On April 29, 2017, the past and the future of Juventus made a friendly gamble on Twitter. Alessandro Del Piero challenged Paulo Dybala to have a free kick competition with Gigi Buffon as a guest goalkeeper. This interesting wager opened a debate across the cyberspace. Fans argued all around the world about who is more skilled, Pinturicchio or La Joya.
We are still waiting for the outcome. Nonetheless, Del Piero and Dybala are not alone, both are part of an impressive tradition of Bianconeri sharpshooters. It is undeniable the importance of free kicks in the modern era, and with that in mind, I will take a brief look of the greatest Juventus’ free kick takers of the last 25 years.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Diego Maradona’s Napoli, Gianluca Vialli’s Sampdoria and Marco Van Basten’s Milan ruled Serie A. La Vecchia Signora was struggling mightily in an Italian championship where Catenaccio was still king. Teams needed a fuoriclasse to conquer those fierce defenses. Knowing that Juventus completed a polemic transaction and brought Roberto Baggio from Fiorentina.
Robby was a difference maker in Turin. He challenged the culture of Italian soccer. Sometimes, it seemed that Il Codino played as if he was taking part of a pick-up game in his backyard. On one occasion, he declared, “I have never really been satisfied with the easily-scored goal.” I believe that this is the reason he mastered the difficult indirect free kicks.
In 1993, for example, Baggio scored a wonderful goal using this method to eliminate the powerful Paris Saint-Germain in the semifinals of the UEFA Cup. This goal catapulted Juventus to win the tournament against Borussia Dortmund. Robby was awarded the Ballon d’Or that season.
The very next year, also in the semifinals of the UEFA Cup, Baggio kicked another violent direct free kick against Dortmund. Juventus pulverized the Bavarians, but they lost the final against Parma.
Baggio left Juventus in 1995 due to a series of injuries and the rise of a certain youngster named Alessandro Del Piero. However, his magic is still remembered in Turin.
Alessandro Del Piero
Baggio left Turin and found for few years a home in Milan. This fact opened one of the greatest chapters in Juventus history, the legend of Alessandro Del Piero.
Del Piero was the owner of the dead-ball situation in Turin for nearly two decades. Alex’s and Baggio’s styles were different. Baggio was an anarchist free kick taker, while Del Piero executed a more classic technique. Pinturicchio once claimed, "In reality, there are not many ways to take a free kick. The important thing is that it goes in. I don't know the secret. Since I was young I have analyzed free kicks and tried them. It's practice, continual practice.”
We remember Alex’s signature curling shots;. However, Il Capitano also showcased power when it was needed it. For example, in 2005, Juventus was playing against Rapid Wien, when the bianconeri gained a free kick in the 35th minute. The distance was considerable, but Alex hit the ball with his laces and fired a powerful textbook shot.
The world of football recognized that Del Piero was a complete free kick taker.
One of the most important characteristics of ADP was his dead-ball executions during clutch time. On Nov. 5, 2008, Juventus were playing against Real Madrid in the mythical Santiago Bernabéu. In that match, Alex completed a historic brace with a pinpoint free kick that left Iker Casillas without a chance. Juventus won the game and Madrid supporters gave Alex a standing ovation.
Another example is the last free kick goal of Alex with the black and white jersey. On April 11, 2012, Juventus played a key match against Lazio at the Juventus Stadium. The team coached by Antonio Conte was fighting with Milan for the Scudetto at that time. The match was 1-1 and Federico Marchetti was having one of his classic Superman nights against the Bianconeri. Del Piero entered the game as a substitute in the second half. Ten minutes later, Alex fired a curled free kick which entered in the bottom right corner of Marchetti’s goal.
That goal catapulted Juventus to their first Scudetto since 2006. Currently, Del Piero is the third-best free kick scorer in Serie A history with 22 goals.
Baggio arrived in Brescia on 2000 after playing for Milan, Bologna, and Inter. A year later, a promising young trequartista joined him. Baggio was Brescia’s attacking midfielder, that is why the talented Andrea Pirlo began to play as regista. Pirlo played in Brescia with other iconic players like Luca Toni and Pep Guardiola, but it was Baggio who left an impression on Andrea. Pirlo declared: “Baggio took free kicks like no other. I just used to stand there. I studied and trained with him for days. I think I learned something in the end.”
As you know, Pirlo left Brescia and he became a legend at Milan. At the same time, he also turned into an obsessive researcher of the free kicks technique. Consequently, he developed an impressive arsenal. He learned to shoot the ball under, over or even around the wall with pinpoint accuracy.
Amazingly, Milan did not renew Pirlo’s contract on 2011. Giuseppe Marotta took advantage of Milan’s bad judgment and brought Andrea’s magic to Turin. Notably, since the beginning, Pirlo terrorized Juventus’ opponents with his signature shot, La Maledetta. Pirlo conceived La Maledetta when he studied Brazilian free kick legend Juninho Pernambucano. He noticed that Juninho hit the ball with just three toes, giving the ball an unpredictable trajectory. He mentioned: “I collected CDs, DVDs and even photos of his games…It was not an immediate discovery. It took time and patience.”
The Architect scored 12 magical dead-ball goals with the Bianconeri in Serie A before moving to the United States and Major League Soccer in 2015. He scored 28 free kick goals in Serie A. It is a record that he shares with Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Pirlo admired Juninho Pernambucano, but the Brazilian had his own apprentice. He was a Bosnian teenager named Miralem Pjanic. When Pjanic was 18 years old, he arrived at Juninho’s Olympique Lyonnais. During that time the Brazilian took Miralem under his wing. “It’s difficult to compare him to me. Mire has incredible quality. He is maybe the best free kick taker in the world today,” Juninho acknowledged to L’Equipe in 2015. He added that he always said to Pjanic that “repetition of the action was the most important thing in order to become a great free-kick taker.”
Juninho and Pjanic are two different kinds of shooters, but their consistency is the card which defines both of them. Nowadays, the Bosnian maestro is a living textbook.
Pjanic was transferred to Roma in 2011. He scored 11 free kick goals with the Giallorossi before leaving the Italian capital in 2016 to join Juventus. During that period, he was only surpassed by Pirlo, who marked 12 goals with the Old Lady. In his first season with Juventus, Pjanic scored three goals from a dead ball position. He marked two in Serie A and one in the Italian Super Cup.
Finally, it is the turn of La Joya.
Dybala, 23, is only beginning to write his own legend with Juventus, but he has started with a bang. He has always shared the responsibilities of executing free kicks in Turin — first with Paul Pogba and later with Pjanic this past season. In this way, it is well known in Vinovo that every Thursday, he stays extra hours with Pjanic to improve his technique.
One of his best goals was against his former club, Palermo, in 2016. In that game, Dybala fired a wicked curve into Palermo’s goalkeeper left the top corner. It was an authentic golazo. He posteriorly declared that it was one of his favorites goals with Juventus.
La Joya has been impressive during his two years in Turin. In this period, he scored an impressive 19.2 percent of his free kicks attempts in Serie A. Amazingly, in these two seasons, his efficiency is above Panic’s, who scored 14.9 percent of his attempts.
Paulo is starting his career, but it looks like he will continue to carry the torch of this selected group. Right now, Dybala has showcased the skills to become a world-class free kick master.
Who is your favorite free kick taker of the last 25 years?
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Alessandro Del Piero