Ranking the Top 15 Free-Kick Masters in World Football

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistAugust 14, 2012

Ranking the Top 15 Free-Kick Masters in World Football

0 of 15

    The free kick is a fine art that, since the inception of “The Beautiful Game,” has been celebrated with such ferocity that one can’t help but admire the unique individuality of any player talented enough to master it.

    No matter what the score-line is or how far in front—or even behind—a team may be, there’s always a great sense of satisfaction from scoring that perfect set piece from outside the penalty box.

    Like any aspect of sport, there is no single formula to achieving a reputation as a great free-kick taker and specialists have been known to utilize a variety of tactics when stepping up to the plate.

    Whether their efforts are reminiscent of Zico’s pinpoint curlers or more accustomed to pile-driving bullets, there are a number of experts in this area of football today.

    Just to clarify, any players listed must still be playing professional football, no matter in what capacity.

    So, without further ado, here are the select few whose names you will need to watch carefully if you ever see them stepping up to a dead ball.

15. Steven Gerrard

1 of 15

    While he may be best known for his talent when it comes to volleys and long-range efforts, Steven Gerrard has shown over the years that he is able to use his ball-striking ability in dead-ball scenarios to nearly the same standard.

    Playing alongside a certain other set piece artist for the majority of his England career, the Liverpudlian hasn’t been able to boast of these talents on the international level too much.

    However, when it comes to club matters, Gerrard is the man on Merseyside who takes control of free-kick matters more often than not.

    The 32-year-old’s versatility is what makes him a threat when standing over a dead ball and Gerrard is fully versed in the blasting method as well as the more subtle chipping or lofted styles.

14. Dani Alves

2 of 15

    Tito Vilanova is fortunate enough to have a number of capable set-piece takers on his team and it’s safe to say that whomever does get the eventual nod is going to be quite talented at it.

    For Barcelona, that figure is Dani Alves and, from the video above, you can see exactly why.

    Brazil have always seemed to be a notch ahead of the rest when it comes to technicality of the game and perfecting the science of just how the ball works.

    As such, it’s only natural that the South American nation have had their share of free-kick greats, and Alves is simply another product of that particular factory line.

    The 29-year-old may play as a full-back but like so many attack-minded defenders these days, Alves knows how to strike a ball just right, a skill Barça have been grateful for on more than one occasion.

13. Nenê

3 of 15

    Nenê hasn’t had quite the same impact on the international level as compatriot Alves (see previous slide), but the PSG attacker is equally as adept when it comes the art of the free-kick.

    The 31-year-old displays his knowledge of ball flight on a regular basis and his quality of crossing shows that his ability isn’t limited to a static ball.

    Again, we need only look at the video above to witness just why Nenê is held in such high regard as a set-piece taker.

    The veteran has actually found his game time limited at the Parc des Princes following the Qatari takeover of the club in 2011, but that definitely hasn’t made Nenê stale or stagnant in his specialist area.

12. Franck Ribery

4 of 15

    A talisman in both his club and national side, it’s no surprise that set pieces figure into Franck Ribery’s superstardom with Bayern Munich and the France national team.

    Ribery’s placement as a winger makes it necessary for him to also be capable of delivering a deadly cross, and it seems that skill isn’t limited to open play.

    The speed merchant’s main responsibilities are provision but that hasn’t stopped Ribery developing a healthy goal tally at the Allianz Arena, and his set-piece ability is a big contributor to that sum.

11. Wesley Sneijder

5 of 15

    As you will notice, attacking midfielders seem to feature prominently on this list and Wesley Sneijder is a perfect example of a playmaker with an eye for goal when it comes to free kicks.

    Any Sneijder montage video will include plenty of content of the Dutchman poking home from 25 yards out, a fine portrayal of the delicate curling option.

    With Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie also in the Oranje squad, it speaks volumes that the Inter superstar has managed to retain set-piece rights for the Dutch national team, and for good reason.

10. Sejad Salihovic

6 of 15

    Probably the least well-known name on this list, Sejad Salihovic is nothing if not a sensational asset to have from a set piece.

    The Hoffenheim midfielder has suffered a number of injuries in his six-year tenure with the Bundesliga outfit but is now the club captain and automatic choice when it comes to free-kicks.

    At 27 years of age, Salihovic is hardly the oldest star amongst Hoffenheim’s ranks but his cool posture when hovering around the penalty area would give the impression of a seasoned veteran.

    Any player that has a “Top 10 Free Kicks” Youtube video (see above) has scored more than their share from a dead ball position and you can take your pick of the glorious bunch.

9. Alessandro Del Piero

7 of 15

    Currently a free agent, any side willing to pay the wages of Alessandro Del Piero may want to do so just so they have a genuinely fearsome threat from a free kick.

