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Top Ten Free Kick Specialists Of All Time

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Cast your mind back to Saturday August 15th 1998. Manchester United were kicking off their season with a home game against Leicester City and one David Beckham was making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His infamous moment of petulance at the 1998 World Cup saw him transformed from hero to zero in the space of ten seconds. The British press could smell blood!

United had looked sluggish and were staring down the barrel of a 2-1 defeat. Three minutes into extra time and United were awarded a free kick, 25 yards out. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Beckham stepped forth and struck a superb free kick past the hapless Pegguy Arphexad.

With a single free kick Beckham had sent a defiant message to his critics. He wasn’t prepared to let the ghosts of Saint-Etienne hold him back. Beckham would go on to have his greatest ever season in a United shirt, playing a crucial role in securing United’s famous treble.

As Beckham demonstrated, the free kick specialist can with a moment’s inspiration turn a game on its head. Looking back throughout history there has been some truly gifted free kick specialists, who have taken the free kick to the verge of being an art form. But which of these “artists” would rank as the top ten free kick specialists of all time? To answer this question I considered a few different criteria:

  • Frequency – How often the player scores from free kicks
  • Importance – How important was the game the free kick was scored in
  • Legacy – What impact did the player have on the game from his free kicks

With those criteria in mind lets commence the top ten.

10.) Pierre Van Hooijdonk

Perhaps a controversial choice to start off with. Undeniably talented, Van Hooijdonk was a bit of a footballing enigma, never truly reaching the heights his talent perhaps warranted. His free kicks however were truly spectacular, especially during his stay at Dutch giants Feyenoord. His free kicks during the 2001/02 season, particularly his wonder strike against Freiburg in the UEFA cup, propelled Feyenoord to European glory and secured Van Hooijdonk’s place in Feyenoord folk lore.

9.) Roberto Carlos

Roberto Carlos generated bullet like speed with his free kicks. Whilst his consistency has been called into question, I feel he warrants a spot in the top ten due to the legacy he has left on the game. His style of driving the ball at the goal with brute force offered something different to the traditional approach of bending the ball over the wall. Whilst others had used the same approach in the past, Roberto Carlos brought the approach into the mainstream and in part inspired the techniques of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juninho. His goal against France is truly one of the most amazing free kicks ever.

Youtube video: http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=-t5MF7NRQh4

8.) Jose Luis Chilavert

Jose Luis Chilavert has the unique distinction of being the only goalkeeper on my list. I remember being truly captivated by Chilavert as a kid. After all it’s not every day you see a goalkeeper come up and take a free kick, let alone score! Whilst Rogerio Ceni the Brazilian keeper scored more free kicks, Chilavert captivated crowds with his bravado and was able to deliver on the highest stage with some important strikes for Paraguay. Something Ceni wasn’t able to do.

7.) Michel Plantini

Perhaps the greatest French player of all time, Michel Plantini was well renowned for his free kicks. During his playing career he scored some crucial free kicks for both Juventus and France. The standout strike would have to be his strike against Holland in the 1984 World Cup qualifier. His perfectly placed free kick resulted in a victory which guaranteed qualification for the French. He also scored from a free kick during the 1984 Euro final against Spain, although he had a helping hand from the Spanish goalkeeper!

6.) Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest player of all time. Like pretty much anything Maradona attempted his free kicks were awe inspiring. With an almost delicate feel to them, He would get the ball to gently rise over the wall and always seemed to be able to place it just inside the post, making it almost impossible for the keeper to save. Maradona consistently delivered from the deadball for both club and country.

5.) Alessandro Del Piero

Del Piero one of the most gifted players of our generation, who freakishly seems to be improving with age! His free kick are no exception to this rule, this season alone he has scored six times from dead ball situation! Whilst Michel Plantini has recently claimed his own ability from free kicks was superior to Del Piero’s,  I have to respectfully disagree and give Del Piero the nod due to his consistent ability to find the back of the net.

4.) Zico

I’ll be honest and say that before I started looking into this article, I didn’t know much about Zico’s free kick prowess. However after watching his technique I now understand why Zico is considered by many to be the original free kick specialist. His control and placement is a delight to watch. One thing that really stands out for me is that he strikes the ball from almost a standing start, relying on his aforementioned control rather than power. A true free kick great!

3.) David Beckham

David Beckham is the most famous sportsman in the world. His trademark is his brilliant free kicks which have been immortalised by the phrase “Bend it like Beckham”. What sets Beckham apart is his ability to deliver when his team needs him the most.  From the earlier mentioned free kick against Leicester, to the great free kick for England against Greece to secure qualification for the 2002 World Cup. Beckham consistently steps up to the plate when required and fully deserves his place amongst the greatest free kick specialists of all time.

