Top 10 Free-Kick specialists in 2014

The sight of a dead ball being placed some yards from goal strikes fear in hearts of opposition fans. The goalkeeper organizes his wall in a frenzy, the free-kick taker sizes up the distance and the available angles. And then, if the free-kick taker is endowed with the required technical brilliance and mental fortitudeCometh the hour, cometh the man!As demonstrated many times, free-kick specialist can turn a game on its head with a moments inspiration. There can be piledrivers that will go in no matter how well the goalkeeper is positioned (think Roberto Carlos), and then there can be works of art that curve in from an impossible angle leaving the keeper looking extremely hapless (think Ronaldinho).Teams often keep a free-kick specialist in their ranks to capitalize on these opportunities, because these specialists seem to be successful at beatingthe physics of a moving footballagain and again. What follows is a look at some of the most dangerous free-kick specialists who will be seen in action thisseason.

#10 Steven Gerrard

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Gerrard is likely to take on complete responsibilities of free-kicks for Liverpool this season after the departure of Luis Suarez.

Gerrard has been responsible for some epic free kicks over the years, more so because he puts them in when his team really needs him to. He has a curler as well as a driver which he hits with an absolutely straight foot.

It was this goal against Sunderland last season, after which Gerrard was seen jokingly telling Suarez, “No more free kicks for you!”

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#9 Christian Eriksen

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One of the brightest spots in Tottenham Hotspur’s prospects this season is the continued ascent of this young Danish playmaker into stardom.

Eriksen’s special free kicks are by now an established weapon in the Spurs armoury.

Saying that he is not getting much time to practise his free kicks right now because of the intensity of pre-season training, Eriksen recently revealed that he has learnt his art under the guidance of Frank de Boer while at Ajax youth academy.

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#8 David Luiz

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This Brazilian central defender has a style of play uncharacteristic of central defenders.

The only defender to find a place on this list, his attitude is summed by this take of his on scoring from free kicks: "If you have confidence to take a free-kick, all the players can score."

He also has a knack of scoring blinding goals from long distance free-kicks, such as the beauty he unleashed against Colombia in the quarter final of World Cup 2014.

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#7 Sejad Salihovic

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There is a saying among Bosnians and German league fans – “If you see Salihovic in the score sheet and it’s not a penalty, it’s most likely a free-kick.”

The Hoffenheim captain has a powerful left foot finish, and is called The Free Kick King for his proficiency at finding the back of the net from dead ball situations.

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#6 Juan Arango

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The greatest player to have ever been produced by Venezuela, this 34-year-old had once claimed he can take better free kicks than Ronaldo.

Moreover, he claims to not require hours at practising his sensational free kicks – “I just know how to do it”.

He takes a quick glance up from the ball to size up the situation, takes a couple of steps backward, and runs in without any fuss to execute his coup de grace. The man with some of the best free-kicks of the last 10 years to his name, has made a move to Mexican outfit Club Tijuana from the Bundesliga this season.

If free kicks are indeed an innate trait as the man claims, there should be a sting in the ageing legs still and there might be free-kick videos from Mexico being circulated this season.

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#5 Luis Suarez

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Free-kicks are late additions to Luis Suarez’s game, but he has been scoring from them at a frightening rate over the last two seasons for Liverpool. When bamboozling defenders from open play got too passe for the controversial Uruguay international, he shifted focus to dead balls, and there has just been no looking back.

His sudden improvement is down to hours spent at persistent training-ground drills and an ability to change shot direction and power according to the need.

“The more you practice, you grow in confidence”, he told Liverpool’s website last year, and also credited coach Brendan Rodgers for making him a free-kick specialist.

“The manager is really good at this preparation. Before a game he shows the free-kick takers footage on dead-ball situations.”

He will face competition for free-kick responsibilities at Barcelona, but at his current rate of improvement, could well be the greatest free-kick specialist by the time he is ready to see his career through.

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#4 Gareth Bale

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Bale takes second place to Ronaldo in taking free-kick responsibilities for Real Madrid, but shows venomous dead-ball skills when called upon.

He does not keep much stock in curling and dipping his free kicks, he opens his foot up and hits the sweet spot right in the middle of the ball, keeping his body tall while taking the kick and in the follow-up.

The ball follows a flat trajectory, and as a result his goals mostly find the middle or even the bottom corner of the net, unlike free kicks by most of the other specialists on this list.

The most important thing, Bale has said, is to “keep focused on the point you want to hit and be 100 per cent committed to what you're doing.”

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#3 Lionel Messi

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Free kicks are not the strongest part of Messi’s game, but he has made it a regular responsibility to enthrall crowds with moments of magic, and free-kicks often provide him with such opportunities.

Messi uses his legs to provide the power behind the strike, rather than momentum from the run-up. He places his feet at a very close distance from the ball and keeps his standing foot pointing towards where he aims the ball to end up.

The other unique aspect of Messi free-kicks is the complete absence of a follow-up, suggesting an unprecedented and unreplicated degree of skill and precision. Most of his strikes rise and then dip viciously, while always curling away from the keeper.

And as seen from the heart-warming moment Messi shared with Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama after a brilliant free-kick, his victims do not mind falling prey to his wizardries.

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#2 Cristiano Ronaldo

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Ronaldo has been a pathbreaking footballer in many ways. For instance, the knuckleball free-kicks which he has mastered and self-baptized tomahawk free kicks, have found the back of the net with uncanny frequency.

He has further immortalized his free-kicks by having a signature preparation. As cameras zoom in on the man of the moment, hands are by his side, his body is still, he breathes heavily and his eyes are set like steel on the target.

As the whistle is blown, Ronaldo inhales with a sense of finality and runs in. His right knee comes very close to his chin right after his right instep makes contact with the ball, thus giving it the trademark top spin and dip.

The left foot is elevated from the ground at the moment of impact, and it is the right foot which lands on the ground first – this gives his kicks the immense power he generates.

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#1 Andrea Pirlo

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There are few characters in football as interesting as l'architetto (the architect). Every touch of the ball he makes appears to have a thought process behind it which is long and complex, but most of all purely beautiful.

Pirlo has been arguably the best free-kick taker of this generation, not only in terms of frequency of successful free-kicks or of importance of those goals, but also for the craft he exhibits. ‘The Professor’ has raised his technique to the level of an art. His recently released autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play is one of the most intriguing pieces of sports literature ever, and the love he puts into his free-kicks can be gauged from some quotes from the book:

“I strike dead balls alla Pirlo. Each shot bears my name and they’re all my children. They look like one another without being twins”

“When I attempt free kicks I think in Portuguese. Then I celebrate in Italian...(Taking free-kicks) wasn't an immediate discovery. It took patience and constant dedication."

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Edited by Staff Editor
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