Technique in freekicks is a funny thing. Those who follow football can tell multiple different variations. There’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s “dropping” shot that curves with no particular pattern and combined to his power makes it incredibly hard to predict – if the shot is on target. There’s Messi’s precision technique, with the inside of the boot, with a lot of curve and accuracy. Barcelona’s new wonderboy Neymar’s technique is very reminiscent of Messi’s, and I’ll try to take a bit closer look at that.
Neymar scored a great freekick goal against South Korea – a curled shot placed inches away from the inside post, curling into the net. A very Messi-esque shot in many ways. (GIF via Emenderk)
What Neymar’s freekicks have (as well as Messi’s, of course) is consistency. Surely, neither scores on every attempt, but most of their shots fly on target and force the goalkeeper to react. Complete mishits happen very rarely – mishits that we might occasionally see from Cristiano whose technique is a lot more prone to mistakes.
In comparison, Cristiano often approaches the ball pretty straight forward, with not a lot of angle. This provides him more striking strenght but cuts on the accuracy from time to time. Messi and Neymar both approach the ball with a lot more angle, sometimes up to 90 degrees, sometimes less, depending on the angle to goal. Pictures of the two below say the same thing.
Another thing is body positioning, and angles within the body. Both Messi and Neymar have a clear angle in their body when they take the freekick, with the foot on the ground providing it. Their upper bodies lean forward a bit when taking a freekick, which allows them to get maximum power behind the shot, to focus all the energy of the movement precisely on the ball. What the lean also does is making sure that the ball stays low enough and doesn’t fly all the way to the stands. Pictures below show how similar to each other their techniques are. Also, in comparison to Cristiano Ronaldo who is often called a freekick specialist, notice how the supporting leg of Messi & Neymar is not bent at all and stands firmly on the ground, unlike Cristiano’s.
Another thing in common with these two, something that once more adds precision, is the follow-through of the shot. It’s Messi’s left foot that follows the shot after the hit has been made, for Neymar it’s his right. The follow-through enables the two to add curve in the shot in a way that allows them to, say, round the wall or perhaps dip the ball over it in other cases, depending on the position of the freekick.
In many ways, it’s in fact striking how similar the freekick techniques of these two are. Whether it’s something Neymar copied from his idol Messi, I don’t know, but the similarities don’t lie.
As the statistics of the two prove, their technique is not only beautiful but also effective. Both have smashed in a respectable amount of freekicks, showing that consistency matters.
Yet another thing similar between the two is where on the ball do they place the strike, in other words, which part of the ball does their foot primarily touch when firing a freekick. Messi and Neymar both hit the outer center of the ball (which for Messi is the left side, for Neymar the right), the bottom half of it, to get additional curve. Both strike the ball with the very inside of their foot – not with the toe-region – which only adds more to the precision both seek. As simple as the two make it look, this is something rather difficult to execute because it requires perfect control of the ball on the foot. The shot taker must hit the ball perfectly to execute such technique in an ideal way and offers very little margin for error. The ball must be hit in the exact right spot to make sure that it dips over the wall and curls where the shooter wants it to go. Looks simple, but isn’t.
I won’t get into the old and tiring debate about who is the best freekick taker and whether Messi and Neymar’s technique is better than Cristiano’s, because I’m sure both techniques have their pros and cons. Neymar and Messi need inch-perfect accuracy to beat the goalie because their freekicks aren’t based on power as much as those of Cristiano’s , whereas the Portuguese can surprise a keeper with the power of the shot even when his accuracy has its lacks.
Personally, Messi & Neymar’s techinique to me is a joy to watch, and their consistency provides a constant threat: even when they can’t score, they’re likely to hit the target, to force a save and thereby create dangerous rebounds. That said, I hope to see Neymar take a bigger role with direct freekicks in Barcelona as well, because the ones he has taken with Brazil have been impressive and could add yet another new dimension to Barcelona’s game as well. Perhaps the freekick-part of the game isn’t what Neymar is the most known for – neither is Messi – as both are most known for their dribbling skills, but freekicks surely are a part of the pair’s game that are top-notch as well.