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Who are the best free-kick takers of all time?

September 08, 2015

- Grant Whittington

Is there anything more beautiful in the world of football than a well-taken free-kick? If so we have yet to see it, and some of the sports’ most memorable goals have emerged from unlikely dead-ball situations. With a host of skilful practitioners and variable techniques, no free-kicks are ever alike and there is always a keen sense of anticipation whenever one of the greats prepares to take one.

Appraising the pantheon of dead-ball specialists (both old and new) is challenging, but there are a select few who stand out as true exponents of the art. Here is a shortlist of who we believe to be the best free-kick takers of all-time…

David Beckham

The poster boy of English football from the late 1990’s to the late noughties, David Beckham’s legacy has been somewhat augmented by factors outside of the game. This should not detract from his technical ability and work ethic, which enabled him to become the most consistent dead-ball specialist of the modern age. There was a time in his career when you expected him to score every time he lined up a free-kick, while his ability to convert under pressure (think the last-gasp goal against Greece that carried to the World Cup in 2002) marked him as true great.

Gianfranco Zola

In terms of pure technique, Gianfranco Zola was the single most adept dead-ball specialist of the modern age. Diminutive and highly skilled, Zola overcame the physical challenges of the Premier League to also become a favourite in the English league. He converted a high percentage of free-kicks during his career, thanks primarily to his classic technique, metronomic run-up and unique ability to place the ball wherever he wanted.

Whenever Zola placed the ball, you knew there was a good chance that the net would bulge.

Cristiano Ronaldo

It is ironic that Ronaldo inherited David Beckham’s number seven shirt at Manchester United, as he was soon to assume his free-kick duties too. Ronaldo had an entirely different technique to Beckham, however, relying more on power and the ability to dramatically swerve the ball than curl and drift. To achieve this, Ronaldo strikes the ball just below the valve, generating considerable power and often beating the keeper before he could even move.

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