Learning how to curl a football takes practice, but it’s worth doing because it’s a glorious skill and a glorious way to score a goal.

The purpose of a curling shot is to score a goal when there is an obstacle – a player or players – between you and the goal. You can take one in-play, when the ball is live, or from a dead-ball situation, e.g. a free-kick.

The aim is to hit the ball with spin and power, and curl it around whoever is in your way and into the goal. A right-footer will strike the ball with a right-to-left movement and a left footer will hit with a left-to-right movement.

Generally speaking, a curling shot is not the most powerful shot that a footballer has at his or her disposal – the spin is what makes it difficult for a goalkeeper to predict – however, there are professionals who have mastered the combination of serious speed and serious curl.
What you can learn about curling a football from the pros

Go and search for free-kick goals by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and you’ll find a masterclass in curling shots. These football icons have scored an astonishing number of goals from free-kicks, for their club sides and national teams, so it’s worth studying their techniques.

For some truly astonishing free-kick goals, treat yourself to a Roberto Carlos goal compilation. This Brazil and Real Madrid legend could do extraordinary things with a football – swerve like you wouldn’t believe.
This is how you curl a football

So, how do you curl a football? How do you curl it like Ronaldo or bend it like Messi?

There is actual science behind it – the Magnus Effect – but learning the skill can be broken down into three clear steps: the run-up, the striking action and the follow-through.

  • The run-up. Your run-up should have a bit of angle. Look at Cristiano Ronaldo – he has a very distinctive action. When you practice, you’ll work out yours. Based on your strongest foot, start two steps behind the ball and three steps to the side, and work from there.

As you approach the ball, place your standing foot (not the one you’re kicking the ball with) next to the ball – about 20cm or so to the side – and point it at a 45° angle to your target (the goal).

  • The striking action. When you strike the ball, you should do so with the front part of the inside of your foot. Lock your ankle and point your toes upward. You should aim to hit the ball just below the centre in the bottom half and slightly on the side. This will give the shot some side spin and a bit of top spin.

The curved movement when you strike the ball should start at the hip. Your hip should be included in the action. This helps create momentum (and power) and spin.

  • The follow-through. You can let your striking leg continue across your body – this should happen naturally and can help create side spin – or you may favour a style that involves your leg not fully extending in this way. Practice and work out what you feel is most effective and comfortable.

Whatever the follow-through style you prefer, you should lean slightly over the ball. This helps to improve control and accuracy. If you lean back, you’ll end up hitting the ball high over the goal.

As with any football skill, it’s all about practice. A good way to practice your curling shots and free-kicks is to use a fence panel as your goal. It’s particularly useful if you have limited space and one ball. You can get lots of repetitions in, too.