Revealed! The 20 best free-kick takers in European football

The data from our friends at STATS on the dead-ball specialists with the best conversion rate across Europe's top-five leagues: from the Argentine jewel to the Premier League's secret weapon

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Please note: Data is correct as of January 23, 2018. Sorry, Lionel.

  • Note: data taken from STATS: players across Europe's top five leagues from the start of 2013-14 season (minimum of 20 attempts)

A free-kick in a certain region of the pitch always sends a frisson of excitement through the crowd, but who do you want standing behind the ball? STATS have crunched the numbers on every free-kick taken in Europe’s top leagues since the start of the 2013/14 season to bring you the answer... which may surprise you.

Players have to be currently active to qualify, and must have had at least 20 attempts on goal from a free-kick. We’ll run through the top 20, but first: some notable entries who, perhaps surprisingly, don’t quite make the list.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United)

Goals: 4 • Attempts: 91 • Success rate: 4.4%

Goal from 1.05

It must be hard to argue with Zlatan, whose incredible self-belief and giant physique mean he gets to take more than his fair share of free-kicks, despite a fairly disappointing success rate. When they work, they’re hard to stop though, as his effort in the 2017 League Cup final demonstrated. 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Goals: 7 • Attempts: 112 • Success rate: 6.25%

Another player whose mere presence demands that you hand him the ball, although perhaps Gareth Bale (three goals from 36 attempts) can use these stats to argue his case the next time Real Madrid have a free-kick on the edge of the box. Although, as a counterpoint, Ronnie could just bring up his effort against Arsenal.  

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

Goals: 11 • Attempts: 165 • Success rate: 6.67%

The little Argentine is tied with Miralem Pjanic for the most free-kick goals scored in the last five years, but he’s had more than twice as many attempts. His technique is based more on precision than power, but sometimes seems to break the laws of physics. 

Hakan Calhanoglu (Milan)

Goals: 10 • Attempts: 99 • Success rate: 10.1%

The Turkish midfielder reportedly modelled his technique on Brazilian set-piece legend Juninho Pernambucano, and netted a series of stunners in the Bundesliga before moving to Milan in the summer.

Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Goals: 4 • Attempts: 35 • Success rate: 11.43%

If we were in charge at Manchester City, Kevin De Bruyne would take every single set-piece. It seems there’s nothing the Belgian playmaker can’t do. His free-kicks aren’t quite as deadly as his passing, but he still finds the net better than once every 10 tries – and he had the cunning to slide one under Cardiff’s wall in the FA Cup this January. Fiendish.

Alexis Sanchez (Man United)

Goals: 5 • Attempts: 42 • Success rate: 11.9%

Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs famously scored a free-kick routine where they pretended to be squabbling over the ball, but the arrival of the fiercely competitive Sanchez means we could well see a real argument on the pitch when deciding who gets to take the Manchester United set-pieces.

Neymar (PSG)

Goals: 5 • Attempts: 41 • Success rate: 12.2%

We wouldn’t be surprised if Neymar shoots up the charts during this season, as the numbers don’t reflect the fact that he now scores about 15 goals per game in Ligue 1. Back at Barcelona, he had to tussle with Luis Suarez (four goals from 39 attempts) and Messi for the honours. Expect to see a lot more of the above.

Willian (Chelsea)

Goals: 4 • Attempts: 31 • Success rate: 12.9%

We’re surprised Chelsea’s Brazilian winger isn’t higher up this list – maybe it’s because the free-kicks he scores are so spectacular that they stick in the mind for a long time after the game. He shares his secrets with FourFourTwo in the video above.

Now read the top 20 starting here