The free-kick is always a thrill to witness. They can be a piece of fine craftsmanship, curved around the defensive wall; a big dipper struck over the line of defenders; the falling leaf of Brazilian lore; a strike with the sickle-shaped foot, generating immense dip and swerve; something from a cheeky mind stroked under the wall; or simply a ferocious, thunderous rip beyond the goalkeeper.
Over the years, football has seen many players who have specialised in taking set-pieces. Many of these are golden names of the sport – Zico, Platini, Beckham, Ronaldinho – yet none of them were able to find the net three times from a free-kick in the same game. Indeed, three-kicks are amongst the most elusive of achievements.
By comparison, a hat-trick of penalties is a far more common occurrence. During the 2017/18 season, Scott Fenwick scored a penalty hat-trick in successive games for National League South side Chelmsford City. Legendary goalscoring goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert netted a hat-trick of penalties to become the first goalkeeper to three in a game.
Only one player – on record, at least – has scored a perfect hat-trick of set-pieces. Taking the left foot, right foot, header concept of the perfect hat-trick and placing that in the set-piece realm, this is a hat trick comprising of a penalty, a free-kick and a corner. In 2010, Brazilain Márcio Richardes achieved this feat while playing in the J League for Albirex Niigata. It’ll take some beating.
Unsurprisngly, Lionel Messi has a story of sorts within this realm, too. In March 2018, against Girona, he showed all of his craftsmanship to stroke a free-kick under the wall, catching the LaLiga minnows’ defence cold. During the next game against Las Palmas, he thundered in a free-kick to the goalkeeper’s right, struck with a ferocity not usually associated with the 598 goals prior to this. Days later, Barcelona played Atlético Madrid. For the third successive game, Messi would show his dead ball prowess, curving a strike up and over the wall to net three in as many games.
Juninho Pernambucano is recognised as one of the very best set-piece takers there’s been, and if anyone was capable of the treble, surely it would be the Brazilian. He got close. Against Auxerre in 2002. he scored a hat-trick, with two of the goals from dead balls. Against Toulouse in 2005. he again struck twice with free-kicks. Three years later he scored two against Nice. On three occasions he made it to the free-kick brace, just missing out on the treble.
Perhaps the closest individual to making the final cut is Ian Harte, the former Leeds left-back, who scored three free-kicks in a pre-season friendly against Blackburn Rovers in August 2000. Sadly, keeping it as competitive as possible, there’s no space for the Irishman.
Five men, however, have achieved the feat. And it reveals a few surprises.
Juninho was world famous for being one of the first players to use a knuckleball style when striking the ball. When Juninho took a free-kick close to goal, he struck the ball closer to the inside of his foot, changing to the laces when further out so the ball would swerve a little more. This is the knuckleball and is popular today. Despite that. the three strikes of Beppe Signori are far removed from the Juninho method.
Signori was a hero at Lazio. The fans loved his left foot and scoring prowess, becoming one of the deadliest marksmen in calcio.
In April 1994, against Atalanta, Signori became the first player I saw to score a hat-trick of free-kicks. The first two came via a touch and drive; both flashed through the wall and past a goalkeeper who remained upright. The final goal was reminiscent of a Signori penalty, just from another 10 yards out.
The Italian’s one-step penalty style was copied in playgrounds the world over – but no one could do it like Signori. The hat-trick strike was a one-step free-kick from a central position. With the inside of his foot, he bent the ball at pace into the left corner. Once again, the ‘keeper didn’t dive. Signori had made an indelible mark and cemented a place in football folklore in true style.
In Serie A history there have been two hat-tricks of free-kicks, both scored by Lazio players and both entirely left-footed affairs.
Siniša Mihajlović was one of the more intriguing characters of late-1990s and early-2000s football. A brutal defender with a wonderfully classy left foot, on the ball he was a Balkan Ronald Koeman, while off it he was at times like Vinnie Jones. His Koeman-like qualities extended to his prowess from free-kicks, with the Serb later admitting: “I played football for the free-kicks. I didn’t like football all that much, but the free-kicks were great. For me, that is football. If there hadn’t been that, I might not have played.”
