Juninho is the greatest free-kick taker to play the beautiful game.
Feel free to disagree with that statement, but the statistics think otherwise with the Lyon legend holding the world record over players like Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho with 77 conversions.
According to data from Sport, the Brazilian finds himself seven clear of his legendary compatriot Pele in second place and even David Beckham is trailing by more than 10 strikes.
That astonishing record – of which 44 came during his time in France – has only enhanced his reputation for bamboozling goalkeepers by creating movement on the ball from every angle.
But what was the secret to Juninho’s brilliance from a dead ball? It’s an intriguing concept when you consider he’s arguably the inventor of the knuckle-ball technique inherited by Cristiano Ronaldo.
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Juninho: The free-kick GOAT
And it’s an intriguing concept that sports scientist and physical therapist Dr. Rajpal Brar has sought to analyse on his YouTube channel ‘3CB Performance’.
Brar has previously analysed the secrets behind Lionel Messi‘s free-kick taking as well as Ronaldo’s decline from set-pieces, so is well versed when it comes to Juninho’s area of expertise.
You can check out the full analysis down below or keep scrolling for our breakdown of some of the points contained within in the study.
Juninho himself has explained that he let the distance from the goal inform his technique, focusing more on placement from close range and concentrating on power when shooting from further out.
Shorter distance technique
The basis for Juninho’s technique from close range was a consistent routine which consisted of:
- Standing three paces back from the ball
- The further left the ball, the more perpendicular the run-up
- Focusing the eyes on the ball, then the target and then back to the ball
As you can see in the video, each of Juninho’s four steps has a specific purpose and culminates with his weaker, standing foot rotating externally and shifting away from his hips to generate power.
Juninho’s upper and lower body mirror and counterbalance each other and he uses the instep technique to make either post an option by facilitating both mild and strong spin on the ball.
Long distance technique
When Juninho lined up one of his ambitious knuckleball efforts, his routine changed to:
- Standing four paces back from the ball to create more power
- Straighter run-up (key to the knuckleball technique)
Juninho largely keeps his run up and standing foot identical regardless of distance, but holds his torso and upper body more upright at the moment of impact using a dorsal distal, top-of-the-foot striking technique.
Combine this with a point of contact on the lower centre of the ball as well as a shorter, jab-like followthrough for the sort of ball movement we’ve always come to associate with Juninho.
The greatest of all time
So, what’s the moral of the story? Juninho is the most adaptable free-kick taker of the greats.
The fact Juninho was effectively a Swiss army-knife from set pieces allowed him to be adaptable to different situations, leaving goalkeepers guessing with a variety of strikes from different ranges.
It’s a skill that you don’t see in the one-note nature of Ronaldo’s very own knuckleball strikes and you can even lodge the same complaint against Messi’s reliance on curved efforts.
Both players are finer candidates for GOAT status, admittedly, but never when it comes to free-kicks.