Scoring a free kick is an art, different techniques are all used to find the perfect balance in an inexact science. When a player becomes a prolific scorer of free kicks, it draws the eyes of the audience as noise dies out with eyes glued onto the match waiting to see the kick taken. There have been some incredible free kick takers, from Andrea Pirlo to Juninho, but James Ward-Prowse is now amongst them.
A free kick sucks the air and noise out of a game, as fans are either covering up their eyes in free of the goal being scored or are begging to a deity for the ball to curve and dip past the wall and keeper. For the past few seasons, James Ward-Prowse has been the Prem’s best, as he has tormented opponents with his ability to score from dead ball situations.
One of the unique aspects of Ward-Prowse’s free kicks is the technique he uses to get the power for the ball to reach blistering speeds to curve past the keeper. Every aspect of the run up and follow through is different from other free kick takers and is incredible to watch. When comparing him to other legends like Pirlo or Miralem Pjanić, it’s fascinating to see how much his kicks differ.
Since his rise to Southampton excellence in the middle of the 2010s, Ward-Prowse has been the Prem’s best free kick taker. With the art of the free kick being a rare sight, it’s interesting to see where he ranks amongst the best of them, as he continues to put them past keepers. Not only in the Prem, but his ranking globally should be interesting when comparing him to other great dead ball specialists.
As he has become recognized as one of the best free kick takers on Earth, it’s been interesting to see how his unique form matches against the best of all time. With the art of the free kick being such a rare one to master, Ward-Prowse has become its greatest current master.
There are a multitude of different ways to take free kicks, from placing more value on the dip to speed or to the curve and there is no “right” way. Every taker will have a technique that is unique to them and the way they like to strike the ball.
Andrea Pirlo, Juninho and Miralem Pjanić are the modern era’s best free kick takers, some may argue Lionel Messi or David Beckham belong there, but they don’t reach the level of those three. The only real similarity between those three and Ward-Prowse is their position and ability. Their largest difference is how they take their free kicks.
Pirlo and Pjanić’s techniques are the most different from Ward-Prowse as they aim to bring more curve to the ball rather than speed. Both players take short run ups with the goal to focus on shifting energy towards getting the ball to spin and dip. This, of course, sacrifices speed with the hope that the curve and dip will force the keeper one way with them being confused.
The follow through reflects this focus on the curve and dip rather than speed, as the taker stops the leg after the ball rather than letting it drag across the body. This means that the curve and dip will be forced by the kick and can go in any side of the net.
Ward-Prowse differs from them, as he focuses on getting the ball to have enough speed that it allows for the curve. He runs towards the ball rather than taking a slow run up, meaning that Ward-Prowse hopes to transfer the energy from his run to the ball. This results in a ball that is hit with such speed that it forces the dip to occur first and the curve to happen at the net.
His follow through is completely different from the others, as he carries the follow through across his body and lands on the foot that struck the ball, lashing the ball to the post in front of him. Again, this is done in order to lash the ball with enough speed that the curve is secondary. Ward-Prowse likes to celebrate with a golf swing and his technique is more similar to that, as all the power is shifted across the body as the swing happens.
Again, there is no one guaranteed way to score free kicks, as they are the result of trial and error for years, but there are two more unique techniques. Ward-Prowse’s free kicks rely more on the speed while older legends prefer to focus more on the curve of the ball.
Ward-Prowse is now seven free kick goals from the Premier League record for most free kicks scored in a career in the league. It is an impressive feat for sure, but how does it rank amongst other players in the Prem and across Europe?
In the Prem, no one is touching Ward-Prowse despite the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo with his only competition being Kieran Trippier. This season, the two of them have the lead for most free kicks scored this season at two. While impressive for Trippier, his record over his time in the Prem makes it seem like an outlier despite Trippier being a good dead ball specialist.
Historically only one person in Prem history has performed better from dead ball situations than Ward-Prowse and that is English icon David Beckham. In his nine seasons in the Prem, Beckham scored 18 free kicks at a rate of about 2 per season. Ward-Prowse’s free kick per season rate is about 1.2 meaning that he would need close to six seasons to beat the record and at 28, he should break that record.
Comparing him across Europe shows that while his stats are impressive, they pale in comparison to Hakan Çalhanoğlu. For years now, Çalhanoğlu has been the best on Earth with him scoring 18 free kicks since his debut in top division soccer in 2013. While he is now at Inter, his free kicks in the Bundesliga with Leverkusen are immortalized into the cannon of that league.
Staying in the Serie A, there are two other dead ball specialists in that league who rival and surpass Ward-Prowse’s excellency. Manchester City legend Aleksandar Kolarov has scored 19 free kicks across his career from his time in the Prem and Serie A. In Turin, Paulo Dybala has already scored 12 since his debut with Palermo in 2014 and will likely score more given he’s also 28.
While he is the best free kick taker in the Prem and one of the league’s historic greats, Ward-Prowse is one of the best in the world, but is below the truly elite. He will break Beckham’s record, but will likely never reach the heights of a Pirlo or Juninho.
A free kick being scored is one of the best sights to see across the sport, as its art in motion and can truly be remarkable. Ward-Prowse is, currently, one of the best dead ball specialists in the world and his unique form makes him a must watch whenever there is a free kick. Now it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he will break Beckham’s Premier League record.
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