2.) Sinisa Mihajlovic

Often criticised for racial and spitting probes there is one thing that everyone can agree about with Sinisa Mihaljlovic, he was a truly brilliant free kick specialist! Mihaljlovic ability to score from the dead ball situation was feared throughout Serie A. He scored close to 30 free kicks during his career including a hat trick of free kicks for Lazio against Sampdoria in 1998. A feat which to my knowledge has yet to be replicated by any other professional player.

1.) Juninho Pernambucano

Step forth the free kick master. Juninho currently plies his trade for Lyon and is absolutely deadly from a set piece. He has scored over 40 free kicks for Lyon with an unconfirmed conversion rate of over 50%! His unique style which sees the ball move in an unpredictable fashion should be familar to fans of the English Premier League as Cristiano Ronaldo uses a similar technique. Juninho has scored free kicks from just about anywhere on the pitch. It’s been said that a free kick for Lyon anywhere near the 18 yard box is almost as good as a penalty kick. That is a true testament to the ability of Juninho, the greatest free kick specialist of all time.

Who are your favourite free kick specialists of all time?

Comments (85)

  1. Where is Andrea Pirlo?

  2. Great selection. You’re right about Zico – he doesn’t seem to have much mainstream recognition and his style is almost casual. I was pleased to see Michael Platini on your list and I also thought of Alvaro Recoba but maybe he didn’t meet your nominated criteria.

  3. Good call on Juninho. Almost forgot about van Hooijdonk. Nakamura @ celtic can certainly hit a dead ball!

  4. I have got to say that Thierry Henry should be included in this list. He has had many amazing free kicks in during his time with Arsenal.

  5. pirlo,materazzi(he is actually very good),marcos assuncao,riquelme,ezequiel garay.a few notable mentions.but nobody comes close to juninho,its uncanny how good he is

  6. Riquelme, pirlo, last year’s ronaldo, Frank de boer, don’t know if they sould be on the list, but desrve to be mentioned.

  7. I didn’t like the list. Ronaldinho could be there. Ceni is way better than Chilavert. He wasn’t able to do the same in the National team because Brazil has better keepers…

  8. He’s still wet behind the ears when compared to the others on this list, but CR7 may deserve a spot here.

  9. I know these types of rankings are opinion based and open to endless debate (which is why we like them). For me, Ronald Koeman was masterful in his freekicks. He seemed to almost score at will when he was with Barça and I remember watching matches where Barcelona would be awarded a freekick near the penalty area and see Koeman step up… and I’d think, this might as well be a penalty because he’s going to score guaranteed. I’m not merely referring to Koeman’s hell of strike at Wembley in that memorable match against Sampdoria in 1992 or that chip over the wall against England in the World Cup ’94 qualifier in Rotterdam. Great taker but then again there are so many.

  10. Where are pirlo and rivaldo guys they realy desave to be their i think the one who selected havnt watch milan and baca coz when rivaldo used to be in baca he used to score spectacular free kicks

  11. Chilavert? Don’t you know Rogerio Ceni???

  12. nakamura, pirlo, rivaldo, ronaldinho, riquelme

    gerrard has hit some good ones but i dont think he deserves to be on this list

  13. the pioneer of the “falling leaf” penalty is not even on the list, which is a shock considering he was player of the tournament for Brasil in the 1958 world cup, yes the same world cup pelle rose to fame in

    the player i am talking about is of course DIDI, Waldyr Pereira

  14. I still can’t get over the bend that Roberto Carlos put on that freekick lol. Juninho is definitely one of the best. I am glad Bentley or Bale is not the list lol as they are having many troubles at spurs getting the ball in from set pieces nowadays.

  15. @DanielChung – Koeman was certainly in my thoughts, in the end he missed out because I felt despite some excellent strikes he wasn’t consistent enough.

    @Giovani – Your point about Ceni not being good enough for the Brazilian team is the reason Chilavert stood out for me. He was a brilliant keeper, which for me makes his free kicks even more impressive. Tough gig to do both as well as he did! I’ll admit though I’m a little impartial with Chilavert, due to liking him so much as kid!

    @AdilAlhinai – I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of Waldyr Pereira before you mentioned him, just did a brief bit of reading into him. You could certainly argue a case for him to be in the top ten.

    The likes of Pirlo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo to name but a few are gifted when it comes to free kicks. But of course their could only be ten players in my top ten!

