Being a free kick specialist in soccer isn’t easy to do, as it takes years of practice. Those who do succeed usually become cult heroes to the fans of their clubs and country. There have been dozens of players who have been pretty good free-kick takers over the years, but only a select few were true specialists. This list consists of 12 such players, who often found the back of the net on a free kick.
They’d either bend the ball around the wall, lift it over the top, or even slide the ball under the wall as the defending players jumped in unison. Some were experts at long-range free kicks due to their power while others were great from close range because of their tremendous accuracy. No matter what technique they used, such as a curve, swerve, dip, or power, these 12 players are (or were) true masters of the art. With the videos provided, you can rank them yourselves.
12. Sebastian Giovinco
We’re going to start the list off with probably the most controversial entrant of them all in forward Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC. This guy was born to take free kicks and is arguably the best at it in the world at the moment. His technique appears to be better than Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s and he’s more consistent than those two Spanish La Liga stars. Giovinco’s free kicks have won numerous games for his MLS club, including a recent CONCACAF Champions League beauty against Tigres UANL of Mexico to advance on aggregate. The 31-year-old kicked off his career with Juventus in his homeland of Italy in 2006, played on loan with Empoli and Parma, and moved to TFC in 2015. He’s scored 67 goals in his first 110 MLS games (and won the MVP, Supporters Shield, and MLS Cup since his arrival) after notching 43 in 202 outings in Serie A. There’s no telling how many free-kicks goals he’ll end up with.
11. Michel Platini
Before Michel Platini made a mess of UEFA, he was a very good footballer and one of the best free-kick takers around. Platini,a three-time Ballon d’Or winner, starred with Nancy, Saint-Etienne and Juventus between 1972 and 1987. The attacking midfielder was an excellent scorer and playmaker, who banged in 312 goals in 580 club games. Platini also scored 41 times for France in 72 outings and added four more in seven matches with his country’s Olympic squad. He added a lot of variety to his free kicks, as he could go for power by simply smashing the ball or he’d try to place it in the perfect spot due to his tremendous accuracy. Platini was often lethal on free kicks from about 20-yards out, as the goalkeeper usually didn’t have a clue what to expect from him.
10. Roberto Carlos
If you’re looking for a combination of power and technique, then perhaps Brazilian international defender Roberto Carlos is you’re favorite free kick specialist. Carlos was probably the best long-range specialist the game has ever seen, as he had a talent for scoring from 40-yards out. He may not have hit the net as consistently as some of the others on this list, but when he did it was something special. Carlos played from 1991 to 2015 with his most famous stop coming at Real Madrid between 1996 and 2007. He racked up 102 goals in 820 career club outings and chipped in with 11 in 125 contests for Brazil. Carlos’ nickname was The Bullet Man (El Hombre Bala), since one of his free kicks was timed at 105 miles per hour. His most memorable free-kick goal came against France back in 1997 when it swerved around the wall from more than 35-yards out.
9. Ronald Koeman
Former Dutch international defender and current manager Ronald Koeman was a legend at Barcelona due to his free kick goals. Koeman possessed power and accuracy. and often took his team’s penalties as well. He definitely had a knack for finding the back of the net, since he still holds the record as the highest-scoring defender in world football. He played from 1980 to 1997 with teams such as Groningen, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Barca, and Feyenoord.
Koeman finished his career with 239 goals in 685 club contests and added another 14 in 78 games for Holland. His 90 goals with Barcelona are a club record for a defender, where he was known as the King of Free Kicks. He scored 26 free-kick goals for the Spanish giants and added 46 more from the penalty spot.
8. Andrea Pirlo
Another legendary Italian free kick taker was the seemingly ageless Andrea Pirlo. The 38-year-old recently hung up his boots after playing from 1995 to 2017 with stops in Brescia, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus and New York City. The creative midfielder was known for his playmaking abilities, but still managed 73 club goals in 756 games with 13 more for Italy in 116 internationals.
It’s believed more than 30 of Pirlo’s career tallies came via the free kick route and he’s tied with Sinisa Mihajlovic for the most free kick goals ever in Serie A, with 28. Pirlo took a book out of Juninho’s page when it came to free kicks, as he liked the knuckleball technique. He also studied Diego Maradona and Roberto Baggio’s styles and was also a pretty dependable penalty taker during his career.
7. Sinisa Mihajlovic
Perhaps one of the most least known free kick specialists to the average fan is former Serbian international defender/midfielder Sinisa Mihajlovic. He was another player who combined tremendous power with accuracy and is the only known player on this list to score a hat trick of free kicks in a single game. That’s an achievement he accomplished back in 1999 when playing for Lazio in Serie A.
