The evolution of freekick techniques: From power free-kicks to the Mukaiten

Blog by: Parth Shah

With the constant improvements in goalkeeping and defending standards, dead-ball situations have suddenly become extremely important. Freekicks have now become a great source for goals, as more and more players try to score directly from a dead-ball situation close to goal.

Over the years, different players have developed various techniques to trick the goalkeeper and put the ball past him. A lot of players have since worked on the proven techniques and added their own flair to gain more mastery over freekicks.

Note: This is not a compilation of the best freekick takers in football, simply a listing of different types of techniques. Players like Juninho, Platini, Messi, Maradona and Mihajlovic, although master freekick takers, do not appear in this list as they all had similar techniques to the ones mentioned below.

Pele’s power kicks

The famous Brazilian football legend Pele playing football. Circa 1950+s.

Pele was someone who relied more on power and placement to score goals from freekicks. He wasn’t exactly a great curler of the ball, but believed in hitting the ball in the right areas with the right power to give it height and dip, something goalkeepers were unable to predict or handle.

We also have to take into account the weight and build quality of footballs back then. Footballs in the 50s and 60s were considerably heavier than the ones available today. So, for that era, power free-kicks made sense.

Zico’s curlers

1986 World Cup Quarter Final, Guadalajara, Mexico, 21st June, 1986, France 1 v Brazil 1, (France win 4-3 on penalties), Brazil's Zico shapes to shoot from the penalty spot during the normal ninety minutes, his first kick of the game after coming on as a s

By the late 70s and early 80s, manufacturing technology had evolved enough and footballs were considerably lighter already. Zico, the Brazilian legend, was one of the best exponents of curling the ball over the wall and making it dip when it approached the net. Prone to hitting side-footed shots, and favouring placement over power, Zico scored plenty of goals using this technique.

Roberto Carlos’ banana shot

FRA: Tournament de France - Brazil v France

Roberto Carlos did not score from as many freekicks as the others on this list, but he was catapulted to “freekick legend” territory on the basis of his banana kick against France in 1997.

His favoured technique was to take a long run-up and hit the ball using the outside of the boot, thereby imparting side-spin on the ball. At high speeds, almost 130 kph,  the side-spin would act on the ball’s trajectory, swinging late and viciously, thereby taking the goalkeeper by surprise.

Bend it like Beckham

David Beckham of England

David Beckham’s freekicks were the results of perfect synchronization between power, spin and placement. Beckham’s technique of hitting the ball was unique – he would often stand at a right angle to the ball and hit the ball with the side of his foot, which imparted side-spin on the ball along with the usual top-spin. The result was a fizzing, rocket-like shot that swerved and dipped late.

In fact, scientist studied his freekick style and even came up with an equation that would allow others to bend it like Beckham.

Ronaldo’s knuckle ball and Honda’s Mukaiten

Real Madrid v Lyon - UEFA Champions League

In the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Adidas debuted their Jabulani ball, which was supposed to be the roundest football in production, whatever that means. The ball came in for a lot criticism from goalkeepers and coaches, who believed that the unpredictable and untrue nature of the ball’s flight made it a nightmare to stop it.

But then there are always two arguments to a story. A lot of players did like playing with the Jabulani; Frank Lampard said it was “a very strong ball, true to hit”; Kaka said, “For me, contact with the ball is all-important, and that’s just great with this ball”.

Clint Dempsey had a more positive outlook: “if you just hit it solid, you can get a good knuckle on the ball… you’ve just got to pay a little bit more, you know, attention when you pass the ball sometimes.”

And that gave rise to the knuckle ball technique, something that Cristiano Ronaldo has become very, very good at. The trick is to hit the ball straight on, imparting little or no spin on the ball. The knuckle shot causes the ball to change trajectory mid-air, almost giving it a floating effect, and making it difficult for keepers to judge or predict the ball’s path. Physicists studied Ronaldo’s technique to try to understand it.

The latest innovation in freekicks comes from Japan. Mizuno, a Japanese sports equipment company, recently released their Wave Ignitus range of football boots, which promise to help deliver a perfect Mukaiten kick.

What is Mukaiten?

Mukaiten, a Japanese word, translates to “no spin”, a kick which imparts zero spin on the ball, just like the Knuckle ball kick is supposed to. Using the Wave Ignitus shoes, which have a special strip of leather  – the Mukaiten panel – on the sweet spot on the upper instep of the foot, a player can hit the ball to make it behave erratically.

The Mukaiten panel is supposed to reduce spin on the ball and add as much as 10 percent to the speed of the ball.

Mizuno developed the ball in collaboration with Keisuke Honda, the Japanese international. Honda is one of the best exponents of the Mukaiten; Roque Santa Cruz is another.

“Honda was very involved in the development of the new boots and we used him to discover just how the ‘nonspinning ball’ technique that he has perfected works,” Tadashi Matsuda, a spokesman for Mizuno, said.

In the video below, Honda explains why the Mukaiten is his preferred way of hitting a freekick.

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