  16. Very good compilation Adam. Juninho is without doubt, hands down, the best free kick taker of all time! It doesn’t seem real ho good he is. The only player I would change would be Van Hoijdonk for Pirlo or Rivaldo.

  17. roberto carlos feels like a common error for sure. His actual conversion rate was awful wasn’t it?

    what about ronaldo? ronaldinho?

  18. @FrankF27 – Thanks mate, Van Hooijdonk was certainly the most debatable choice. In the end I what got him over the line was the song the Feyenoord fans made about his free kicks, it got into the Dutch charts! Search for it on youtube “put your hands up for pi-air”

    @AndySammons – Your right, Roberto Carlos’s conversion rate wasn’t that fantastic. He got on the list mainly because I think the way he moved the ball in the air, influenced the likes of Ronaldo and Juninho with their styles. Ronaldo needs another three or four seasons of consistently scoring from free kicks to get on this list imo.

  19. Steven Gerrard?

  20. Mikel Arteta anyone? The best after Juninho at the moment. And certainly the best in the EPL

  21. Becks is not better than Del Piero, Platini or Pirlo and I’m an Inter fan. Where’s Ronaldinho?

  22. Good list would probably not have had Carlos though. Baggio, Figo, Rivelino are more worthy for me. Agree with the top two though, for there is little difference. They are both the pinaccles of the left foot/right foot free kickers

  23. Oh wait I almost forgot Juan Roman Riquelme! He’s sick!

  24. bergkamp,rivaldo,nakamura and pirlo all deserve to be in there b4 van hoojidonk

  25. Nakamura?

  26. I like your list.

  27. Ronaldo v Bolton and Portsmouth last season has to get him on the list.

  28. @BDCondell – My take on Ronaldo is that one season of scoring from free kicks, even ones as good as the Portsmouth goal isn’t enough to consider him as one of the top ten free kick takers of all time! If he does it consistently for the next few years, then he has a case in my opinion.

  29. I thought the inclusion of Van Hooijdonk would be controversial! I stand by his selection though, even with all the other names!

  30. Before I even opened this article, I thought if Juninho is not on No.1, I’m not checking Soccerlen’s blogs anymore. Thank God he’s up there.

  31. where is ballack? pirlo? baptista ? totti ?

  32. Pirlo, nuff’ said.

  33. What about Ronaldinho,Pirlo,Cristiano Ronaldo,Rivaldo they are better free kick takers than a lot on your list.

  34. I just think it’s unfair because Ceni is way better goalkeeper AND free kick taker than Chilavert. Brazil’s level is a lot higher than Paraguay, that’s way Ceni never had the chance do show his skills in a international level… But he still is better than Chilavert never was…

  35. WOW I just saw live in the Milan-Genova game a Pirlo free kick in the 15th min!!! Hit the crossbar. Amazing.

    Milan must have a hard tie deciding who can take free kicks. Beckham, Pirlo, Ronaldinho, Seedorf… !

  36. nd beckham also scored a great goal! (FK)

  37. @Gionvani I’ll admit I’ve seen a lot more of Chilavert than I have of Ceni. That influenced my choice.

  38. henry zidane and nakamura should be included !!

  39. Good list. Although, as an American, I’m outraged that you didn’t include someone like, uh – hold on, I’ll think of someone.

    I could have done without the Pet Shop Boys, but that’s Youtube for you.

  40. Good list. But other than all the aforementioned “forgotten” names… Roberto Baggio! He’s certainly one of the greats.

  41. @Marco – Ah Roberto! He actually was in my top ten, but I cut him out at the last revision. Certainly one of the greats, there is an excellent youtube clip available of some of his best free kicks.

  42. Ok I agree Juninho is the best free kicker of all time but french goalkeepers suck big times!!! If he played in the UK, Spain or Italy he wouldn’t score as many goals. I do agree that he does shoot on target more than anybody else, but if you look at the video most of the keeper don’t even move or try to catch the ball.

  43. Juninho is definitely no.1, but even without bothering to check I can safely say that his conversion rate is nowhere near 50%!

  44. SINISA IS No1.
    He score 3 goals from free kick’s on one single game.
    Juninho is good , but Mihajlovic is the greatest !!!

  45. You forgot about Thomas hassler, Ronald Koeman, Ghenghini of the great French side of world cup 82. What about Rivaldo and Rivelino

  46. You got that right about Juninho but I think Gerrard and C.Ronaldo deserve places in the top 10 as they have both netted some really good free kicks and they are more consistent than Roberto Carlos.

