The likes of Lionel Messi, Juninho Pernambucano and David Beckham have made free-kick tacking an art form over the course of footballing history.
Whether it’s delicately curving the ball over the wall or launching a knuckle-ball strike from 40 yards out, there is something so particular and intricate about shooting from set-pieces outside the box.
Besides, you only have to look at how celebrated the 20th anniversary of Beckham’s iconic free-kick against Greece was this week to see the way in which their drama and entertainment is so beloved.
The art of free-kicks
We’ve all held our breath while watching our team line up a free-kick on the edge of penalty area just in case they score and every now and again, that beautiful moment has you up on your feet.
However, believe it or not, the world of free-kick taking is also a kind of arms race between the team attempting to score from the dead-ball position and the side trying to prevent that from happening.
Whether that’s the attacking players coming up with new shooting techniques or the defensive side tweaking how they line up their wall, it’s a fascinating evolutionary strand in the world of football.
Newcastle Takeover Complete! (Football Terrace)
The ‘draught excluder’
And one new trend that has skyrocketed in recent years has been the so-called ‘draught excluder’ technique, which sees a defending player lay down behind the ball to prevent shots beneath it.
After all, fans will be familiar with footballers like Messi, Ronaldinho and Kevin De Bruyne exploiting the fact that defending walls would jump automatically by sliding the ball beneath their feet.
Obviously, if there’s a player laid behind their jumping teammates then that’s no longer an option and we’re starting to see more teams than not calling upon a player to fulfil this strangest of roles.
Brozović changes free-kicks forever
And while it’s difficult to identify who exactly started the trend, we can certainly put our finger on the incident that thrust it into the mainstream – and it’s Marcelo Brozović that we need to thank.
That’s because the Inter Milan midfielder gave an absolute masterclass in the ‘draught excluder’ tactic when he remarkably stopped a Luis Suarez free-kick for Barcelona in the Champions League.
Despite not initially taking the position we’ve become familiar with now, Brozović leapt into action at the last second and prevented Suarez’s cheeky free-kick from getting any further. Check it out:
I guess, in a many ways, you could argue that Brozović has changed free-kicks forever.
The end of free-kicks under the wall?
Even if another team or player actually got the craze started, it was Brozović’s brilliant denial of Suarez that really got people talking and started to see the tactic spread throughout other teams.
And with fans having seen Messi himself deployed as the ‘draught excluder’ for Paris Saint-Germain this season, it has never been clearer that teams are really taking the approach seriously.
As such, if we start to see it happening more and more across the beautiful game, then we might have Brozović to blame if scoring free-kicks under the wall becomes a thing of the past.