Mihajlović played in Italy from 1992 to 2006, turning out for Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter. In 1998, he wore the Lazio shirt against his former club Sampdoria and gave a masterclass in whipping a free-kick. His first two strikes went over the wall and curled away from the left hand of the Sampdoria goalkeeper. The final effort curved inwards to the right of the goalkeeper, starting outside the far post and bending in with the skill of a magician.
It was a hat-trick of technical precision, with his body shape before striking the ball picture perfect. Thrusting his arm out to the side for balance, his left leg cocked and his right foot landed next to the ball in the same position each time to generate speed and curl. The consistency with which Mihajlović could do makes him one of the best dead-ball experts in history.
Ray McKinnon had a long and well-travelled career within England and Scotland. At one point he was the great hope of Scottish football, snapped up at young age by Nottingham Forest, but it didn’t play out as hoped. He began his career at Dundee United, having two spells there as a player before returning as manager in 2016, 20 years after he hit a hat-trick of free-kicks.
McKinnon is the first right footer on this list. His opening goal was a mirror to Mihajlović final strike. From wide to the left of the D, a fast, swinging free-kick arrowed into the corner. The Kilmarnock goalkeeper’s only move was that of his head, tracking the path of the ball into the goal. The second strike saw a jog mournful jog towards the ball as McKinnon unfurled an effort from a more central position with immense pace into the top left corner. The ha- trick was completed by a low, skidding shot with just enough bend to take it around the wall and inside the bottom corner.
McKinnon was not a prolific scorer of any type of goal, never registering more than half a dozen in a season. Indeed, in his career, he scored fewer goals than Mihajlović scored free-kicks. And yet he’s on this list, forever embedded in history as a member of this elite club.
Kostas Frantzeskos – a player many outside of Greece won’t have ever heard of – was a set-piece expert, holding the record for goals off dead balls in the Greek top flight and a dramatic World Cup qualification winner against Bosnia. Coining the famous quote, “Next time we win a penalty and they want me to take it, I’ll ask for a wall”, Frantzeskos was a prolific goalscorer, notching over a hundred career goals, most notably for PAOK.
In the same season as Ray McKinnon’s feat, Frantzeskos scored a free-kick treble. He waited until the final day of the season to become another left-footed member of the club. In what will almost never be emulated, Frantzeskos scored his hat-trick in two different kits, with PAOK changing their strip at half-time.
In the first half, donning PAOK’s traditional black and white stripes, Frantzeskos swerved a low shot on the goalkeeper’s side, closer to the centre of the goal than the corner, and it snuck its way in. Still in black and white, he casually stroked the ball over a wall that forgot to jump for his second, casually wandering back to the halfway line in celebration.
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In a predominantly white kit, Krantzekos would complete his hat-trick, again jogging back to his half as if scoring a free-kick – not least a hat-trick – was nothing special. Perhaps when faced with the sort of talent the Greek had from set-pieces, we may have done the same.
Cristiano da Silva
The most recent player to score the three is Cristiano da Silva in 2015. Playing in the J League for Kashiwa Reysol, his treble would have made fellow right-footed Brazilian Juninho proud.
The first was a classic banana shot around the wall from a central position. The second, from a position wide on the left that would normally facilitate a cross, saw da Silva go over the wall at pace with so much dip that the ball bounced next to the front post before crossing the line. The final goal adds a different type of free-kick to this particular collection. From over 30 yards, his laces crash through the back of the ball, with it never rising more than eight inches off the ground, kissing the surface before nestling into the bottom corner.
Cristiano Da Silva is something of a cult figure amongst the gaming community. He has become popular with players of FIFA Ultimate Team as his avatar has high levels of speed, shooting and skill for a low-priced player. Many of them discovered his card first, then his hat-trick.
My quest for hat-tricks of free-kicks is not over. Five in over a century of football is surely too few and none of them are from before the 1990s. The makeup of football itself has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, but surely there have been others prior to these five.
If you know of any, shoot me a message below and we’ll add them to the list.
By Peter Prickett @PeterPrickett