Topspin free kick

Topspin makes the ball come down and enables the player to hit free kicks over the wall and under the bar with power, even from short range.

There are many opinions on who is the best free kick taker and why that’s the case. In these assessments often ignored is the most important and obvious criterion – goals scored.

The player who scored most goals from free kicks – 78 – is Juninho Pernambucano. The key technical factor behind Juninho’s free kick effectiveness and the one that distinguished him from almost all other takers was the ability to apply topspin to the ball – a rare skill which few players have mastered.

Among those few are two players, however, who, as reflected in their goal scoring records, should be considered as game’s greatest free kick specialists together with Juninho and who, like him, were the masters of the topspin swing – Marcos Assunção and Marcelinho Carioca.

Although technically different to Juninho’s, Assunção’s topspin free kick was just as excellent and one of the best in the history of the game. With 73 goals from free kicks his record is almost the same as Juninho’s (if unofficial games are included, however, this total rises to at least 130 based on the count by Assunção himself) and includes a remarkable feat of converting 25 set pieces at Palmeiras between 2010 and 2012 as well as scoring numerous free kicks at other clubs he played for, such as Santos, AS Roma and Betis Sevilla.

Marcelinho Carioca scored 77 free kicks (his total from set pieces rises to 80 if goals scored directly from corner kicks are included) and most of these came through the topspin swing – a swing he mastered and used even before Juninho and Assunção. His incredible technical ability from free kicks inspired both of them.

Numerous free kick specialists have since tried to imitate this shot, including Andrea Pirlo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba, David Luiz, Gareth Bale and Kevin De Bruyne. Some of these players developed it to a good level, but none of them perfected it.

However, the technique that made Juninho, Assunção and Marcelinho the greatest free kick takers in the history of the game can be broken down into elements and coached. And though the swings of the Brazilian masters have rightly served as models, it is possible to take this shot to an even higher level.