How Barcelona icon Lionel Messi became the best free-kick taker in the world

Barca Universal 18:17 10/11/2019
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Lionel Messi scores his second free-kick against Celta Vigo

Leo Messi is the best free-kick taker in the world. But he wasn’t always. This article will analyse the science behind his free-kicks, his style and how exactly he, more than doubled his number of successful free-kicks per season, over time.

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Let’s take a look at the numbers

Messi ‘s freekick goals per season

Messi ‘s freekick goals per season

Here is a graph that shows the amount of free-kicks Messi has converted per season. A staggering increase. From scoring one free-kick the entire season to scoring nine (15/16). Messi has an average of 7.25 freekick goals per season in the previous four complete seasons, compared to a 1.65 free-kicks goals per season in his first four complete seasons since converting his first-ever free-kick. At the time of writing, Messi has already made four free-kick goals this season (2019/20) and it’s just November.

Time for another absurd chart.

Freekick goals scored over the last 8 seasons

Freekick goals scored over the last 8 seasons

This chart shows the amount of goals scored by different entities over the last eight years. All of the ‘entities’ are clubs, except for one. Lionel Messi isn’t competing with players anymore, he’s competing with teams. Over the last eight years, Messi has converted the most free-kicks out of every club in the world. Taking this insane statistic even further, over the last five seasons Messi has scored the most free-kicks (obviously) with 22, while Juventus is in second with 15 free-kick goals. There is a difference of seven free-kick goals between an individual in the first place and a team in second place.

The science behind Messi ‘s freekick technique

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Messi’s leg when taking a free-kick has an angle of 50 degrees. He places almost his entire boot on the ground before hitting the ball, giving him stability, balance, and control in the shot.

To improve his accuracy, he arches his shoulder and chest to caress the ball, hunching his body to a more appropriate and compact position.

SPORT asked professionals and experts in the field about his free-kick genius. The Department of Physics at the University of Barcelona stated that he uses the Magnus Effect to consistently put the ball at the back of the net from a set-piece.

This effect is the phenomenon by which the rotation of a body creates a force perpendicular to the line of motion, affecting the trajectory. The pressure on the lower surface of the ball is greater than the pressure on the upper surface, resulting in a curved trajectory of the ball.

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So finally… how did Messi improve his free-kicks? Practice. Practice. Practice. The exponential increase in the number of free-kicks converted per season completely obliterates the baseless and incorrect myth that ‘Messi is all talent and no hard work!’. If you are average at free-kicks, you don’t just magically wake up one day and develop a better technique without putting work into it. Messi put work into it.

A report by MARCA states that Messi his way of hitting a ball in training early on, using plastic dolls as a barrier between him and the goal.

“I have stayed back many times after training to practice my free-kicks.”

“You get used to shooting in a specific way and discover your best form. In the end, everything is training and practice”, Messi explained in the report. He also emphasised the importance of practicing and watching and studying everything there is study so that nothing is left to chance.

By staying back late after training, practicing and watching – is how Lionel Messi improved his free-kicks. Messi also spoke to ESPN about his free-kick style.

“I like to hit the ball over the players’ wall but from time to time I like to mix it up a bit to confuse the goalkeeper.”

Messi’s free-kick style isn’t unique. What’s unique is how consistent he is with emulating that same style. Sometimes, most times – the goalkeepers actually know on what side of the net the ball will go to and yet they can’t do anything about it.

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More training and more determination is what has led to more free-kick goals. When you combine a freak of nature and an extremely hardworking machine, you get Lionel Messi.

Is Lionel Messi the best free-kick taker in history?

“Messi is the best player in history but he is also the best freekick taker I have ever seen” – Lucos Olaza

Lionel Messi is the best player in football history. He is also the best free-kick taker in the world. But is he the best free-kick taker in football history? It’s up to opinion… for now. Personally, we think he is the best ever. His technique, his consistency – just how easy it is for him – I mean, it’s more surprising when Messi misses a free-kick nowadays.

Statistically, he still has some work to do. Messi has accumulated a total of 52 free-kicks in his career, and the top of the free-kick food chain is Juninho with 77 free-kicks. But then again, statistically, Juninho converted 77 free-kicks in almost 20 years, while Messi has made 52 successful free-kicks in just 10 years.

Let’s do some math.

Messi currently averages 7.25 free-kicks per season. He already has four this season (not even December), and we genuinely believe that he can hit 10 free-kicks this year. So that’s six more than what he has this season, taking his total tally to 58. Assuming that Messi plays till 2023, and scores an average of seven free-kicks per season (can be astronomically higher or even lower), he’ll score 21 free-kicks over the course of the next three seasons (excluding the current, 19/20 season). That will take his free-kick count to 79 free-kicks scored, two more than Juninho’s record.

On one hand, it seems extremely difficult and practically impossible to get those kinds of numbers in that kind of time, but on the other hand, it’s Lionel Messi we’re talking about, what is impossible to him?

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