  47. Good choice not to include Ronaldo, standing like u ready for a good spanking doesn’t really count in my books, but he’s certainly potential. I love controversy, and i must add that people make it on a top ten list because their memorable, not exactly because of their conversion rate.
    Legendary = Beckham, Juninho, Zico, Koeman et al. Ronaldinho certainly deserves a mention, as do all the players who everyone mentioned, but lets face it – on the big stage, their small fish!!!

  48. I say Cristiano Ronaldo definetly deserves to be in the top 10 and Steve.G.But the video above Very Best Of Juninho (Freekicks)good pictures lame goals beacause lame Goalkeepers.

  49. I say Cristiano Ronaldo definetly deserves to be in the top 10 and Steve.G.But the video above Very Best Of Juninho (Freekicks)good pictures lame goals beacause lame Goalkeepers.But if he goes to WESTBROMWHICHALBION F.C he will be named best Freekick taker of all time in WESTBROM.

  50. Beckham shouldn’t be on the list for one simple reason, he always took the flashy unreliable option. Fine he did score a few good free kicks but during his time at Utd. he wasn’t even the best taker, Denis Irwin was. It’s just that Irwin wasn’t as pushy about the flash parts of football.

  51. I watched the game when Sinisa Mihajlovic scored the hat trick against Sampdoria, just amazing the game ended 5-3. I like the list and I think Cristiano Ronaldo should not be in the top 10 or even top 20, because he has not earned it yet, he needs to score more goals from free kicks to get there.

    I like that the list is more about how many goals from free kicks rather than just how popular players are.

  52. I think Cristiano Ronaldo should be NO.1 tied with Juninho.

  53. anyone who thinks ronaldo should be in the list are absolute morons, a few free kicks against no-body team in the EPL for 2 seasons is nothing.
    I think Del-Piero should be 2nd behind Junihno, It’s a discrace that someone like becham is named before him, he has consistantly banged in free kicks for about 12 years now. I think in his career he would have scored more free kicks than anyone on this list by far. Does anyone know how many?

  54. I like the list of contenders, however, I disagree to the order!

    Zico,Platini, Mihjailovic, Maradona and Juninho would make the PERFECT TOP5 best.
    Even the author admitted he barely know Zico and that said everything!

    Beckham, Carlos and Del Pierro were a bit overated for their freekick skills (too few goals scored out of the number of chances). They will be lucky to make into TOP10

  55. Beckham over Maradona, Zico and Platini just makes this list look funny. It is even funnier to include R. Carlos while the likes of Baggio, Rivelino, Didi, Kuman, Stoikoff, and Hesler (a lot of spelling errors), etc were left out.

    Agree with Jamesbh11 that the top5 is Zico,Platini, Mihjailovic, Maradona and Juninho.

    The author needs to investigate more.

  56. P.S. may you use this video for Maradona please? it is a lot better.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlVfzOb_w9s

  57. Carlos is the most over rated free kick taker of all time. He may have scored one of the greatest free kicks of all time but that doesn’t mean that he is one of the greatest.

  58. Your lists a lot of pish mate. U ever heard of Shunske Nakamura?? Scored 2 freekicks against Man U, plus against France Brazil etc. Scored over 50 freekicks, so get ur facts straight.

  59. I think the list is okay, but i think c.ronaldo deserves a place in the list. His free kick shots are sinous and it is a remedy

  60. This list is INCOMPLETE.Bcoz the greatest free kick specialist is not included. Its Duchman Ronld Koeman

  61. Didn’t know Zico ? Phhft. And where the hell is Matt Le Tissier ?

  62. Zizu ! Where is Zizu ? Cantona ?

  63. have you forgotten c.ronaldo,ronaldinho and weslay sneijder

  64. Some of these comments are ridiculous. If you want to do it objectively you can count how many freekick goals have been scored, but this is not the only concept, you must take into account the quality of the freekick and even the distance (i.e. close ones are hard to get over the wall and down whereas distance freekicks are just hard!). It is definitely related to the freekick attribute and not the players all round ability, so I agree with some but not others. Roberto Carlos hasnt scored many but has arguably the best freekick in the world. Maybe in 10 years when the consitency of Ronaldo’s freekicks improve or someone like Ronaldinho keeps stepping up. However, I completely agree with players like Beckham as his freekicks are more than excellent but he was nowhere near an allround accomplished player as some others e.g Maradona. People who ask for Cantona and Le Tiss are completely misguided in terms of freekicks!

  65. No Juan Roman Riquelme???

  66. One name that has been omitted Roberto Baggio!

    His goals especially for Bologna from free kicks where truly sensational. He scored wonderful goals for Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus from free kicks.

