughest yet, as the USWNT attempts to defend its 2015 title with the likes of Germany, England, France, Canada, Japan and others all posing serious threats.

Despite winning a record three titles since the World Cup was launched in 1991, the United States are still yet to win back-to-back trophies, although Ellis is focused on a ‘new journey’ rather than pulling off a successful repeat.


“Back in 2015 I said that that would be the hardest World Cup to win because obviously the number of teams entering grew,” Ellis told FIFA.com this weeks as the tournament nears.

“But now I would say that this will be the hardest World Cup to win because the number of quality teams, teams that are growing the game, the personalities of the players – our game is growing and growing. I think people feel that and I think it’s going to be an amazingly competitive World Cup with a lot of memorable moments,” the English-born coach added.

USWNT were beaten to this year’s SheBelieves Cup title by England last month. Despite an ability to score goals, certain defensive weaknesses appeared to be exposed after consecutive 2-2 draws against Japan and England that ultimately cost them first place in the standings.

Megan Rapinoe,Keira Walsh

“I got a lot of answers from the tournament in terms of personnel, things that we are doing very well and things that we need to make sure we focus on and fine tune,” Ellis said.

She also explained that winning back-to-back World Cups for the first time – matching Germany (2003, 2007) as the only country to do so – is not a motivating factor ahead of the World Cup.

Things have changed since 2015 – Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Christie Rampone and Heather O’Reilly have retired, while a 36-year-old Carli Lloyd is no longer a regular starter. Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz have since stepped into senior roles, while there are also several fresh talents.

“I don’t think about whether it’s a back-to-back or whether we’re defending a World Cup. Everything is about what’s in front of us. This is a different team in terms of personalities, players, system; there’s so many differences that it’s a new journey for us,” Ellis declared.


The USWNT will play World Cup warm up matches against South Africa, New Zealand and Mexico on home soil in May and will begin their tournament against Thailand on June 11.

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NWSL Week 3 Preview: Courage & Dash in Top of Table Clash as Pride & Sky Blue Look for First Wins

NWSL is back this weekend for week three of the 2019 season.

Eight of the nine clubs are in action in four games over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

Here’s a look at each exciting matchup and exactly how you can follow the action.


?Orlando Pride vs Utah Royals


Utah Royals began the season with a narrow win over ?Washington Spirit in their season opener last weekend and now face a first away trip of the campaign to Orlando, Florida.

For a Pride team featuring Alex Morgan and reigning Best FIFA Women’s Player Marta it has been an underwhelming start after failing to win any of their first three games.

Orlando have leaked as many as eight goals, the worst in the league. That being said, Alanna Kennedy’s bicycle kick last week – their only goal scored – was named NWSL Goal of the Week.

When is Kick-Off?Saturday, April 27
What Time Is Kick-Off?7.30pm ET
Where Is it Played?Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, FL
Live Stream (U.S.) Yahoo! Sports website or app
Live Stream (non U.S) NWSL website or app

Chicago Red Stars vs Reign FC


A late equaliser from Japanese forward Yuki Nagasato gave Chicago Red Stars a second tie of the season after playing a 4-4 thriller with Portland Thorns.

In Reign FC, they meet another without a win for the season after also drawing both of their opening two games, albeit two far less goal-filled 1-1 scorelines.?

Reign fans still haven’t seen USWNT co-captain Megan Rapinoe in NWSL this season, with the star nursing a calf problem and carefully managing her fitness in a World Cup year.

When is Kick-Off?Saturday, April 27
What Time Is Kick-Off?8pm ET
Where Is it Played?SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview, IL
Live Stream (U.S.) Yahoo! Sports website or app
Live Stream (non U.S) NWSL website or app

Sky Blue vs Portland Thorns


After back-to-back defeats to begin 2019, Carli Lloyd’s Sky Blue will be desperate to pick up some points when Portland roll in to town this weekend.

The Thorns have made a strong start to the season and superstar Canadian forward Christine Sinclair scored a hat-trick during a 4-4 draw in Chicago last weekend – her first in NWSL since 2014 – to net her the Week 2 Player of the Week award.?

