Cruyff Turns, Rabonas, Panenkas and More: Ranking the Slickest Skill Moves
Modern football is often about tactics and team organisation, but there remains a key place for moments of individual brilliance.
In that spirit, we take a look at 20 of the best individual tricks and skills that have been showcased by some of football's greatest players.
From Johan Cruyff's turn to Diego Maradona's roulette, here are some of the greatest tricks in football.
20. The Stepover
We’ll start with one of the basics.
The stepover is actually a relatively easy piece of skill to pull off. With a combination of the increasingly savvy nature of professional defenders and bravado among attackers meaning that some players now string two, three, four or more (here’s looking at you Robinho) of the move together in order to try to outwit their opponent.
The aforementioned Robinho, along with the likes of the two Ronaldos (Cristiano and O Fenomeno) are some of the more famous modern exponents of the stepover.
19. Pullback V
Originally “invented” (are skills like these invented or simply discovered?) by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, the pullback, and its many variants, has become so commonplace in the modern game that its use hardly even raises an eyebrow.
Nevertheless, it remains a useful trick to have (something that, in all honesty, cannot be said for some of the items on this list) in a game situation, enabling the user to reverse out of trouble and move in a different direction with fluidity and relative ease.
Again, a piece of skill so commonplace as to be rendered almost trivial in the modern game, the backheel nevertheless has its place.
The move has evolved in recent times to become a weapon inside the box, too, with a number of attackers using it as a way to confuse the goalkeeper when trying to turn home a low cross.
Not Mario Balotelli, though.
Every school kid’s favourite trick, the nutmeg is a timeless classic that will be enjoyed whenever it is produced.
There are disputes over what constitutes a nutmeg—whether it is just kicking the ball through an opponent’s legs, or whether the ball must be collected (by the same player) on the other side—but what is agreed upon is that the player unfortunate enough to be nutmegged will always end up feeling somewhat embarrassed.
Even when it's Cristiano Ronaldo.
16. Cruyff Turn
Named after the man who invented it (at a World Cup, no less), the Cruyff turn is perhaps the first thing most fans will think of when asked to name a football trick.
Johan Cruyff, whose overall influence on football was more of a tactical and theoretical nature, became synonymous with this inventive piece of skill, which was mind-blowing to those who saw it at the time.
With his back to goal, Cruyff flicked the ball behind him with the instep of his foot before turning and following it in one fluid movement, gaining the crucial yard of space on the defender he needed
The surprise of the move is lessened these days—depending on the attacker, defenders may be anticipating the technique—but, when properly executed, it remains a very effective attacking manoeuvre.
15. The No-Look Pass
Popularised by Ronaldinho (not the last time that will be said about a move on this list), the no-look pass is more an act of arrogance than a particularly difficult piece of skill.
In terms of execution it is actually relatively straightforward—a simple matter of passing the ball in one direction while looking in another. In theory, you are fooling the player with your eyes—the defender is caught by surprise when you don’t pass where your eyes are looking—but in reality it is more a move pulled out to show off.
No one showed off better than Ronaldinho.
14. The Bicycle Kick
Similarly to the nutmeg, every school boy likes to try to pull off a bicycle, or for the less ambitious, scissor, kick in the playground, only to discover to their cost that it is much harder than the professionals would make it seem.
When a bicycle kick comes off, however, it is a thing of breathtaking beauty—see Wayne Rooney’s strike against Manchester City, for example, or Trevor Sinclair’s classic of the genre for QPR nearly 20 years ago.
13. The Ronaldo Chop
Perhaps the trademark move of 2013’s Ballon d’Or winner-elect (he uses many others, but this is one that, initially at least, was unique to him), it is also a very modern move.
In essence, Cristiano Ronaldo runs over the ball and uses the heel of his trailing leg to quickly send the ball in a different direction, confusing the opposition defender in the process.
12. The Rabona
First used in 1948 in Brazil, the rabona has become an increasingly common move in professional football, used at one point or another by the likes of Pele, Roberto Baggio and Angel di Maria.
Essentially the act of crossing the kicking leg behind the standing leg in order to make contact with the ball, there are a few occasions where the trick makes logical sense to use—for example, if a left-footed winger is attempting to cross from the right, or if the crosser needs to get immediate elevation on his delivery.
There have been examples of players scoring with rabona strikes, too, although in truth it is probably once again a move based on showboating rather than tactical necessity.
11. The Panenka
Specific to the art of penalty taking, the Panenka is a particularly nonchalant way of shooting from 12 yards.
Named after the man who invented it, Czechoslovakia international Antonin Panenka, it essentially describes chipping a penalty down the middle of the goal—hoping that the goalkeeper, expecting a powerful strike, will have already dived in the wrong direction in anticipation.
The “skill” element of the Panenka comes from the risk involved—the not insignificant possibility that the goalkeeper will anticipate the move or simply not dive. If that happens, the taker ends up looking somewhat foolish.