    Also Zola, Batistuta with his rocket blasts would have added a different style of free kicks to your top 10 but i think the biggest that has just come to mind is Alvaro Recoba. How can you forget his debut for Inter Milan the same match the Great Ronaldo also debuted.

  67. how anyone can complain bout ronaldo not bein mentioned is crazy, yes he has scored a few but he misses a hell of alot more. with his style of free kick it could either b great or as more time than enough he blasts it into wall. SHUNSKE NAKAMURA has scored free kick after free kick and every 1 into top corner,def it top 3

  68. Just to clear something up, Mihajlovic wasn’t the only professional player to score a hattrick of free kicks in one game. Ray McKinnon achieved the same for Dundee United in Scotland back in 96/97.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoOzS9ax07U

  69. In fairness, if we put Roberto Carlos on the list for a couple of unbelivable free kicks, then C.Ronaldo must surely be an inclusion. I understand a lot fo people don’t like him, but there is no denying that he has scored some crazy free kicks.
    Memorable ones are that 36 yard one against Europe XI, that one against Pompey last year and the blitzed one against Arsenal.

    And I also think Ronaldinho should be included in there as well, he’s absolutely class. He hasa great technique and unbelievable nerve; that goal against Werder Bremen where he rolled the ball under the wall… well….

  70. Ray McKinnon scored a free kick hat trick for Dundee Utd in the mid 90s.
    You could say he was something of a ‘cult hero’ type player. He was no mug back in his day, think Brian Clough splashed out £1M on him in like 1992.

  71. Kostas Frantzeskos has also scored a free kick hatrick back in 1997 for PAOK FC in Greece. He was a true specialist having scored a total of 43 kicks in the Greek Football League alone (excluding cup, europe, national team). As a player he was nothing special but as a free-kick taker he has to be regarded as one of the greatest due to his incredible frequency. Two of his most notable goals are those against Atletico Madrid for the UEFA Cup. In spite of the above, I don’t think he deserves a slot in the top-10 list. On the other hand, I think Rivaldo should command a place somewhere between 7-10. Cristiano Ronaldo has not been around long enough to deserve a place in the list of the all time greatest. However, I believe he will be included in an updated list in 15 years time. Ceni’s kicks are a lot more than Chilavert’s, but I agree with the author’s decision to prefer Chilavert over Ceni. Chila was probably the first goalie to be such a consistent free kick scorer and has also scored some memorable ones like one from the half-way line!

  72. Recoba Recoba Recoba, What a wonderful left foot the man had, i am dissapointed you failed to recognise his talent. Juninho Pernambucano was a true free kick specialist but i also think Beckham should have been on top spot. One of the few Englishmen deserving of a world cup winners medal, it is a shame he won’t have one last attempt to carry us to glory this summer.

  73. If C Ronaldo can hit a ball with 167 km/hr when kicking a free kick or spin the ball around a wall completely while still being on target then put him on the list instead of Carlos.

  74. Mihajlovic has done close to 30 goals in Serie A. I have seen 57 different freekick goals from Mihajlovic in european cups, Jugoslavia league, Coppa Italia. He has done more than 100 goals in his career, dont no how many from free kicks. Some year his rating in italy was about 80%. Juninho ratio in Lyon was 50% so… Who is best freekicker of all time?

  75. no Susuke Nakamura…………………he is one the finest freekick rackers of all time………..never seen him scoring amazing goals from freekicks…..then plzwatch it….

  76. Rivaldo should be in the list. also Rivelino and Pele.
    Pele score 2 free kicks in world cup games which counts a lot.

  77. Rivaldo and Zidane also. and platini higher than 7th

  78. Franzteskos was a great specialist. Pele also was good.

  79. rivaldo and marcelinho carioca

  80. Rogério Ceni?!?

  81. I think david beckham and not juniho should be on the top chart.

  82. Nakamura not being in this list is ridiculous, The List is pretty accurate apart from that and Mihajlovic being ahead of Platini and Del Piero.

    People saying cristano ronaldo should be in this and should be no1 are thicker than a tub of lard, i suppose you are the people who actually think hes a better player than Messi? Should of gone to specsavers!

  83. NOW DIEGO FORLAN IS THE NO:1 FREE KICK SPELIALIST IN THE WORLD…………THERE IS NO QUESTION ABOUT THAT…………….

  84. You all are so shit ! I scored against kahn & buffon standing together and it was a 29 mt strike !

    You all holy fuckers, the best ever free kick specialist was dhuraso…remember ?

  85. I think that Liverpool’s Milan Jovanavic has scored a hat-trick of free kicks for Standard Liege