How Often Do Free Kicks Result In Goals?

free kickOver the decades some of the best goals in football have been scored from free kicks; there is almost a kind of special kind of magic associated to them because, while a lot give players a chance to shoot at goal relatively unchallenged it still takes some serious skill to beat the opposing goalkeeper when there is usually a wall of players doing their best to shield the goal.

Most teams usually have at least one player who is capable of producing a goal from a free kick, while the best often have three or four, each of who have their own particular style and way of taking them.

But what are the chances of a free kick being scored in any given match and is betting on free kicks and goals from them a sensible thing to do?

Betting on Free Kicks

Live BettingOne particularly useful market in the world of betting is the free kick market (or next goal method) which is particularly useful if you know two teams which are equipped with deadly set piece takers and who have a particularly strong track record when it comes to scoring directly from free kicks.

Although you might have to go through the markets in particular detail to try and find the right one that is relevant, some bookmakers do offer this as a potential bet and as a result this means that you have a great shout of it coming in.

However, bookmakers are usually quite savvy with these and will generally offer low odds which often aren’t worth it if it is a team which has a player with a good record of scoring directly from free kicks.

Premier League Free Kicks Scorers

Player Club Goals
Sebastian Larsson Sunderland 11
Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United 9
Christian Eriksen Tottenham Hotspur 8
Juan Mata Manchester United 8
Morten Gamst Pedersen Blackburn Rovers 7
Steven Gerrard Liverpool 7
Wayne Rooney Manchester United 7
Gylfi Sigurdsson Everton 7
Mikel Arteta Arsenal 6
Leighton Baines Everton 6
Didier Drogba Chelsea 6

In 2018, a study by the American Soccer Analysis found that out of 12,728 direct free kicks, in Major League Soccer, 272 goals were scored from them, as illustrated in more detail by the table below!

Type of Free-Kick Sample Size Goals Scored Conversion Rate (%)
Shot on goal 1,214 77 6.3
Cross into box 2,801 106 3.8
Other (e.g Own Goal) 8,713 76 9

Of those free-kicks that resulted in goals, it was found that Sebastian Giovinco took 184 free-kicks, chose to shoot 69.57 percent of the time and converted 13 times, with one goal coming as a result of a cross. Didier Drogba, meanwhile, took 50 free-kicks, shot 62 percent of the time and scored on six occasions, with one free-kick converting courtesy of a cross.

Similar statistical analysis that was carried out across the top European leagues between the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons found interesting numbers as seen below:

Player Sample Size Goals Scored Conversion Rate (%)
Miralem Pjanic 38 7 18.5
Zlatko Junozovic 35 5 17
Christian Eriksen 42 6 16
Kevin Mirallas 22 3 15
Hakan Calhanoglu 82 11 13
Andrea Pirlo 49 6 12
Gareth Bale 24 5 12
Cristiano Ronaldo 73 3 6.8
Lionel Messi 70 4 5.7

What is clear from that analysis is that Pjanic was head and shoulders above everyone else during that period, while perhaps surprisingly, Ronaldo and Messi were considerably behind.f

Are Free Kicks A Genuine Scoring Opportunity?

Football in NetThe short answer here would be ‘yes’; any chance which allows a team a shot at goal unchallenged definitely has a chance of finding the goal, however over the years, we have seen so many different types of free kicks which have been used to try and catch defending teams out, that many are now wise to all of the different ways there is to score.

That and the fact that social media means that footage gets circulated around the quicker than it used to, can often limit players if they are looking to emulate someone else; the chances are that their opposite number is probably aware of it.

One technique that is used sometimes as a failsafe is to strike the ball hard and low as players know that if the balls takes a deflection then it could wrong foot the keeper and go anywhere.  Overall though, despite goalkeepers being more agile and wise to potential tricks, it is definitely still possible to score from a free kick.

Teams With Specialist Free Kick Takers

ronaldo taking a free kickThose teams who do have a specialist in their starting XI know that they have a really good chance of scoring if they get a free kick in range, with the best players able to score from a variety of angles and distances.

