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Who is the best at direct free-kicks: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo…or James Ward-Prowse?

The Paris Saint-Germain, former Manchester United and Southampton players have scored a host of free-kicks over the years but who would you want to step up to take one for your club?

Is it a myth that Messi and Ronaldo are deadly from set-pieces and is James Ward-Prowse now the best free-kick taker in the world?

Well after James Ward-Prowse added another to his tally with a superb effort against Brighton on Sunday afternoon, Planet Sport takes a look at the cold, hard facts in this three-way free-kick battle.


They are undoubtedly two of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen, but are they two of the greatest direct free-kick takers?

Messi and Ronaldo have netted a combined 116 goals from dead balls in almost 2,000 appearances.

There's nothing between them either, with both Messi and Ronaldo level on 58 career free-kick goals. The Portuguese striker drew level earlier this month with his superb effort against Norwich.

Before that though, Ronaldo's last set-piece success came for his previous club, Juventus, in the Derby della Mole with Torino on July 4, 2020.

The 25-yard strike proved to be his only free-kick goal for the Italian outfit, despite spending three seasons in Turin.

At club level, Messi has bagged 50 free-kicks, averaging one every 16.1 games, while Ronaldo has 48 to his name,finding the net every 19 games.

In league matches, Messi has 39 to CR7's 33.

Portugal's all-time record scorer shines more from dead balls in the Champions League, having recorded 12 free-kicks in comparison to Messi's five and also on the international stage with 10 to Messi's eight. However, the PSG player's last two successful direct free-kicks have come for his nation, against Chile and Ecuador.
Southampton captain Ward-Prowse has gained a huge reputation from dead-ball situations and has moved second on the Premier League list of direct free-kick goals, behind only David Beckham.

JWP scored his 14th Premier League free-kick in spectacular fashion against Brighton in April. It was his fourth free-kick goal of the campaign following on from strikes against Wolves, Crystal Palace and Leeds.

To put Ward-Prowse's achievement into perspective, the 27-year-old has already scored more Premier League free-kicks than Ronaldo (11), Sebastian Larsson (11) and Laurent Robert (also 11).

He has made exactly 300 top-flight appearances and averages a free-kick goal every 21.4 matches but with the bulk of those having come in the past few seasons, his average is improving.


Ronaldo opts for a knuckleball technique, which he has made his own. It is viewed as a high risk, high reward style, with power favoured over accuracy which has resulted in Ronaldo taking some pretty atrocious set-pieces. However, it has seen him score some incredible free-kicks, with perhaps one of his best being against Portsmouth in 2008 at Old Trafford, when the ball was fired past a helpless David James.
Messi's technique is more suitable for free-kicks around 20-25 yards out, with a smaller, slower run-up that sees him curl the ball with his left foot.
He has scored free-kicks from 30-plus yards, with one of his most memorable strikes coming against Liverpool in the 2018/19 Champions League when he curled the ball over the wall and past a despairing Alisson.
Ward-Prowse bases his free-kick technique on that of the successful stance of compatriot David Beckham and has openly stated that in the past - Becks scored 18 times directly from free-kicks in the Premier League.
The Saints player stands at a 90 degree angle to the ball, taking four or five small steps and then curls the ball, swinging his arm in the process to get the right direction on the ball. It is a technique that has proven to be deadly accurate and he certainly is a master of getting a ball up and over a wall.

Conversion rates

There has been a big deal made of Messi and Ronaldo's free-kick conversion rates over the past 10 years and it is undoubtedly Messi who leads the way.

Since 2014, Argentina's captain has taken 297 free-kicks on goal and of those he has scored 28 for a conversion rate of 9.4%. In the same timeframe, Ronaldo has taken significantly less free-kicks (150), scoring five for a conversion rate of just 3.3%.

In league matches, Messi has taken 433 shots from free-kicks, scoring 39.

Even though Messi has taken more free-kicks than Ronaldo in recent years, CR7 has taken nearly 100 more in his career, with 533 shots from dead balls and 33 resulting in goals (6.1%).

Since the start of the 2017/18 season, Ward-Prowse has taken 76 shots from free-kicks in league matches, scoring 14.

All three players have scored multiple free-kicks in a match, with Messi and Ronaldo managing the feat three times and Ward-Prowse bagging two free-kicks in a clash with Aston Villa in 2020.
However, if your team were awarded a free-kick 25 yards from goal in the final minute of a match with the scores level, of the three, it would still be Messi you'd want to take it.

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