Sky Blue are still yet to even score a goal this season. That will have to change.

When is Kick-Off?Sunday, April 28
What Time Is Kick-Off?6pm ET
Where Is it Played?Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ
Live Stream (U.S.) Yahoo! Sports website or app
Live Stream (non U.S) NWSL website or app

Houston Dash vs North Carolina Courage


Reigning NWSL champions?, 2018 NWSL Shield winners and top of the standings after two games of the 2019 season, North Carolina Courage wouldn’t have it any other way.

Courage hammered Orlando Pride 5-0 in their last game and are the league’s joint highest scorers so far. They also have no injury problems ahead of the trip to Houston.

Dash actually go into this one level on points with Courage and could go top with a home win.

When is Kick-Off?Saturday, April 28
What Time Is Kick-Off?6pm ET
Where Is it Played?BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
Live Stream (U.S.) Yahoo! Sports website or app
Live Stream (non U.S) NWSL website or app

Let’

Paul Merson Blasts Arsenal Defence Ahead of Premier League Clash With Wolves

?Paul Merson has lambasted Arsenal’s defensive frailties ahead of their clash with Wolverhampton Wanderers side at Molineux on Wednesday evening.

The Sky Sports pundit didn’t hold back when criticising the state of Arsenal’s defence, and how they gifted a lacklustre Crystal Palace side a 3-2 victory on Sunday.

Paul Merson

Merson seemed particularly critical of Arsenal for underestimating Palace, and suggested that the same mistakes that haunted them on Sunday – particularly a glaring error from Shkodran Mustafi that resulted in an easy goal for Wilfried Zaha – could rear their ugly head again. 

He told Sky Sports (as reported by the ?Daily Star): “[That] they could have had Diego Maradona playing up front but you won’t win matches if you have defending like that.

“You can talk about Arsenal’s team selection against Palace but you can’t defend like they did. Wolves are a good side when teams have a go at them like Arsenal will.”

Matteo Guendouzi

Whilst Merson remained heavily critical of Arsenal, he still suggested that the Wolves side they will be facing aren’t without their weaknesses.

“Look at the teams that Wolves have dropped points against – Huddersfield have done the double against them, Brighton sat back and got a draw, so did Newcastle.

“They have lost points against teams outside the top six because they play deep against them and they need to learn how to break that down.”

Morgan Gibbs-White,Granit Xhaka

Merson predicts a 2-2 draw, which would put Arsenal into fourth ahead of Chelsea, but leaves enough space for Manchester United to overtake them both with a win against Manchester City on Wednesday evening.

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PFA Championship Team of the Year: Norwich & Leeds Dominate Division’s All-Star XI

?Norwich City and Leeds United players unsurprisingly dominate the 2018/19 PFA Championship Team of the Year, with the two promotion chasers accounting for more than half of the division’s best XI of the season between them.


Republic of Ireland international Darren Randolph has been named as goalkeeper for his impressive efforts between the sticks for Middlesbrough.

Norwich pair Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons have taken the full-back roles, while Leeds duo Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson have been selected in the two centre-back positions.

Pontus Jansson

There is another Leeds player in midfield in the shape of Spanish veteran Pablo Hernandez, joined by Aston Villa star Jack Grealish, linked with a £30m summer move to Crystal Palace just this week, and Sheffield United favourite Oliver Norwood.

At the top end of the pitch, Blades veteran Billy Sharp features. He has managed 23 goals this season in only his second year back in the Championship after a spell in League One.

On-loan Aston Villa striker Tammy Abraham is also there after bagging 25 Championship goals, proving his quality at this level after scoring 23 for Bristol City two seasons ago.

Tammy Abraham,Jack Grealish

Prolific Norwich man Teemu Pukki completes the all-star team. The Finn was signed as a free agent last summer and has scored 28 Championship goals in his debut season – the most any player has managed in a single campaign since 2014.

Let’