He scored 28 times on free kicks in the Italian league, which is a record he shares with Andrea Pirlo. Mihajlovic played from 1986 to 2006 with several sides including Red Star Belgrade, Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter Milan. He scored 95 times in 563 club contests with 10 goals in 63 internationals. He’s been involved with management since hanging up his boots, with his latest job being at Torino.
6. Rogerio Ceni
You may never have heard of Brazilian goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, but he may have actually been better at scoring goals than saving them. Ceni played from 1992 to 2015 in his homeland with Sao Paulo and has now gotten into management. He played just 16 internationals for Brazil, but was on the 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads. But what sets Ceni apart from most goalies was his ability to score from free kicks and penalty shots. In fact, he’s the top scoring goalkeeper in soccer history, as he found the back of the net 131 times. Just one of these came from open play, while over 60 were scored via free kicks (the rest were penalties). He obviously had a heck of a shot and a great technique when taking set pieces and it’s unlikely his scoring record for a goalie will be broken.
5. Alessandro Del Piero
There’s no doubt that Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero was a technically gifted midfielder/forward, but his knack of scoring from free kicks really stood out. He played pro from 1991 to 2014 with his most famous stint coming at Juventus from 1993 to 2012, where he now regarded as a club legend. Del Piero scored 316 club goals in 777 career games including 290 in 705 matches with Juventus. He also kicked in 27 goals in his 91 appearances with the Italian national team after starring for the Under-17, -18, and -21 squads. He holds numerous club records in Turin and became a free kick specialist due to tireless practicing of his technique. Del Piero scored dozens of goals from free-kicks during his career, with some of them being the best ever seen in Serie A.
Another Brazilian free kick expert was the legendary Zico and his relatively short run up, especially when compared to fellow countryman Roberto Carlos. The attacking midfielder/forward was also an excellent finisher and passer and was simply one of the world’s greatest players. Zico could bend his free kicks in any direction he chose and even his former teammate (and soccer icon) Pele thought he was second to none.
Zico scored 48 times in 71 games for Brazil and is probably the best player to never win a World Cup, despite playing in three tournaments. He played from 1971 to 1994 in Brazil and Japan with 476 goals in 698 club contests. It’s estimated that at least 44 of those goals came on well-aimed free kicks. Zico had a unique style, as he often raised his knee at a high angle when kicking the ball to lift it over the wall. This enabled him to score numerous free kicks from close range.
Who can forget Ronaldinho’s 40-yard free kick goal in the 2002 World Cup against England? It sure fooled and embarrassed goalkeeper David Seaman, but the Brazilian international midfielder had a habit of doing that to goalies during his career. The 38-year-old played from 1998 to 2015 and was generally regarded as the best player in the world at one time. This can be backed up by his Ballon d’Or and two FIFA Player of the Year Awards.
Ronaldinho played club football in his native Brazil, but also starred in Europe with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, and AC Milan. He had 280 goals under his belt in 728 club matches with another 33 in 97 outings for Brazil. It’s estimated that Ronaldinho scored about 70 goals from free kicks due to his accuracy and trickery.
2. David Beckham
When you have a movie and a catchphrase like Bend it Like Beckham named after you, then you must be doing something right. Former England international skipper David Beckham did just about everything right when it came to free kicks, as the winger scored 65 goals from them, just 11 fewer than Juninho. Beckham spent endless hours practicing his technique as a youngster and it definitely paid off. He played from 1992 to 2013 with Preston North End, Manchester United, Real Madrid, the LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.
Beckham tallied 129 goals in 719 club matches and hit the net 17 times in 115 outings for his homeland. His most famous free kick came in 2001 against Greece, as England qualified for the World Cup literally when the ball hit the net. The video still brings tears to an Englishman’s eyes, as Beckham went from zero to hero and became the footballing savior of a nation, after being the country’s scapegoat of the 1998 World Cup.
1. Juninho Pernambucano
The general consensus is that Brazilian-born Juninho Pernambucano has so far been the best free-kick taker in soccer history. The exact numbers are a little cloudy, but it’s believed he scored a world record 76 goals from free kicks, with 44 of them coming for French Ligue 1 club Olympique Lyon. If you look at all the players who copied Juninho’s non-spinning, knuckleball free kick style over the years it becomes obvious he was held in high regard by his peers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.
The midfielder played from 1993 to 2013 with various clubs, although his stint in Lyon came during the peak of his powers. He notched 132 goals in 507 league matches with another six in 40 contests for Brazil, but will always be remembered for his exceptional free-kick prowess, often using just three toes to strike the ball.