One of the great unpredictables in soccer is knowing how a football will react when a free kick is taken. It’s a nightmare for goalkeepers but a delight for football fans who revere free kicks, which, when they do extraordinary things, get written into the annals of football history.
One of the most famous free kicks of all time was taken by Brazil’s Roberto Carlos in the 1997 opening game of the 1997 Tournoi de France, a warm-up tournament prior to the 1998 World Cup. The kick was 3 5yards out from goal, and Carlos took a 20-yard run up before releasing what is generally accepted to be one of the best ever free kicks in football history.
The kick left France’s goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, one of the best goalkeepers in the world at that time, totally flatfooted.
When Carlos struck the ball, it was headed two to three yards wide of the goal. However, that is only the beginning of the story.
The spin that the Brazilian full-back put on the ball made it swerve viciously. It veered back in towards the right-hand post, which it just kissed as it rocketed into the back of the net. Barthez was left just as much a spectator as the amazed fans who witnessed the kick.
Roberto Carlos still remembers that incredible goal to this day, and when reminiscing, he admits that he doesn’t know quite how he did it. He said that it was the result of a career’s worth of training and hard work, and it was a very special moment.
Although full credit has to be given to the player, the aerodynamics of the ball played a part too.
Soccer balls used to comprise 32 panels. But over the years, the number of panels has been consistently reduced down to 14, 8, and 6. It’s not only the quantity of panels that has changed, so has their shape and the design of the surface grooves.
The official soccer ball used in the 2020-2021 EPL season had just four panels, each with an intricate panel shape plus the special surface groove layout.
The design changes are the things that contribute to the way the ball moves through the air and what can be done through the skills of the kicker. With the celebrated Roberto Carlos free-kick, scientists have labelled the event a miracle, saying that the way the ball was stuck, the power, the angle, and follow-through are never likely to be exactly repeated. It is going to remain a 1-off.
There are plenty of great free-kick takers in football today. Sportingbet compiled a list of the Premier League’s greatest free-kick takers looking back over the number of kicks taken versus the number of goals scored. Surprisingly, David Beckham is in fourth place behind Manchester United’s Juan Mata in first place, followed by Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass in second and third, respectively.
Great free kicks will always be one of the highlights of soccer. When man and ball are in perfect harmony, great things happen. A player’s ability to get swerve and dip on a kick, as Cristiano Ronaldo did in a league match against Portsmouth, is key, but so too are the aerodynamics of the ball.
Take a look at these great free kicks on YouTube, and you’ll see what we mean.