10. The Marseille Roulette
Used, adapted and improved upon by any number of players—from Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane through to the likes of Franck Ribery and Aiden McGeady—the Marseille roulette remains very popular as it is a remarkably effective way of escaping from congestion on the pitch.
Dragging the ball back with one foot before spinning on it and kicking off in a different direction in three fluid movements, the turn enables the skilful player to leave two or even three players in their wake as they move on with the ball.
When executed effectively—as it often was with Zidane—it is a remarkably effective move.
9. The Pele Feint
Memorable partly because it didn’t quite work for him (his shot went just wide), this piece of skill is an apt reminder of what made Pele so great—as good as his technical skills were, he also had a remarkable brain for the sport.
With the ball played through the defence in a World Cup match against Uruguay, Pele bamboozled the opposition goalkeeper by simply letting the ball run, collecting it on the other side before narrowly missing with his shot.
Both arrogant and brilliantly clever, it has subsequently been imitated and even successfully completed (by Jermain Defoe, among others). But Pele remains the originator.
8. The Rainbow Flick
Rarely seen at the highest levels of the game, the rainbow flick is nevertheless a training ground and youth football staple. Flicking a football over the head (and, preferably, over a defender too) looks impressive—even if it there is often too much risk attached to the move for many players (other than Neymar) to try it in televised matches.
7. The Scorpion Kick
Lest this list be accused of bias, it is surely worth remembering that there is nothing (except perhaps irate managers) stopping goalkeepers getting in on the showboating act.
The most famous example of this is the Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita, who essentially invented a whole new skill move when he raised his feet above his head and cleared Jamie Redknapp’s shot from range.
Higuita later reflected of the moment via Goal.com:
Human beings are always remembered for their great work, and that was what it was.
Children have always been my inspiration. I always saw them in the street or in a park trying out bicycle kicks, and I told them it would be good to do it in reverse.
And that day in England, I was given the ball that I had been waiting for five years!
The moment has occasionally be recreated, but will forever be linked with Higuita.
6. The Bergkamp Flick
This seems almost improbably difficult to pull off (it relies, at least partially, on the weight of the received pass and the position of the opposing defender—two variables that cannot be controlled), but when successfully executed it is guaranteed to leave observers in awe.
To date, only one player has truly achieved the move—Dennis Bergkamp, who made the move his own as he left Nikos Dabizas completely bamboozled in a game between Arsenal and Newcastle.
Flicking a pass one side of Dabizas and spinning around the other, Bergkamp left the Greek completely confused as he ran onto the ball and side-footed a shot home for a quite remarkable goal.
5. The Henry Trick Pass
This is a lot, lot harder than Thierry Henry makes it look. Perhaps as a result, beyond the man himself it is a move that is rarely seen in actual competitive matches.
4. The Seal Dribble
So high in this list more for its difficulty than its usefulness, onetime Brazilian starlet Kerlon was the man behind one of football’s more unusual skills.
Counterintuitively, and completely unlike all the other skills in this list, the so-called “seal dribble” relies predominantly on the player’s head—as he flicks the ball up onto his forehead and runs up the pitch with the ball balanced there, a tactic that is very difficult to legally defend against.
The skill, and the hype surrounding it, played a part as Kerlon was signed by Inter Milan (via Chievo) as a youngster—although the attacker never managed to establish himself in Europe and currently, between troublesome knee injuries, plies his trade in Japan.
3. The Kanchelskis Stance
This one is just pure fun, and to our knowledge almost no other player has ever produced it in a match.
Andrei Kanchelskis had left Manchester United for Rangers at this point, so perhaps—having accepted he had already peaked—the Russian winger was more willing to try different things in games.
This move, along with a bizarre 360-degree on-the-ball spin, are the two most remembered examples of Kanchelskis’ showboating ways. We whole-heartedly advocate for some modern imitations as soon as possible.
2. The Cuauhtemina
If you ask us, this trick simply is not used enough in the modern game. Invented, and almost exclusively used, by the former Mexico international Cuauhtemoc Blanco, it was used by the striker to get himself out of tricky situations—grabbing the ball between both feet before bunny-hopping over the challenge(s) of opposition defenders.
Blanco used it at the 1998 World Cup, bringing it to worldwide attention, but he was known for the trick long before that. Despite that, however, it remains a trick rarely used by other professional players—which seems something of a surprise.
1. The Elastico
Primarily because it is extremely difficult, a successful elastico (otherwise known as the “flip-flap”) is a thing of beauty.
The trick has been around for many years but was returned to popularity at the turn of the millennium by Ronaldinho, who used it in a Nike advert and proceeded to wheel it out whenever possible while plying his trade for Barcelona.
In recent times it has become slightly more widespread, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar among those who have seemingly taken a liking to it.
Flicking the ball in one direction before instantly turning it back in another direction with the same foot, the trick requires remarkable dexterity. Even the best fail with it as often as they succeed, which makes a successful move all the more thrilling.