Belfast Telegraph

Leighton Baines brilliant at free-kicks but he's nowhere near best ever

By Steven Beacom

Step back in time with me. Sixth round of the FA Cup, Goodison Park, 1985. Everton against Ipswich. Free kick to the Toffees on the edge of the area. Kevin Sheedy steps up and whips a belter at pace into the top right hand corner of the net. He turns away to celebrate but is brought back by the referee who ruled he had taken the set piece too quickly.

Seconds later the Republic of Ireland midfielder re-takes the free-kick, delicately chipping it into the other corner of the net with his wand of a left foot.

The two outstanding free-kick goals from Everton's current set piece king Leighton Baines against West Ham last weekend reminded me of Sheedy's heroics.

It also got me thinking about all the fabulous free-kick exponents we've witnessed down the years.

There's something special about a free-kick, isn't there?

It takes such skill to get the ball up and over the wall with enough speed, dip and accuracy to fly past the goalkeeper.

A spectacular 35-yarder is glorious, but often unexpected, and unlike a free-kick doesn't give you time to prepare for the magic about to unfold before your very eyes.

It's one of those 'hold your breath' moments, especially if you know the player about to strike the ball has every chance of putting it in the onion bag.

So, who's the best of them?

Is it David Beckham, whose most famous free-kick in the last seconds of an international took England to the World Cup finals. Talk about picking the perfect moment.

Or crazy Paraguay goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert, who trotted up from his own area to casually smack them home.

Or Serbia manager Sinisa Mihajlovic, who netted numerous free-kicks, including a hat-trick in one game for Lazio.

Or the magical Michel Platini, who in his pomp for Juventus and France used to bend in free-kicks for fun.

So clinical from a dead ball 25 yards out, it was like giving him a penalty.

Diego Maradona scored a few as well while today Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are of course marvellous at them too.

Juninho Pernambucano scored over 40 free-kicks for Lyon. His technique was even given a name – "knuckleballing" with the ball flying through the air without spin.

There's also been other Brazilian masters like Ronaldinho, Rivelino, Eder and Zico plus Holland's Ronald Koeman, Italy's Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio and Andrea Pirlo and Romania's Gheorghe Hagi.

Closer to home I've always admired Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gary McAllister, Denis Irwin, Ian Harte, Matt Le Tissier, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and the late, great Davie Cooper's ability from free-kicks. In the Irish League former Linfield and Coleraine midfielder Tony Gorman and ex-Portadown ace Peter Kennedy were the experts.

You'll have your own favourites...here's my very personal top 10 free-kick kings: Michel Platini, Ronald Koeman, David Beckham, Juninho Pernambucano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Zico, Kevin Sheedy, Matt Le Tissier and Gary McAllister.

Belfast Telegraph

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