Fake Eric Cantona
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When Pirlo Retires, Who Will Be the Top Dead Ball Specialist?

Apr 14, 2014 10:16 PM EST

It wash't long ago that dead ball specialist were a rare breed. But right now, it seems like dead ball specialists are going extinct. 

The dead ball specialist is a player who takes the free kicks. They place the ball downfield in the best spot to be scored from. They kick the ball around the wall and into the tightest corner of the net, away from the unclipped fingernails of a skilled keeper. They are a special breed. 

There was a legend about Pele, that during one game, his free kick hit the cross bar. Afterwards, he brought a claim up that the goal was incorrectly measured by a certain amount of inches. Officials took his claim seriously, and measured. Their conclusion: Pele was right. That is how skilled he was at free kicks. 

Within the past few years, there have been incredible dead ball specialists. Most noteworthy is David Beckham, who was known for his precision from anywhere on the field. Beckham played alongside another great name in free kicks, Roberto Carlos. Roberto Carlos had a different approach - raw power. But it's silly to compare the two, because Roberto Carlos never had the accuracy of Beckham. When Roberto Carlos scored from a free kick, it was like lightning; fast, powerful, and shocking.

Alessandro Del Piero was another great who scored from free kicks regularly, up through the end of his long career at Juventus. In his last season at Juventus, he scored 6 times from free kicks.

Through his years with Barcelona, Ronaldinho was one of the best free kick takers in the world. Ronaldinho will be more remembered for his skill at dribbling and his trickery in the heat of play, but his skill in free kicks was top shelf. 

Through most of the '00s, fans were able to witness the skill of Juninho Pernambucano, who played for Lyon. He was known as the magician. His youtube videos are nothing short of incredible. His delivery would confuse keepers everywhere because he did not kick the ball traditionally as Beckham would. Juninho was a master of the knuckleball. His toe-kicking would result in unpredictable trajectories. Yet somehow, this worked. Juninho scored an incredible amount of goals from set pieces. There is no debate - Juninho is the greatest free kick specialist of all time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8AYO1OIcHw

And for most of the '00, or "noughties," Beckham, Ronaldinho, Juninho, and Pirlo were the best dead ball specialists.  In Europe, only Pirlo remains. Once the engine that powered AC Milan, contributing to their Champions League victories in 2003 and 2007, Andrea Pirlo currently plies his trade at Juventus. It could be said that when Pirlo retires, Juventus will need to completely revamp their strategy, because currently Pirlo is central to it. 

Pirlo is the last of the great generation of free kick takers in the noughties. And so when he decides to leave, which may not happen until after the 2016 season, with his new contract extension, the question will be who is next? 

Cristiano Ronaldo
CR7 is currently the Player of the Year, and that title is well deserved. He is known for his free kicks, but somewhere, in annals of history, one will find the memories of "The Ronaldo Rocket", the pet nickname he gave his free kicks while at Manchester United. Those kicks were all power. As if Roberto Carlos was CR7's spirit animal. When he scored, it was great, but when he didn't, it was kind of funny. CR7 has developed and polished his power with more control now. His kicks are precise and deadly. By the time CR7 retires, he may surpass Juninho in terms of goals scored from free kicks. In every way, Ronaldo is prolific.

Yaya Toure
Former Barcelona man and Ivorian international, Yaya Toure is hitting his peak at age 30. This season Yaya has converted 10 goals from dead ball situations. In total, Yaya Toure has 18 goals, as Manchester City prepares to face Luis Suarez and Liverpool over the weekend. Unlike his current rivals, Yaya is a defensive midfielder, used to setting up plays from deep, much like Andrea Pirlo. 

Luis Suarez
Suarez is a complete player in the mold of a Maradona. He will kick, punch and bite his way to victory. Fortunately, he can add free kicks to his repertoire. If not for his dubious antics on the pitch, Suarez would be likened to an Alessandro Del Piero type, with the similar level of extreme skill at all areas of the pitch. Since joining Liverpool from Ajax, Suarez has delivered crippling free kick goals against Everton and Man City, both of which were legendary. Suarez edges his teammate Steven Gerrard due to the jaw-dropping delivery of his free kicks. His highlights alone speak for themselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhttduMN8ys

Andrea Pirlo
Right now, Pirlo is the king of the dead ball, and will remain in the conversation for so long as he desires. Pirlo's gift is not in his speed or strength, but in his understanding of pure technique. And that technique will outlast the speed and strength that have carried so many other great players. As Juventus cruise to another scudetto in the Serie A, fans all know that much of that can be attributed to Pirlo's vision. Pirlo has set the bar high for the next generation.

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