Who is the greatest free-kick taker of all time? It is an almost impossible question to answer, with candidates such as David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo and Zico all justifiable contenders for the crown.
Throughout the history of football, there have been players who have earned fame and fortune out of the ability to strike a dead ball and, indeed, many who have been sadly forgotten.
When it comes to picking just one as the greatest ever, though, one man in particular stands out from the esteemed crowd—long-time Vasco da Gama and Lyon servant, Juninho Pernambucano.
But what is it that makes the veteran Brazilian the greatest free-kick taker of them all?
Firstly, there is his impressive quantity of goals scored. As of 2012, Juninho was known to have scored at least 75 free-kicks in professional football. It is a total substantially more than either of the three free-kick taking greats listed by name above can claim to have managed.
Having developed his free-kick taking abilities at Sport and Vasco in Brazil, it was at Lyon that the midfielder came to wider fame as a striker of a dead ball. Of his 100 goals scored in eight seasons playing for the French club, 44 would come from direct free-kick strikes.
Whatever the range from goal, he was a potential threat to the opposition goal. Juninho was a fine striker of a standard curled free-kick from an early age, but he quickly developed a technique that allowed him to be a successful proponent of set pieces from long-range.
The instep striking method he utilised would limit ball rotation, causing the football to swing and dip unpredictably in flight. Similar techniques have been used by pitchers and bowlers in baseball and cricket, but Juninho has undoubtedly been the best at transferring the principle into the game of football.
His technique has since been used to great effect by a number of players including, among others, Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba.
The revolutionary method, different to the standard curling free-kick favoured by the likes of David Beckham, allowed Juninho to be a danger from a greater distance.
Drogba, Ronald Koeman and Roberto Carlos had all been famous exponents of powerful free-kick striking before Juninho came to prominence. However, the style that he had perfected made him a much more accurate striker of the ball over longer distances.
In essence, it allowed a clever fusion of power and placement that had never been achieved to the same extent previously. It was the perfect combination.
Juninho has not always scored the most aesthetically pleasing free-kicks—although there were many stunners—but his technique has proved a remarkably effective weapon over a sustained period.
It is for these reason that it can justifiably be argued that Juninho has been the best of all the set-piece specialists. His goals were scored from a variety of distances, in differing and innovative styles and, most importantly, with a consistently high return.
There have been truly great strikers of a dead ball in the history of football, but can any truly claim to match Juninho across these three determining factors? I would suggest not.
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