Lionel Messi has grown to become one of the best set-piece takers in the world, scoring double figures, but the glory is not just for him. Here we look at the man who helped crown the Barcelona captainas the free-kick king.
Messi ‘s mastery of the part
Lionel Messi’s mastery of the art of the free-kick comes not just from his genius, but from hours of practice after training and the influence of Diego Maradona. Fernando Signorini was the fitness c for Argentina at the 2010 World Cup and in his biography, Call to Rebellion, he sheds light on Maradona’s part in Messi’s development as the ultimate set-piece specialist.
“In February 2009, just a few months after Maradona took over as coach of the national team, we played a friendly against a local team in Marseille. We practised the day before and, after the session, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez and Messi stayed behind for shooting practice,” Signorini writes.
“Messi put the ball down and looked up at the goal slightly to his left. When he struck the ball it went some way over the bar to the goalkeeper’s right. He was annoyed and headed towards the dressing room passing me as he went. I said, ‘Are you going to go and shower after that rubbish? Stop getting annoyed, go and get a ball and try again’.”
Signorini says Maradona overheard the conversation, put his arm around Messi’s shoulder and embarked on a tutorial, telling Messi: “Don’t hurry the shot so much, slow your swing down, because if not the ball does not know what you want it to do.”
Maradona demonstrated by promptly planting the ball in the top corner with Messi looking on admiringly. Daily free-kick practice sessions after training became part of Messi’s routine at Argentina and Barcelona.
Current Barcelona keepers Marc Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen are his victims day in, day out, at the club’s Joan Gamper training ground. “You have to practise. It’s training and habit, like any other skill,” Messi told Marca last year.
LONG RANGER: 31.7 yards, 67mph
Messi’s free-kick against Liverpool was his eighth successful one of the season and the furthest out of any of his Champions League free-kicks — 31.7 yards.
Some thought he was too far from goal, but veteran Barcelona correspondents in the press box already had their phones out recording. They knew what was coming.
MESSI’S OTHER SET-PIECE TRICKS
The Daisycutter 22.7 yards, 45mph
It was against Alaves on the first day of the season that the wall jumped two feet in the air and Messi rolled the ball underneath it and into the corner.
Some teams have since taken to having a player lie down behind the wall to stop him doing it again.
The Curler 21.2 yards, 57mph
Sometimes, like against Villarreal last month, it is just simple — the ball to the right of the penalty area and Messi plants it in the top left-hand corner with a swerve that sees the ball curling into the goal, kissing the inside of the post for added effect.
The Panenka 18 yards, 28mph
This model was made for penalties but Messi has customised it to suit free-kicks.
He dinked the ball over the Espanyol wall at the end of March and the defender on the line, Victor Sanchez, was so bewitched he could do no more than head it into the net.