There are few better sights in football than seeing a free-kick smashed into the back of the net accompanied by the release of joy from fans in the stadium. Here are the top-five masters of their craft in the Premier League era.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 11
Maybe something of a surprise, given Ronaldo seemingly hasn’t scored a free-kick since his effort for Portugal in the stunning 3-3 World Cup draw with Spain back in 2018, but the 37-year-old finds himself on yet another list of greatness.
The Portuguese superstar almost pioneered a technique to get the ball up and down as quickly as possible from free kicks, doing so by kicking the ball on the valve in order to achieve maximum swerve and dip.
The most famous example was the free-kick he scored against Portsmouth in 2008 which zoomed past David James in nanoseconds.
The image of a bemused-looking James in the immediate aftermath is a big part of the Premier League tapestry.
Gianfranco Zola – 12
Chelsea’s Italian magician Zola had a reputation for the spectacular, in part due to his prowess from dead-ball situations.
He helped elevate Chelsea in the late 90s and early noughties with his creativity and skill on the ball, which was encapsulated by his free-kick record.
Zola had a penchant for curling free-kicks into the top corner, as well as a knack of getting the ball to dip at exactly the right moment.
Thierry Henry – 12
Like Ronaldo, another player who may be seen as a surprise inclusion is Thierry Henry, who excelled in so many different areas of the game.
His free-kick-taking ability can often be overlooked, but Henry was usually a demon from set-pieces.
He scored an array of free kicks – there was a cheeky, opportunistic one against Aston Villa at Villa Park in 2004 when the home side’s wall weren’t ready, allowing Henry to curl a low one into the net.
There was also the free-kick he scored at Wigan in 2005 when referee Graham Poll prevented him from taking it quickly a la Villa.
He then stepped up and bent the yarder into the near corner off the post, subsequently turning to Poll and asking “Is that enough?”.
An outrageous moment from one of the Premier League’s all-time great characters.
James Ward-Prowse – 12
The current “GOAT” of free-kick taking is Ward-Prowse, who has cultivated a big reputation as a set-piece specialist.
The 27-year-old is a very good player in his own right, but his ability from a dead ball makes him a unique proposition.
He has mastered the David Beckham art of whipping and curling free-kicks past helpless keepers and his reputation continues to swell as a result.
However, against Wolves earlier this year, he decided to abandon the delicate curling technique and instead go for the more direct lace-through-the-ball option – which yielded the same result.
Ward-Prowse has cited Beckham as a childhood hero of his, so it is no surprise to see he has picked up a thing or two along the way.
Speaking of which…
David Beckham – 18
Ward-Prowse still has work to do to catch the undisputable best free-kick taker of all time in English football in the form of Beckham.
There was no real secret to his awesome ability and technique when striking the ball – he practiced, practiced, and practiced some more.
Even though his most famous free-kick was probably in an England shirt when he sealed qualification for the 2002 World Cup, he scored many important ones for Manchester United in his decade at the club.
Maine Road and Anfield were two destinations where Beckham produced the goods for the Red Devils, as they dominated that era of top-flight football.
It was that eye for the spectacular that helped lift Beckham to global icon status.