How It Works
CARSON, CA - MAY 14:  David Beckham #23 of the Los Angeles Galaxy takes a free kick against Sporting Kansas City at The Home Depot Center on May 14, 2011 in Carson, California.  The Galaxy won 4-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The physics of free kicks

CARSON, CA - MAY 14:  David Beckham #23 of the Los Angeles Galaxy takes a free kick against Sporting Kansas City at The Home Depot Center on May 14, 2011 in Carson, California.  The Galaxy won 4-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

 

It’s all to do with air flow. When a player slices across a football, it begins to spin. As it travels through the air, the side that is going with the wind has increased drag and the side going against the wind has reduced drag.

This creates a pressure imbalance with lower pressure on the side with increased drag. The ball then gets pushed that way and that’s what the curl is.

Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo concentrates before a free kick during the Euro 2012 football championships semi-final match Portugal vs Spain on June 27, 2012 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD        (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/GettyImages)
Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo concentrates before a free kick during the Euro 2012 football championships 

With Ronaldo’s knuckleball free kicks, he aims to kick the ball with as little spin as possible. As it flies through the air, a layer of air wraps itself tightly round the ball. If that layer is disrupted by an imperfection, like a stitched panel edge, it will deviate, causing that unexpected swerve and dip.

Here is a video showcasing ten of the best free kicks of all time.