A player charges towards the opposition’s penalty area, just yards away from a shooting chance when the ref blows a whistle for a foul. The ball is carefully placed 20+ yards outside the box, the keeper gets their wall of players organized and positioned all while the attacking team sorts out who will take the kick and how they’ll try to score. This scenario has played itself out countless times in the various football leagues around the world. Of course, as fans, we know that more likely than not the player will smash the ball against the wall or blaze the ball high over the net. Statistically, the chances of scoring a free kick are slim but when it works it can be an absolute thing of beauty.
Of course, teams don’t just let anyone take a free kick when the chance arises. Most sides have a few players who have demonstrated the ability to consistently combine power with accuracy in an effort to get the ball over (or around) the wall and on target. Over the years certain players have made a name for themselves as great free kick takers. Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, Marcelinho Carioca, Michel Platini, Zico and Juninho are all legendary shooters who put more than a few free kicks past the opposition keeper. What made such players special was that they could make the ball do things that others couldn’t. They could get the ball to curve, swerve or dip with such precision it seemed a magic trick. Of course, they could also give the ball more than enough power to fly into the net before the keeper had any idea what was happening.
The following list does not contain the names of Carlos, Beckham or Juninho. Instead, this list looks at the top free kick takers who remain active today. You’ll find a blend of youth and experienced veterans, all capable and proven free kick takers. Of course the issue is subjective and by limiting it to the Top 10, there are bound to be some players missed. That said, it is highly unlikely you would turn down the services of one of the following players if you needed someone to take a crucial free kick for your team.
One of the most popular and most marketed players in world football this year, Neymar has definitely made a name for himself in both Spain’s La Liga and during the 2014 World Cup. During his time with Santos, Barcelona and the Brazilian national team, the 22-year-old has demonstrated his lethality in and around the box. There are many memorable highlights to choose from but in terms of free kicks perhaps the strike against Belarus in the 2012 Olympics and the goal against Panama during a pre-World Cup friendly this June demonstrate the accuracy and technique Neymar has. No doubt, what worries La Liga and International keepers the most is that this very skilled player is still just beginning his career and has many more years to work his magic, provided he fully recovers from the scary back injury he sustained in this past World Cup.
9. Yaya Toure
Next up on this list is Manchester City’s midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure. When he’s not getting upset over missed birthdays, the Ivorian is usually dominating the midfield and helping to coordinate City’s attacks. In terms of free kicks, Toure has steadily developed a reputation for being able to find the back of the net. This past season in the Premier League, he scored four excellent goals from free kick situations. Toure has demonstrated the ability to get a ball over the wall and make it drop quickly. As he so effectively demonstrated against Norwich City, this skill produces a shot which leave the keeper almost no chance of stopping.
8. Steven Gerrard
Unlike Neymar, Steven Gerrard is in the twilight of his career. Liverpool’s captain has led his team to a Champions League title and several domestic cup victories. Over his club and international career, the midfielder has scored in excess of 170 goals, including some wonderful free kicks. Gerrard may not be scoring from free kicks as much recently but over his career no one can deny his power and accuracy when standing over a set play. Some of the best include goals against Arsenal and Aston Villa in the 07-08 season and ‘that’ 30-yard screamer against Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.
7. Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale developed his name while playing for EPL side Tottenham Hotspur. As a free kick taker, the Welshman’s first notable strike came against North London rivals Arsenal at White Hart Lane in 2007. Over the following years Bale developed a reputation for having a powerful, if not always accurate, free kick technique which seemed to get a little deadlier each year. In 2013 Bale moved to Spanish giants Real Madrid, home of another famous free kick specialist – Cristiano Ronaldo. The media played up tensions between the two over free kick duties. Nonetheless, Bale continued to show his skill, demonstrated best with an absolute stunner against Galatasaray in the Champions League group stage in November 2013.
6. Luis Suarez
Unfortunately for Luis Suarez he seems to be in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons lately. Before the Uruguayan developed a taste for Serbian and Italian defenders, the opposition ran away due to the speed and skill of the cunning forward. Suarez also boasted an impressive free kick technique which has caught out more than one keeper over the years. Just this past season, he demonstrated his scoring ability from distance with an impressive goal against Hull on New Year’s Day. Perhaps more impressive is his ability to curve a low shot around the wall and into the bottom corner as demonstrated against EPL rivals Everton and Manchester City.
He may be near the end of his career and no longer in the spotlight, and he may also sport his own line of condoms, but Ronaldinho still deserves a place on this list. Most people probably know ‘Gaucho’ from his time at Barcelona. From 2003 to 2008 he demonstrated that he could score from almost anywhere in almost any situation. In terms of free kicks, he could go over, around or even under the defensive wall making any attempt to block the kick virtually pointless. Now with Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro, Ronaldinho has shown the free kick touch has not left him. In September 2013 he scored from two free kicks in the same match against Fluminese, while in December he scored a spectacular curling shot against Raja Casablanca in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Tied-3. Lionel Messi
Perhaps the most famous clips of Lionel Messi on a pitch involve him zig-zagging his way through a maze of defenders before unleashing a shot which bulges the back of the net. To football fans, it always seems like Messi highlights are ‘merely’ repetitive coverage of the diminutive Argentine making the opposition look foolish (or terrified) before inevitably scoring. Yet, Messi can also score free kicks and is quite good at it too. During the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, the Barcelona attacker struck against Nigeria with a curling 25-yard shot which left the keeper helpless. We also can’t forget his exploits with Barcelona, of which there are too many to list here.
Tied-3. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ok, so as you can see Messi and Ronaldo are tied because we here at The Richest don’t feel like getting into the whole debate over who is better. Now that that’s settled, let’s move on to Ronaldo. This Portuguese forward steadily rose to fame during his time at Manchester United. With United, Ronaldo developed his trademark technique for free kicks which involved striking the ball directly with the tip of his boot to cause the ball to swerve, almost unpredictably, toward goal. The 2013 World Soccer Player of the Year has scored some sensational goals from free kicks over the years. Perhaps his best were the 2009 Champions League semi-final strike against Arsenal, the 2009 Champions League blast against Marseille in his first year with Real Madrid, and of course, the spectacular drive against Portsmouth in the EPL in 2008.
2. Francesco Lodi
Over his 14+ year career, Italian Francesco Lodi has developed a reputation as one of the best free kick takers. Currently with Catania, Lodi has spent his entire career in Italy’s Serie A. Overshadowed by the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Messi, this playmaking midfielder has actually been as effective, if not more, than most when it comes to free kicks. Over the years, Lodi has used his side-foot curling technique to leave keepers rooted to the ground as the ball flies into the back of the net. In the 2012/13 season he scored from 5 free kicks and posted one of the highest conversion rates for free kick takers – higher than anyone else on this list.
1. Andrea Pirlo
We could go on about all the club and individual awards Andrea Pirlo has won over his career, but we figured it would take up too much space in this article. We could discuss the Italian midfielder’s beard and the fact it has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts, but we thought it wise not to anger the great Pirlo beard. Instead, let’s stick to free kicks. Pirlo is probably best known for his decade-long service at AC Milan in Serie A. Since 2011, the 35-year-old has been plying his trade at Juventus. In total, he has scored over 40 free kicks in his career with more than two dozen of those coming in Serie A. His latest effort against England in the World Cup didn’t score but impressed keeper Joe Hart to the point the England international was spotted praising Pirlo for his shot after the final whistle.