The bicycle kick, when executed correctly, is one of the most spectacular sights to be seen on a football field. Also known as a scissors kick or an overhead kick, it describes the action whereby a player with his back to goal kicks an airborne ball backward. It is executed by throwing the body back into the air, and then making a shearing movement to get the ball-striking foot in front of the other, before falling to the ground once the ball has been struck.
While it can be used in defensive situations to clear the ball away from the penalty area, it is more commonly associated with attacking moves and attempts to score. It is a highly complex move, and few players have the nerve to try it. And, while when it succeeds, it is often a thing of beauty, it can go spectacularly wrong as well. It can also cause injury to the player attempting it, so non-professionals should not try this in their local park games.
Ironically, it can be argued that bicycle kick goals succeed because the cross that produces them was terrible, forcing a player to improvise and twist their bodies into an unnatural position when they should have to head the ball forwards. German motion expert Hermann Schwameder described it thus “what you need is instinct, a lot of courage, - and a bad cross.”
There is some dispute about who invented the bicycle kick. In one version of events, it was the creation of Ramón Galeano who moved from Spain to Chile in the first years of the 20th century, and who is believed to have first practiced the move in the port of Talcahuano, and who would execute the move in both defense and attack. After showcasing the movement in both the 1916 and 1920 Copa Américas, the Argentine press christened it in his honor, la chileňa.
An alternative story is that the move was invented in Peru by a local of African descent – known as a chalaco – who first attempted it in a game played with visiting British sailors, perhaps as early as 1892.
Another player who claimed to have invented it was Brazilian striker Leonidas, whose elasticity earned him the nickname “The Rubber Man.” However, records suggested that he first used it in 1932 playing for his club Bonsucesso, which was more than a decade after Galeono first produced it.
Other claimants include Juventus centre-back Carlo Parola, who executed the move so often that he perhaps acquired the epithet “Mr. Reverse Kick”, and, probably, the least likely, Doug Ellis, who was chairman of Aston Villa for many years, and who asserted that he invented the move whilst playing for Southport during the Second World War. Here are six of the best bicycle kicks ever scored
Cristiano Ronaldo – Champions League Quarter-Final, Real Madrid v Juventus
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored some stunning goals in his time but, arguably, none better than the one he produced against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium when playing for Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final in 2018. It was so good that UEFA named it their Goal of the Season.
Ronaldo had given Real a first-half lead, but there seemed little danger when early in the second-half Martin Vasquez picked up a loose ball on the right and sent in a cross to Ronaldo. The ball was not only behind the striker but above his head, but that did not matter. Launching himself acrobatically through the air, he executed a perfect bicycle kick that flew past Gigi Buffon into the Juventus net before anybody else could react.
The strike was so good that the home fans get to their feet to applaud the Portuguese marksman. Perhaps it is no surprise that Juventus paid Real €100 million (£90 million) to acquire his services at the end of the season.
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United v Manchester City
Labeled the best Premier League goal ever, Rooney described the goal that won the Manchester derby in February 2011 as the most important he ever scored for the club. Nani had given United the lead only for David Silva to equalize in somewhat fortuitous fashion.
With United seemingly on the verge of dropping points in the title race, Rooney spectacularly clinched the match. Twelve minutes remained on the clock when Nani sent in a cross from the right of the area. The ball was high and behind Rooney, who was lurking near the penalty spot. However, he reacted in an instant, readjusted his position and then sent an acrobatic kick past City goalkeeper Joe Hart who barely had time to respond.
Hart later insisted that Rooney had not made perfect contact and had shinned it in, but that does not detract from the quality of the strike at all. United would go on to win the League title that year.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden v England
Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovich has never been a man to suffer from false modesty. He is fully aware of his enormous talents, which have seen enjoy a glittering club career across Europe and now in America with the MLS. He is also the highest scoring player for the Swedish national team of all time, scoring 62 times in 118 internationals, before finally bowing out of the international scene in 2016.
However, arguably his highest ever goal in a Sweden shirt came in a friendly with England in November 2012. He had already grabbed a hat trick in the match when he put the cap on a superb individual performance with a moment of supreme improvisation.
A long clearance found England goalkeeper Joe Hart racing out of his area to head the ball clear over the advancing Ibrahimovich. The ball floated in the air, and with his back to goal 35 yards out, the striker watched the football onto his right foot. He connected correctly sending the ball in an arc into the unguarded England net.
Sweden ran out 4 – 2 winners of the match.
Ibrahimovic soon found out the other significant fact about bicycle kicks – they can go wrong and, when they do, the perpetrator can look very foolish. Attempting to replicate the strike when playing for Paris Saint-Germain in a French cup tie against Saint-Etienne, he missed the ball completely, landing ignominiously on the turf.
Gareth Bale, Real Madrid v Liverpool
Gareth Bale’s strike for Real Madrid in the Champions League final is arguably the greatest ever goal to be scored in a significant showpiece final. And it was composed by a player who had only been on the pitch two minutes at the time, having been introduced as a second-half substitute when the teams were level at one goal apiece.
The goal originated with a cross from full-back Marcelo with his weaker right foot. Fellow forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema occupied the Liverpool defenders, giving Bale just the space he needed to set himself, taking a vital step to creating an angle. Then he sailed into the air, and then waved his left foot at the ball, connecting with the sweetish of strikes, past the despairing dive of Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius.
Bale would go to claim a second in the match, although that was far more prosaic as Karius let slip a single shot that he would be expected to save at any time.
Angelo Vaccaro, Honved v Ferencvaros
Italian striker Angelo Vaccaro was playing for Hungarian side Honved against Budapest side Ferencvaros managed to produce one of the best overhead goals of all time, after taking a very poor penalty. Honved were already leading the match 1 – 0 when they were awarded a spot-kick, which Vaccaro took. He struck the ball well, but at a perfect height for the goalkeeper, who pushed it into the air. Vaccaro watched the football as it dropped, and oblivious to the on-rushing defenders flicked the ball over his head, and the keeper, into the net.
Oscarine Masuluke, Baroka FC v Orlando Pirates
While the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney, and Bale may be household names, Oscarine Masuluke would be barely known outside his native South Africa were it not for this one moment of extraordinary skill that came in a South African Premier League match. What makes it all the more remarkable is that, unlike the other goals on this list which were all scored by strikes, Masuluke is a goalkeeper.
And his goal could not have come more dramatically. Trailing 1 – 0 and deep into injury time, Baroka were awarded a corner. Masuluke duly made his way into the Orlando penalty area, hoping to get ahead on the ball, or otherwise create a nuisance of himself. However, Orlando headed the ball away to the edge of the area behind Masuluke. The goalkeeper suddenly flipped the ball over his shoulder, and the ball flew into the net to spark wild celebrations on and off the pitch, as Baroka secured a valuable point.
As the commentators on the match said “Unbelievable, you have never seen anything like it in your life.”