How Pele made the bicycle kick famous

Pele performing the famous overhead kick against Belgium in 1968

Watching a successful bicycle kick during a game is one of the most awe-inspiring moments for any fan of the sport. While many players have gone to score some marvelous goals using this kick over the years, Brazilian and footballing legend Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pele is the man responsible for its popularisation.

Despite it being present in the game for well over 30 years, Pele restarted the trend in a match between Brazil and Belgium in 1968.

The player received a cross from the left wing but instead of facing the goal, he had his back towards it. As everyone wondered what the footballing genius was up to, he tilted his body backward and sprung in the air to unleash a shot with his highly renowned right foot.

Like the keeper, the rest of the world were stunned with what they had just seen, as it redefined norms of conventional football.

Pele went on to perform the feat quite a few times over his career with Santos and Brazil, although the lack of video footage means that we might not be able to see some of them ever again.

When talking about it in his bookWhy Soccer Matters’, he too seemed to be unsure of how many overhead goals he had scored in his career. Such was the rarity of the move at that time.

“The bicycle kick is not easy to do. I scored 1,283 goals, and only two or three were bicycle kicks.”

The move was so mesmerizing that director John Huston cast Pele in a 1981 movie called Escape to Victory so he could perform the kick on camera. The movie also contains English legend Bobby Moore and several players from Ipswich town.

Bicycle kicks in recent times

While Pele was the trendsetter, several players have gone on to perform the kick after his retirement. Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart is one player who knows about this kick first hand, as he has been traumatized by it on a couple of different occasions.

During the derby match between Manchester City and Manchester United in 2011, Wayne Rooney won the game for his team by scoring an incredible bicycle kick. The goal was scored when Nani sent a high cross from the right wing in the 78th minute. Although it looked harmless at first, Rooney twisted and launched himself into the air before letting loose a venomous shot from his right foot to score the winning goal.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic though puts everyone else to shame after scoring one of the best goals in the history of football from a bicycle kick. In a match between England and Sweden where the giant Swede was already running the English team ragged, he scored a bicycle kick from 30-yards out that the Telegraph described as "a strike that defied geometry let alone belief."

The most recent instance of the move took place in the 2015 Premier League fixture between Manchester United and Liverpool, which ended in a comprehensive 3-1 win for the Red Devils. Christian Benteke scored Liverpool’s only goal at Old Trafford with a potential goal of the season contender in the 84th minute, timing his leap perfectly to execute a jaw-dropping bicycle kick.

A player is required to be strong and acrobatic just to perform the jump, and they will need to have incredible perception just to make contact with the ball in mid-air. The player needs to have good control over their body too, as an inexperienced player would have a high chance of injuring themselves if they were to try and perform the kick.

So it is not a surprise that it took a legend like Pele to really make the move an iconic one in the game, as he is considered to be the greatest footballer to have ever set foot on the pitch.

Here is the much-famed movie clip which focuses on Pele's incredible bicycle kick technique, in all its slow-motion glory:


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