Going back to the nineties, many people will remember arguably the best free kick taker of his generation, who almost had his own trademark free kick style; this was of course David Beckham who time and again found the back of the net with his trusty right boot for Manchester United and England, the latter often in dramatic circumstances when it was needed the most.

Beckham earned himself a reputation for being able to add curl to his free kicks which meant he could bend them around the ball around the wall and bring it back in on itself with deadly accuracy.

Around a similar period in the Premier League he was up against a number of other players who, while they might not have earned the reputation that he did for scoring free kicks, were still very good. From Thierry Henry and Robert Pires for Arsenal, to John Arne Rise and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, to Frank Lampard at Chelsea, each player had their own unique technique when it came to striking the ball and finding the net.

On the continent, Brazilian left back Roberto Carlos earned himself a reputation for having dynamite in his left foot, arguably one of the most powerful free kick takers ever who terrorised goalkeepers from free kicks for both his club Real Madrid and country.

To suggest the best of all time, or even over the last 30 years would be hard; circumstances change, as do variables which it could be argued have had a considerable effect on how a free kick has been taken over the years. To name just a few, Zinedine Zidane of France and Luis Figo of Portugal. Real Madrid at one time had Carlos, Zidane, Figo and Beckham!

Most recently, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have faced off for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively as free kick specialists for their side with the former in particular earning Beckham esque status for his knack of delivering the spectacular, often when it looks the least likely.

Essentially, any team which is equipped with a free kick specialist always has a chance of scoring from them, usually regardless of the level of standard.

Variables That Make A Difference

free kick graphicGoing back even as far as the nineties, there were a number of factors which had an effect on the chances of scoring from a free kick, which it could be argued have changed over the years.

One in particular is the balls that were used, with the earlier makes of balls usually heavier and therefore much harder to beat the goalkeeper with. Midway through the 2000s manufacturer Nike brought out a ball which was at first heavily criticised by pundits and managers alike, due to there being a subtle difference in the weight.

Players such as [Cristiano] Ronaldo though soon learned how to use this to their advantage. Because the ball had a special kind of material coated to it which produced a ‘zipping’ sound, it meant that it would move wildly, seemingly uncontrollably in mid air and the likes of Ronaldo became a master. Instead of placing the ball and trying to curl it, he learned that if he struck the ball in a certain place at its centre with his laces, he could guide it from side to side – it is rumoured that he often spent hours on the training ground after a coaching session practicing his technique. This paid off; he regularly left goalkeepers gaping.

Goalkeepers have also made a difference in recent years, with many of them much more athletic and agile than they used to be; it seems many scouts would look for goalkeepers who were lighter on their feet and not as broad. This meant that they could react quicker to shots, especially free kicks which were zipped around a wall at pace. Coaching sessions for goalkeepers especially focused towards being able to combat free kicks were incorporated into training sessions to ensure that they could respond adequately, or at least had a decent chance during games.

Aerial threats from Free Kicks

free kick aerial threatGoals from free kicks don’t necessarily have to be courtesy of the spectacular or even direct. Many teams have well worked routines which drags defenders out of position or indeed they target their aerial threats.

Stoke City, circa 2008 were particularly good at this, possessing some of the most physical players in the league who carved out a reputation for themselves being able to get on the end of free kicks and cause teams problems. While goalkeepers might not particularly like free kicks, defenders positively detest them if they are up against strong, physical opponents.

When Beckham was playing for Man Utd towards the end of his career, if quite far out from goal, he knew he had the luxury of being able to pick out Ruud van Nistlerooy in the penalty area who was a menace for defenders.

Final thoughts

Free kicks definitely conjure up some of the most glamorous goals in football and have been responsible for some particularly great ones over the years when you look back at some of the names we have seen that have graced the stage. What is perhaps interesting is how certain styles of free kicks have come back into fashion and then also types of free kicks from yesteryear that we will quite possibly never see again (Garrincha Banana Shot – Brazil).

Often they can be the spectator highlight of a game, especially if either of the teams features a specialist free kick taker such as Ronaldo, with the crowd no doubt hoping he scores another one of his spectacular efforts.