Making the game beautiful: Football skills that defy science

Yahoo Sport UK
The Scorpion, The Bin and The Cruyff
The Scorpion, The Bin and The Cruyff


How is football made beautiful? Is magic to be found watching Inverurie Loco Works draw 0-0 with Turriff United on a wet Wednesday night? Or is real glory the preserve of the style and technique found in a moment of unexpected, jaw-dropping invention? When footballers realise the seemingly impossible, defying both science and the limits of our imagination: Behold the skills. Detailed below are ten of the best, some the bona fide real deal plus a handful of lesser-known tricks that arguably deserve much wider acclaim.


The most famous trick in football may also be the oldest. Reportedly invented in Peru in 1914 by Chilean Ramón Unzaga, the Overhead/Bicycle/Scissor Kick was popularised by countryman David Arellano during Colo-Colo’s 1927 tour of Spain. Sadly, Arellano’s acrobatic antics are also considered “a grim warning about the perils of showboating”, having apparently played a part in his early death at the age of just 24. So famous there are books and even a Google Doodle about it, is anything better than an overhead kick? How about an overhead kick by a goalkeeper that wins a match in injury time?


Given its name and celebrated roots, it comes as a surprise to discover that the Dutch maestro didn’t actually invent the Cruyff Turn. Supposedly debuted during Holland vs Sweden in the group stage of the 1974 World Cup, there is convincing evidence to suggest that this dummy, like Prince heading to Boots after a successful double hip replacement, was actually patented by Barcelona’s Paraguaian star Eulogio Martínez some 15 years earlier.

READ MORE: The football pioneer you’ve never heard of

READ MORE: Murder, manslaughter and Marco Asensio


South America is the source of many footballing extravagances, including the Flip Flap. Also known as the Elastico, because of this dribbling feint’s rubber-limbed finesse, the most famous exponent is Ronaldinho, a one-man crossbar challenge machine who minted many of the sport’s flyest tricks. But it was actually invented by Japanese-Brazilian Sérgio Echigo and popularised at the 1970 World Cup final by countryman Rivellino. However, it’s not a move for mere soccer mortals, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic can confirm.


Whatever happened to David Bentley? Last seen wrapping his boot around a corner during a Siberian blizzard, it’s possible he’s making a very good living for himself thanks very much touring this slice of sporting impossibility. Never publicly performed on a football field, the former Spurs misfit debuted his masterpiece from atop a London tower block to win a £15,000 watch. Sadly, Bentley’s football career followed said trick into the skip shortly after. Check it out at the Moscow State Circus right after the dancing bears.


Other than the Drawn Out Nervous Breakdown, goalkeepers rarely pioneer football phenomenons. But Colombian René “El Loco” Higuita reportedly invented the Scorpion Kick, showcasing it to the world at Wembley in 1995. This moment of magic “demonstrated that the spectacle had not died: that the game, in spite of its many flaws, could provide moments of glory that had little to do with just victory or defeat,” gushed sports historian Andreas Campomar. Like ecstatic, extraordinarily sophisticated buses, you wait 20 years for one to come along and two arrive in the same season, via Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud, winner of FIFA’s 2017 Puskas Award for goal of the year.

READ MORE: Inside the mind of football’s madmen

READ MORE: From Total Football to total shambles


What is it with extravagantly gifted footballers, sublime skills and doomed futures? Ravel Morrison’s career has been on the down and down ever since he tried to do a Paul Pogba at Manchester United and ended up playing for Club Atlas in Mexico rather than Juventus in Italy. But there’s no questioning the absolute majesty of this trick, produced for the one and only time on England Under 21 duty in 2013. Could Jose Mourinho perform another dramatic volte-face and take the next plane out to Guadalajara? Doubtful.


The first documented performance of this outlandish cross-kick is thought to be Argentinian Ricardo Infante in a 1948 match between Estudiantes de la Plata and Rosario Central. El Gráfico football magazine celebrated the trick with a front cover showing Infante dressed as a schoolboy under the caption: “El infante que se hizo la rabona” meaning “The infant plays hooky.” There have been many famous exponents, including Pele, Diego Maradona, Erik Lamela, Mario Balotteli (naturally) and perhaps most memorably, Andrés Vasquez for IFK Göteborg in 2007.


Pioneered by Brazilian Kerlon, no one really understands why the Seal Dribble never caught on. Perhaps because every time the attacking midfielder performed it he got poleaxed by the opposition, who considered the trick a provocative insult. In fact, Atlético Mineiro’s Dyego Rocha Coelho was banned for 120 days in 2007 after cleaning out Kerlon as he bounced the ball from his forehead while sashaying happily towards goal, prompting a full-on brawl.


Thought there was more to Kasabian than headlining V Festival every year and coming from Leicester? Not a great deal although band mastermind Serge Pizzorno has got the best name to be associated with “the beautiful game” since Norman Conquest hung up his boots. The only thing more outrageous than the suede shoes the musician wore on Soccer AM in 2007, a TV programme famous for showboating, was his stunning volley live on-air. You can retire happy now Serge. Preferably from both football and music.


Few footballers will be remembered for their throw ins. But that’s the dubious honour bestowed upon Rory Delap, who haunted Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger for many years as the bleedingly obvious secret weapon of tactical Luddite Tony Pulis. You can add to that list an Icelandic international with the rather forgettable name of Steinthor Freyr Thorsteinsson, who has perfected the gymnastic Flip Throw. How do you stop these missiles? Just put a man in front, Arsène.


What to read next