Taking the perfect free-kick is a football superpower.

Scoring from a penalty, 11 metres out, with just the goalkeeper to beat – it’s not that hard. But hitting the back of the net from the outside the penalty area, with a wall of players in the way and little of the goal to aim at – now this is a skill.

And if you want to see a free-kick taken perfectly, treat yourself to a compilation or two of goals by footballing superheroes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Or David Beckham (remember his free-kicks?).

The good news is that perfect free-kicks aren’t just for the pros. You can score them too – it’s a skill that mere mortals can master. You just need the right technique and lots of practice.
This is how you take the perfect free-kick in football

So, how do you take the perfect free-kick? How do you whip it like Messi? How do you dip it like Ronaldo?

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

  • The aim. This is obvious but it’s a crucial step that is often overlooked. If you don’t pay enough attention to where you want the ball to go, you won’t score. So, decide where you want the ball to go (it’s normally the corners of the goal).

Your decision will depend on where the free-kick is, where the goalkeeper is standing and how the defensive wall is placed. Take a breath, take your time and be certain of your target.

  • The focus. The pros may make scoring a free-kick look simple but it is a difficult skill. So, when you’re taking one, concentration is vital; you have to get yourself into the zone.

Shut out all the distractions and get the OK from the referee (you don’t want to score only to be told that it doesn’t count). Keep your head steady and eyes on the ball, and remember your technique.

  • The run-up. To help get curl on the ball, your run-up should have a bit of an angle. Check out how Cristiano Ronaldo approaches a free-kick. You’ll have your own action, which you can work out as you practice.

As for the length of your run-up, as a rule of thumb, the closer you are to the penalty area, the shorter it should be. Around the edge, a few steps may be enough. But if the free-kick is further out, you probably need to give yourself more.

  • The striking action. 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 – and point it at a 45° angle to your target.

Strike the ball with the front part of the inside of your foot. Lock your ankle and point your toes upward and include your hip in the movement. Hit the ball just below the centre in the bottom half and slightly on the side (this will give the shot spin)

  • The follow-through. Work out a follow-through that you are comfortable with. Some players let their striking leg continue across their body (this is the most natural action and can help create side spin), while others favour not fully extending their leg.

Whatever your follow-through style, lean slightly over the ball as you strike it. This will improve your control and accuracy. Lean back and the ball will head straight for row Z.

These five steps can help you build a technique that will have you scoring free-kicks from all angles. Practice them over and over again, whenever you can.

And a good way to practice your free-kicks is to use a fence panel as your goal. The wire-mesh fencing that you commonly find at playgrounds, parks and all-weather pitches is perfect. You don’t need much space, one ball is fine and you can get lots of repetitions in.