Ronaldo and Bale prepare free kick for Real Madrid (Getty)Ronaldo and Bale prepare free kick for Real Madrid (Getty) © Copyright

How to do the knuckleball

Ronaldo and Bale have the knuckleball down a fine art. So how do they pull off those incredible free kicks? Katie Gibson from St Georges Park tells us how...

We love the knuckleball. You know the one, right? The free-kick with barely any curl or follow-through, which zig-zags through the air, dips rapidly and bamboozles the best goalkeepers across the globe. Players like Gareth Bale and Ronaldo have perfected the skill in recent years, and it’s time for you to [try to] do the same.

It’s not easy, though. To get your head around it, you need a lot of practice, but first, you need an understanding of what makes the ball travel so unpredictably through the air.

// THE PREP //

Hit the books

The key to adding any new skill to your armoury is to understand exactly what you need to do before you head out onto the pitch. Pros will sit down with their coaches or read up about it before they try and hone it on the field – it makes the process much faster.

Spin out

With the knuckleball, the theory is that you strike the ball without spin so that the airflow will react with the ball’s stitching, making it dip and swerve unpredictably through the air. Applied to practice, if you can hit the “sweet spot” with the right part of your toe, you can produce a shot that reaches its highest point as it passes over the wall, before taking a sharp dip.

Practice, practice, practice

The knuckleball shot is one of the hardest to pull off, so be prepared to put in a lot of hours on the pitch to perfect it. If you keep plugging away, the pay-off can be massive.

// THE STEPS //

Clean it up

If there are any imperfections on the ball like mud or grass, the likelihood is that the movement of the ball is going to be a bit too random. This is why you see Ronaldo and Bale usually pick the ball up and wipe it with their shirts before placing it on the turf. Do the same to give yourself more control.

Place the ball

Position the ball with the valve facing you – this isn’t essential but some people believe it can help with the trajectory on older footballs, so it’s worth a try.

Step back

Place your foot underneath the ball where you want to strike it and take your chosen number of steps back. Three or four is usually fine, although Cristiano Ronaldo takes five. Remember to take two steps to the left if you’re right-footed, or to the right if you’re left-footed – this ensures you get the angle required on the ball.

Stance up

Your standing/non-striking foot should be firmly planted into the ground beside the ball – this will help the ball arch towards the goal. Make sure that your body is balanced and as upright as possible as you move towards the ball to strike it.

Strike it

Connect with the ball just below the centre and hit it as hard as you can with your foot perpendicular to the ground. The perfect spot to strike the ball is at the top of your foot between the edge of your laces and the side of your foot, along the long bone that runs from your big toe to the top of your foot.

Follow through

To make sure the ball clears the wall and dips, you may want to add topspin. This is done by swinging your striking foot upwards and across towards exactly where you want the ball to go after you make contact – this will result in a short follow-through and more powerful strike.

Celebrate

All going well, you’ve scored. Don’t ruin it with a rubbish celebration.

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