Lionel Messi is one of the greatest free-kick takers in football history.
While, yes, Juninho Pernambucano and David Beckham probably remain unchallenged as the best of the best, there can no longer be any denying that Messi deserves a seat at the top table.
Besides, despite many claiming that Messi hasn't evolved during his career to the same degree that Cristiano Ronaldo has, the Argentine's free-kick prowess is the perfect counterpoint to that.
Messi's free-kick journey
Many would argue that the peak of Messi's career was the remarkable calendar year of 2012 in which he scored a world-record 91 goals - right?
Well, what's interesting to note is that Messi had only actually scored nine free-kicks in his club career by that point whereas he now boasts a staggering total of 58 conversions.
And the Barcelona legend managed to reach a superhuman zenith of set-piece efficiency during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns where he scored a remarkable 15 times from free-kicks alone.
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Tougher free-kick tactics
However, the statistics do go to show that Messi couldn't quite maintain that astonishing conversion rate, which is hardly a criticism, by the way, because it's a pretty dizzying height to fall from.
And there's good reason to think that one of the contributing factors to the slight dip in Messi's free-kick output was the fact that La Liga defences started doing more and more to nullify his attempts.
In fact, by the time we got to Messi's final season at Camp Nou, fans would regularly see opposition defences line up for his free-kicks with massive walls and even players standing on the goal-line.
Messi destroys FIFA tactics
But Messi being the absolute genius that Messi is, he still managed to crack the code before waving goodbye to Catalonia and overcame these so-called FIFA tactics against Athletic Bilbao in January.
Not only did Athletic form a six-man wall, which included a 'draft excluder' player preventing shots underneath the structure, but someone was tasked with running back to the line when Messi struck.
Seems pretty impregnable, right? Well, we'll let you find out for ourselves using the video below:
You could lock goal posts in Fort Knox and Messi would still find the net if he was shooting from outside. The guy simply isn't human.
Impossible to stop Messi
It really is remarkable to sit back and watch as Messi floats his effort over what feels like half the population of Bilbao where even the back-tracking defender can't head the ball to safety.
Save putting every player on the line as though it was an indirect free-kick, Messi's finish served to demonstrate that there isn't a single tactic that can stop him if the strike at goal is absolutely spot on.
Whether or not Ligue 1 defences will start coming up with some of the same whacky ideas remains to be seen, but it's fair to say that Messi pretty much completed free-kicks when it came to Spain.News Now - Sport News