Ranking the Greatest Free-Kick Takers of All Time

Gianni VerschuerenFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2012

Ranking the Greatest Free-Kick Takers of All Time

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    The stadium falls silent as the free kick taker places the ball on the pitch, judges the distance and the angle and prepares to strike. Everyone holds their breath as he runs up to the ball and somehow curls or powers the ball past the wall and into the back of the net. Or fires it into Row Z.

    Throughout history, we've seen thousands of players step up only to fail miserably. Mastering the free kick takes hours and hours of practise and dedication, and most players will never be able to put the ball past the keeper with any consistency.

    But there are exceptions. Specialists who are able to score from the craziest angles and put fear into the hearts of the opponents every time they line up behind the ball.

    As fans, we just know that the ball will go in as soon as the referee gives the player the go-ahead. We watch these masters of the free kick in awe, marveling at their ability to hit a ball so perfectly.

    This list pays tribute to these special players. Every slide will be accompanied with video highlights to give you fans an idea of exactly how proficient each player was at the art of the free kick.

    Enjoy!

Honorable Mention: Pierre Van Hooijdonk

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    Pierre van Hooijdonk might have never lived up to his incredible talent, but there is no denying his mastery of the free kick.

    I remember seeing this particular free kick as it happened. The ball was kicked so perfectly, it made the hairs on the back of my hand stand.

    Van Hooijdonk was a great striker, and his production was always top notch. He never played for a truly top team, which hurts his legacy, but he was a great player nonetheless.

    And boy, did he know how to take a free kick.

Honorable Mention: José Luis Chilavert

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    No one should ever forget José Luis Chilavert, the legendary stopper from Paraguay.

    I mean, he's a goalkeeper. Scoring free kicks. How cool is that?

    Chilavert was an incredible sight, but you can't actually rank him because his rate of scoring was fairly low. When you type "Chilavert free kicks" in to YouTube, most of the videos you'll find are beautiful attempts from long range that are actually saved.

    But the man definitely deserves to be mentioned.

Honorable Mention: Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Cristiano Ronaldo is a great free-kick taker, but his consistency seems to have lessened a bit in recent times.

    His stance and run-up are world famous, and he has scored some truly beautiful free kicks throughout his career, so he deserves a mention here. And if he finds a way to bring his consistency back up to standards, he could crack the actual ranking quite easily.

    Perhaps he could start by knowing when not to shoot on goal. Then again, who are we to judge one of the absolute top players in world football today?

10. Ronaldinho

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    Most free-kick takers excel at only one method of shooting. Ronaldinho could do it all.

    Power, curve, touch, creativity—you name it. Just watch the video and you'll see examples of every kind of free kick.

    His kick underneath the wall against Werder Bremen was genius and serves as a reminder of how great he was during his heyday. It's a shame that period didn't last any longer.

9. Alessandro Del Piero

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    A Juventus legend, Alessandro Del Piero's placement of the ball was absolutely amazing.

    His curve and power were both very good, but it was where he put the ball that made all the difference.

    One of the most underrated players of his era, Del Piero was truly a great player who remained loyal to his club even during the days of Calciopoli.

    Now playing in Australia, Del Piero can still bend it like, well, someone else you'll find later on this list.

8. Diego Maradona

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    You might not have known this, but the little guy knew how to score from free kicks.

    Maradona might have been most famous for his dazzling runs, he was also an expert when it came to set pieces. Relying on his touch and ability to curl the ball, he scored a lot of goals from free kicks for team and country.

    His ability on set pieces is yet another reason why Maradona might be the greatest player of all time.

7. Zinédine Zidane

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    The video included is a tutorial by Zinédine Zidane on how to take penalties and free kicks (the latter starts at about four-and-a-half minutes). So for all of you aspiring masters of the free kick: This is your chance to learn from one of the best.

    Zidane had an incredible conversion rate on free kicks that weren't too far away from goal. He had ice in his veins and reminded all of France of another master of the free kick that we'll find on this list.

6. Roberto Carlos

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    Roberto Carlos is only No. 6? Blasphemy!

    Carlos was responsible for some of the most spectacular free-kick goals in history, like the one shown here against France, but his conversion rate wasn't the highest.

    He relied on power and effect to get the ball past the keeper, and more often than not the ball would end up in the stands.

    But that power was incredible. After stopping this bomb, Gianluigi Buffon told the media he thought that the ball had broken his arm, as it hurt so much when it struck.

5. Sinisa Mihajlovic

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    A controversial player with an explosive personality, no one can deny Sinisa Mihajlovic's proficiency at taking free kicks.

    The Serbian still holds the record for most ever scored in the Serie A. What makes that even more impressive is the fact Mihajlovic was a defender.

    Mihajlovic was an elite power kicker who could curve the ball around or over any wall.

4. Zico

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    The original master of the free kick, Zico was the first player to turn taking set pieces into an art form.

    Opponents were bewildered as they marveled at the consistency with which he put the ball past their goalkeeper.

    Zico became the benchmark for everyone who followed, and while he might no longer be the greatest, he was the first true master.

3. David Beckham

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    The man who inspired a (really bad) teen flick and kick-started Keira Knightley's career.

    David Beckham's free kicks are a thing of legend. His touch on the ball and his ability to curve his shot are mind blowing.

    But what might be most remarkable is his consistency and his ability to step up when his team needs him. Those are the marks of a truly great player.

    The craziest thing is that he's not even the greatest free-kick specialist of his era. You'll have to read on to figure out who that is.

2. Michel Platini

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    Three-time winner of the Ballon d'Or. Member of the "Carré magique." When it comes to scoring, he's probably the best midfielder in the history of the game.

    Michel Platini was incredible at taking free kicks, not because they looked spectacular, but because he hardly ever missed. His consistency was unbelievable, particularly in games that mattered.

    Best known as the current president of the UEFA, Platini had a footballing career of which most players can only dream.

1. Juninho Pernambucano

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    As if there was ever any doubt about who would be No. 1. Juninho is the greatest free-kick taker of all time, and it's not even close.

    His technique is called "knuckleballing," which makes the ball fly through the air without any spin. As a result, the ball wobbles in every direction, making it almost impossible to stop.

    Trying to catch a Juninho free kick is like trying to catch Mewtwo with a normal Pokéball.

    Juninho didn't bother about the distance to the goal. His try would probably find the back of the net anyway.

    I could talk about his ability for hours, but I think the video says it all. Even if you skipped through this article without bothering to watch any of the videos, watch this one. It'll blow your mind.

     

    Thanks for reading my article! Disagree with any of my choices? Be sure to share your opinion in the comment section!