Free-Kick Technique Tips
Edward Hillam provides some top tips to help improve your free-kick technique.
Set pieces are an essential part of football, and players that can execute them well are vital to any successful team. Even the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid require a top free-kick taker. Of course, it helps even more when those set-piece specialists also possess the all-around talent of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose free-kick taking prowess was celebrated in several Nike adverts. Sometimes, a successful free-kick might require the involvement of several team members and plenty of practice on the training ground. But quite often, a free kick offers a chance for an individual to shine. To use all their skill and technique to deliver a moment of controlled precision that can change the course of a game.
Top free-kick takers
Studies have shown that just over 5.5% of all free-kicks taken, result in a goal, so finding a player with a much higher conversion ratio can give a team a slight edge over the long term. So, let us take a look at the two best players in the world. According to Opta, as of February 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo's ratio for scoring free-kicks in La Liga stood at 6.5% (18 goals from 275 attempts), while Lionel Messi's stood at 8% (16 goals from 198 attempts), giving the Barcelona man the edge. But across the top European leagues, there are plenty of great free-kick takers aside from Ronaldo and Messi.
In the Premier League, Chelsea's Marcus Alonso is proving to a be a bit of a dead-ball specialist, while Juventus' Miralem Pjanic has been one of the masters of the art in Serie A since joining Roma back 2011. Those two are the latest in a long line of free-kick specialists who have graced the game - a list that features the likes of Michel Platini, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Juninho, David Beckham and Andrea Pirlo. Pjanic already has 16 Serie A free-kicks to his name putting him ahead of Diego Maradona and Michel Platini. He is now chasing down Francesco Totti and Roberto Baggio, who both managed 21 during their careers in Italy. The Bosnian has also proved to be a specialist on the European stage, with only Cristiano Ronaldo and Willian having scored more goals from free-kicks in Europe since 2009. Since 2011, the Juve man has the highest free-kick scoring percentage of any player in Italy with an impressive 15.5%.
As of December 20, 2017, Lyon attacker, Nabil Fekir was leading the way in the French top flight with three goals from direct free-kicks for the calendar year. A total of three seems to be a good benchmark for a season as demonstrated by looking at the Premier League where only Yaya Toure has bettered that number in the last eight campaigns. As you can see, it's not always the top strikers who are awarded free-kick duty. Of the top 12 players in the running for Premier League top scorer with Betway, not one of them is the leading free-kick taker for their side.
How to improve your free-kick technique
There are a few things you will need to work on to improve your free-kick taking. The first and perhaps the most important at a competitive level is:
Being able to strike a ball in practice is one thing. Being able to recreate that exact delivery in front of a crowd during a competitive match is much more challenging. Even at lower levels of the sport, the in-game pressure can cause tension and this, in turn, can affect how a player strikes the ball. If the muscles and mind are not relaxed, the ball can be hit at the wrong speed, and the technique can be flawed.
To improve the free-kick technique, you need to learn to remain focused. That means shutting out everything that is not relevant to the job at hand. The only things that you need to acknowledge in your mind are the ball, the goal, the position of the defensive wall, and goalkeeper, and the referee. Everything else should be blocked out so you can focus on your technique. This kind of composure can often be achieved through positive thoughts and visualisation techniques.
There are several different techniques for taking free-kicks. In this following video, Miralem Pjanic demonstrates his way of striking the ball:
As you can see, he uses an angled run-up and strikes the ball with the inside of the foot, generating a lot of power and bend on the shot, while also achieving kicking accuracy. Please take note of his body shape and the position of his standing foot as he makes contact. He also follows through smoothly after he kicks the ball. If you can replicate this technique, your free-kick taking abilities will improve.
Another technique, known as the 'knuckleball' (a term lifted from baseball) has been used by many great free-kick takers including Juninho and Cristiano Ronaldo. With this type of free-kick, the ball is sent as hard and as straight as possible, causing it to wobble in conflict with the air. This creates an unpredictable movement that can bewilder the opposition goalkeeper. You can see how it is implemented in the following video:
To execute the perfect free kick, you need to be able to hit the ball with power whilst using different areas of your foot. Some players struggle to get enough control when using the inside of the foot, so extra strength training may be required to achieve this. There are weight training techniques that can improve muscle strength in the legs and your football coach or personal training can help you with this.
Last but not least, you must practice! As you saw in the Pjanic video, the top dead-ball specialists spend a lot of time perfecting their craft. Only by such repetition can your technique become second nature to you.
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About the Author
Edward Hillam has been writing for a few years now, and sport is one of his favourite topics – from football to hockey and MMA, he watches them all and has been creating content for quite a few sports publishers. He's also been reviewing movies as cinema is one of his other passions.