    The Italian legend ended a 19-year career with Juventus this summer. Mark Doyle of Goal.com claims that the maestro is currently surveying his options rather than heading into retirement.

    Like so many other sages of the game, the 37-year-old is familiar with the pressure that comes with a free kick at times and has dealt with that pressure in emphatic style on countless occasions.

8. Sebastian Larsson

8 of 15

    While the Swede may not stand out as a superstar amongst the other candidates of this list, Sebastian Larsson still stands out like a sore thumb in terms of the ominous free kick.

    Sunderland’s set piece king has a lethal right foot, which was undoubtedly a major appeal for Steve Bruce to re-sign his former Birmingham City charge when he took over on Wearside.

    The Black Cats have benefitted from some free-kick magic courtesy of Larsson on numerous occasions and you can almost guarantee that the midfielder will get his attempts on target, something a few players could do with taking note of.

7. Andrea Pirlo

9 of 15

    As was proven at Euro 2012, Andrea Pirlo can take a pretty decent free kick.

    That is of course an understatement, and the Italian’s effort against Croatia was truly splendid.

    AC Milan fans will be no foreigners to seeing such a feat from Pirlo, as it’s something he made his business to do on quite a regular basis during his tenure at the San Siro.

    Unfortunately for them, it’s now Juventus that benefit from such goal-scoring mastery and it’s no coincidence that they won last season’s Serie A in such dominant fashion.

6. Shunsuke Nakamura

10 of 15

    Anyone with an affectionate knowledge of recent Celtic history will remember Shunsuke Nakamura lighting up games with a penchant for a spectacular free kick.

    The first-ever Japanese player to score in the Champions League is now back in his native country playing for Yokohama F. Marinos.

    Nakamura had a very successful four-year spell with the Bhoys before earning a move to Espanyol, and while he couldn’t replicate that success in Spain, the specialist will always be a remembered figure at Celtic Park.

    Capable of whipping shots into precise zones with ferocious accuracy, Nakamura’s greatest contributions will always be his free kicks.

5. Juan Roman Riquelmé

11 of 15

    An Argentine legend in his own right, Juan Roman Riquelme’s set-piece ability is most definitely his greatest attribute. While his body may not move as quickly as it once did, his sight for goal hasn’t budged.

    A Boca Juniors house favourite, the 34-year-old recently left the Argentinian outfit, saying that he simply didn’t have enough energy anymore (via FIFA.com)

    Regardless of his recent inactivity, Riquelme’s highlight reels say enough about his ability when faced with a difficult free kick.

4. Roberto Carlos

12 of 15

    Perhaps the most famous free kick of all time and one that never gets old in terms of viewing pleasure was given to us courtesy of Roberto Carlos.

    The former Brazilian international has, strictly speaking, retired after Anzhi Makhachkala failed to name him in their squad list, but I just couldn't help but include the free-kick deity.

    This doesn’t stop the famous goal, dubbed the “Banana Kick,” being just about as close to perfect as one can hope for in terms of form and technical superiority.

    Like the aforementioned Alves, Carlos played most of his career from full-back but he didn’t let that restrict his attacking influence.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo

13 of 15

    Power. Speed. Cristiano Ronaldo has everything a player could hope for to become the best in his trade, and the Portuguese star’s free kicks are no different.

    Ronaldo developed a reputation for immense skill when coming through the ranks of Sporting Lisbon, but it wasn’t until the player came to Old Trafford that he truly unlocked his potential as a deadly free-kick striker.

    Usually, the elite few on these types of rankings are players whose careers have gone on far longer than Ronaldo’s—but at just 27 years old, the ex-Red Devil deserves every bit of his inclusion in the top three free-kick takers in the world.

    Just look up and you’ll see why.

2. David Beckham

14 of 15

    Undoubtedly a controversial decision, David Beckham just about edges Ronaldo when it comes to the art of set-piece execution, free kicks in particular.

    While Ronaldo might be an all-round better player than Beckham ever was, the Englishman continues to make free kicks a supreme factor in his LA Galaxy playing time, even at the age of 37.

    Whereas Ronaldo prefers to hit his attempts with a brute-force tenacity that few can struggle to match, Beckham’s superior curling method has always brought him the goods in times of need.

    Both players nurtured their talents at Manchester United, but when it comes to free kicks, only Beckham can come out on top in this battle.

1. Juninho

15 of 15

    So, here we have it: the world’s current best free-kick taker.

    And wouldn’t you guess that it was another Brazilian star who takes the bragging rights from all the previous maestros?

    Juninho Pernambucano (more affectionately known as Juninho) emerged as one of the world’s elite set-piece talents during his days at Lyon, and that reputation has done nothing but benefit ever since.

    Now plying his trade with Vasco da Gama, the 37-year-old is as potent in his free-kick taking as ever.

    Juninho won’t go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time but when it comes to free-kicks, he’s head and shoulders above the rest.