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The 10 greatest free-kick takers of all time...

Posted by Christopher Smith on

Everyone loves a dead ball specialist. There's something immensely enjoyable about watching a player with bags of ability effortlessly curl a ball over a defensive wall and have it nestle perfectly in the top corner.

In this piece you'll get to read Football Nation's top 10 countdown of the greatest ever free-kick takers (with lots of nice videos to go along with them). So here goes... 

10. Roberto Carlos - LB (Brazil)

Ok, we know what you're going to say: how can Roberto Carlos be all the way down at number 10? How can a guy who scored that free kick and was known to hit shots at over 100mph not be higher up?

Well, the thing about Mr Carlos is that his overall record for set-pieces wasn't particularly spectacular. He was capable of scoring utterly ridiculous goals, but his success from dead balls was intermittent at best.

To be honest, if we were going purely by his success rate, he wouldn't have made the top 10, but there's no way you can ignore the above free kick when putting something like this together.

9. Maradona - AM (Argentina)

He's a name that comes up in almost every pub debate about who the greatest footballer of all-time is - and there's no denying that Maradona is right up there.

However, he's often remembered more for his goals against England & that mad moment in USA 94 than his superb ability to curl a dead-ball exactly where he wanted it.

Maradona had a superb free-kick record and the above video is testament to that - what a player!

8. David Beckham - RM (England)

We know we know, you probably expected to see Beckham a bit closer to the number 1 spot than coming in at 8. There's method to our madness though - and while there's no denying David Beckham was an utterly superb free kick taker, he just doesn't quite tick all the boxes for us.

Our only criticism of Beckham's free-kicks is that his technique and style was almost always the same, restricting his range a little bit. Because of this, Beckham often struggled when taking free kicks that were a bit closer to goal and instead excelled when they were 25-30 yards out.

That said, criticising Beckham's free-kicks for that is a bit like criticising the Sistine Chapel for having too many brush strokes in the same direction.

7. Shunsuke Nakamura - LM (Japan)

Japan are a country that's been blessed with a fair few excellent set-piece specialists over the years. The likes of Shinji Ono, Hidetoshi Nakata & Keisuke Honda have all been fairly useful with a dead-ball at their feet.

No one excelled for the Blue Samurai (and at club level) quite like Shunsuke Nakamura though - owner of one of the deadliest left foots in the business.

Celtic fans will remember him particularly fondly, given his stunning free-kick winner for them against Man Utd, as well as a particularly sensational goal in an Old Firm Derby.

He was much-loved in Italy when he played for Reggina though, proving equally as deadly there as he did for Celtic and his national side.

6. Thierry Henry - CF (France)

It can safely be argued that Arsenal's Thierry Henry never got the recognition for his ability as a set-piece specialist that he really deserved.

Everyone remembers him as one of the most complete players the Premier League ever saw, and definitely one of the best goal scorers.

But for some reason, people seem to forget about some of the sensational free-kicks he scored over the years. The above video is a pretty healthy reminder of why he was so good.

5. Gianfranco Zola - Fwd (Italy)

Best remembered as a Chelsea legend (he was voted the club's greatest ever player a few years back) and for the flair & skill he brought to the English Premier League, Zola oozed class.

His exploits in Italy before he signed for Chelsea were pretty impressive too though, and for a period he held the record in Serie A for the most free kicks scored.

Zola had an incredibly casual technique which made almost every free kick he scored look effortless & simple. We all know how difficult it is to score from a dead-ball, so to make it look so easy was certainly no mean feat.

4. Sinisa Mihajlovic  - CB (Yugoslavia)

After Zola we come to Sinisa Mihajlovic - holder of the record for most free kicks scored in Serie A. He was utterly deadly from a set-piece and famously scored a hattrick from dead-balls for Lazio in 1998.

Distance wasn't an issue for Mihajlovic either, as he scored plenty of free-kicks from ranges from 20 yards to 35 yards.

Anyone who ever played some of the Pro Evolution Soccer games in the PS2 days will know Mihajlovic was almost a cheat player, with free kicks being almost as good as penalties for his in-game persona.

He is currently the manager of Sampdoria, where we're sure he'll be passing on some of his wisdom and technique to a new generation of players.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo - LWF (Portugal)

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of only two players on our list to still be playing the game professionaly (you'll find out the other one next) and is known for his trademark stance when striking a dead-ball.

Ronaldo is very much a showman and his unusual stance for free kicks is all part of playing up to the crowd. That said, it wouldn't be much good without an end product, fortunately he frequently has one.

Ronaldo's trademark free-kick tends to dip & swerve unpredictably through the air, bamboozling the keeper and (with any luck) winding up in the back of the net.

What sets Ronaldo apart though, is his ability to change it up when he needed to. The perfect example being his free kick against Bayern Munich in last year's Champion's League semi-final. He stepped up and simply passed it underneath the German wall and into the back of the net - sheer class.

2. Rogerio Ceni - GK (Brazil)

When someone asks you to name a famous free-kick-taking goalkeeper from South America, chances are most people will answer with Paraguay's Jose Luis Chilavert.

Well we hate to tell you, but Chilavert had nothing on this guy - Brazilian Rogerio Ceni. He has a career record of 123 goals and counting, with 60 of them coming from set-pieces (he also takes penalties in case any of you think he's scored another 60+ goals from open play).

Now Chilavert may be the only professional goalkeeper to score a hattrick in a match, but he's some 60 goals behind Ceni's goal tally! Chilavert is also now retired, whereas Ceni at 42 is still turning out for Sao Paulo in the Brazlilian top flight.

1. Juninho Pernambucano - CM (Brazil)

Ok, we know some of you may disagree with the running order of our top 10, or even be wondering why certain players have been omitted altogether (that's half the fun of top 10 lists).

But, there is no way we're having anyone disagree with the number 1. Juninho Pernambucano is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest striker of a static dead-ball that has ever lived.

He was the first player to really develop & utilise the knuckling  technique when striking the ball, something that was later adapted and made more famous by Cristiano Ronaldo.

His goal-scoring record from free-kicks is absolutely sensational, as you may have noticed by the 75 set-piece goals he scored in the above video. What that doesn't show you is just how many goals he also assisted with the deadly accuracy of his crossing from set-pieces also.

What really sets Juninho apart from the others though, is the range of styles he had when taking set-pieces. As well as his famous knuckle-ball strikes, he also scored delicate curlers, outside-of-the-boot power strikes & drilled shots underneath the wall - he had everything!

Such was his ability, his free-kick styles were adapted by some of the world's leading dead-ball specialists today, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo & Didier Drogba.

Honourable Mentions

Ronald Koeman - CB (Holland) - scorer of absolute thunderbolt free-kicks from ridiculous distances.

Gheorghe Hagi - AM (Romania) - great dead-ball record and scored from close & long-range set-pieces.

Jose Luis Chilavert - GK (Paraguay) - Was hard to leave out a goalie that has a hattrick to his name.

Andrea Pirlo - DM (Italy) - Pretty sure we can hear you cursing our name for this omission from here.

Leighton Baines - LB (England) - Arguably the Premier League's best free-kick taker for the last few seasons.

If you want to be as good as any of the names above, better get practising hard & often.

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