What Makes a Great Set-Piece Taker?

Our “Anatomy of a Successful Football Team” series continues with a look at what makes a great set-piece taker.

Types of Set-Pieces and Importance of Each One


The throw-in is something which will happen several times during a match and is probably the least vital of all set-pieces. It is, however, important for a player to get it right.

A short throw can enable a team to retain position, mount an offensive, or just get the ball clear of danger. Good long throwers, such as Rory Delap, were able to use a throw much like a corner as they threw the ball into the danger area looking for a striker to get on the end of.


Corners are an extremely important passage of play, which have led to many game changing goals in years gone by.

When the ball goes out for a corner, the crowd gets louder and anticipation grows. The player taking it will need to remain calm and look to deliver that killer ball onto a teammates head.

Many teams adopt a short corner strategy, looking to either allow an attacking player to run at the defence, shoot from distance, or whip a cross in from a different angle as that allowed with the ball on the corner flag.

Indirect Free-Kick

An indirect free-kick is a set-piece where the player taking it must pass the ball, and a goal cannot be scored from it unless the ball touches another player before crossing the line.

These are still important, as they allow a ball to be delivered into the box and mount an attack. They put pressure on defenders and often do lead to goals.

Direct Free-Kick

The most important of all the set-pieces, and the one which can be the biggest game changer. Anyone who has ever seen David Beckham or Roberto Carlos can agree that direct free-kicks can be a wonderful thing if they go well.

This free-kick is usually awarded just outside the opposition penalty area, giving a team the chance to have a strike at goal.

Some of the best, and most important, goals in football history have been scored from direct free kicks.

Attributes of a Great Set-Piece Taker


The most important attribute for any set-piece is the technique required to make each a positive passage of play for the team awarded it.

It doesn’t matter what type of set-piece is being taken, a great one cannot be delivered unless the player taking it has great technique.


This is mainly important for a direct free-kick taker, but is just as important for other set-pieces.

The player taking the set-piece must have the belief that the ball will end up exactly where they want it to go. So, on a strikers head for a corner or indirect free-kick taker, to a teammate for a throw-in taker, and in the top corner of the goal for a direct free-kick taker.

If the player taking the set-piece lacks confidence, they will deliver a poor ball which will not cause the opposition any problems.


If you watch a Rugby match, and the player taking a penalty kick, you will see the player go through a routine before taking their kick. This is to compose themselves, and it’s the same for a set-piece taker in football.

In order to deliver the best set-piece possible, the taker must compose themselves and not become nervous or worked up. Nerves and adrenaline can cause the player to mishit the ball, which makes them look a bit silly.

The Best Set-Piece Takers of All-Time

We are going to ignore corners for this section, as there have been many players capable of delivering a fantastic corner over the years. If a player had great passing ability, they could deliver a fantastic corner which caused the opposition problems.

We are leaving indirect free-kicks out for the same reason, and short throws can be taken by anyone.

So, with that in mind, let us have a look at the greatest long throw-in and direct free-kick takers.

Best Long-Throw Taker

Rory Delap

The former Republic of Ireland international was perhaps better known for his throw-in ability as he was for anything else. As a schoolboy, Delap was a javelin champion, and he adopted a technique of delivering throw-ins flat and long.

Reaching speeds of around 37 mph and averaging around 125 feet in distance, Delap’s throws assisted several goals throughout his career.

Best Direct Free-Kick Takers

David Beckham

David Beckham wasn’t popular with everyone and became known more as a celebrity off the pitch than a footballer on it. While opinion of him differs depending on who you talk to, one thing everyone can agree on is the fact he took an excellent free-kick.

The former England international could pass a ball as good as anyone, and had other qualities which made him important to a team. But, his trademark was the right-footed free-kick he lofted over a defensive wall into the corner of the goal several times.

He was so good at taking free-kicks that fans thought he would score every time his team were awarded a direct free-kick just outside the penalty area.

Roberto Carlos

When Roberto Carlos scored an audacious free-kick which looked to be headed well wide before bending into the net, against France in 1997, many people debated whether it was a fluke.

But, the Brazilian had scored plenty of direct free-kicks before, and did after, to prove it wasn’t a one-off lucky shot.

His free-kicks were so powerful, with some measured at 105 mph, that he was nicknamed “The Bullet Man”.

Lionel Messi

Is there anything Lionel Messi isn’t good at?

On top of being the greatest football player in the world at present, as well as one of the best of all-time, the Argentinian is also one of the best free-kick takers to ever step foot on a pitch.

Messi overtook “King of free-kicks” Ronald Koeman as Barcelona’s record free-kick goal scorer earlier this year, and continues to torment goalkeepers everywhere with his free-kicks.

Great, and Not So Great, Set-Pieces

Here, we will mostly look at great set-pieces and the majority will be direct free-kicks. But, we will start with a Rory Delap throw-in compilation.

Next up, we will look at a selection of free-kicks from the three players mentioned above.

David Beckham scoring late on for England against Greece in 2001, to secure World Cup qualification for his country, is first.

That’s followed by the amazing swerved free-kick by Roberto Carlos for Brazil vs France in 1997.

And, finally, it’s a compilation of Lionel Messi’s best free-kicks to show just how much of a genius the man really is.


Now, the not so great as we look at ten of the worst, and indeed funniest, free-kicks in history.

Let’s finish this article by looking at possibly the biggest ever throw-in fail.

Read the rest of the series

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