The history of the beautiful game is packed full of legendary figures who have defined occasions and eras, but perhaps the greatest testament to any player’s legacy is being forever remembered for their signature skill.
Creative ingenuity is all the more admired in the confines of a team sport, and this selection of iconic players were never afraid to express themselves with extraordinary pieces of individualism.
These players may not have necessarily invented these superb skills but there is no doubt they mastered them at the very highest level, and it is difficult to see any player repeat these moves without evoking memories of the stars most synonymous with each moment of magic.
Here are five iconic footballers and their unforgettable signature moves:
Ronaldo – Step-over
Amongst the most commonly used skills in the modern game, there is no player who perfected the step-over quite like Ronaldo Nazario.
The original carnation of what would become a famous footballing name is regarded by many as the greatest number nine to have graced the game, an implausibly complete footballer whose bullish strength and balletic balance captivated like few others when in full flight.
From the moment a teenage Ronaldo set foot in Europe defenders were at his mercy, with backline after backline failing in their attempts to stop the exhilarating Brazilian and his unique whirlwind of speed and skill.
Ronaldo had all manner of tricks in his extensive repertoire, but none would remain as synonymous as the step-over. The image of the striker feigning one way before flashing by the other is amongst the most defining of nineties football, the flawless execution of the technique leaving many a defender – and notably a goalkeeper – utterly perplexed.
Zinedine Zidane – Roulette
The finest footballer of a generation and a man whose touch and technique were unrivalled throughout a storied career of skill and success.
The roulette, also known as the pirouette and Marseille turn amongst other names, has been executed by several leading names including the likes of Garrincha and Diego Maradona, but perhaps never quite with the artistic grace of Zinedine Zidane.
Figurehead of a golden generation for French football, the images of Zidane spinning away from challenges is a microcosm of the player’s magic, a playmaker for whom time looked to stand still whenever he received possession.
The protagonist for club and country and a player whose artistry is yet to be repeated, Zidane was the star amongst stars for both France and Real Madrid, creating moment after moment of majestic magic including his fabled signature spin.
Juninho – Knuckleball free-kick
No player took free-kicks like Juninho Pernambucano.
That might seem an outlandish statement, but it’s one that’s difficult to argue given the Samba star’s list of set-piece stunners.
The knuckle-ball may now be a common technique with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Didier Drogba amongst the names to have fired free-kicks with deadly and deceiving dip, but Juninho was the innovative master of the modern phenomenon.
Juninho’s best years came in the colours of Lyon, winning seven successive Ligue 1 titles with the French side and delighting crowds with his excellence from a dead-ball. The Brazilian’s brilliance was almost witchcraft, striking a ball that failed to spin – making it swerve and shake to leave opposition goalkeepers grasping at nothing but thin air.
Juninho says his technique was tweaked from past greats of Brazilian football, a strike of a football that seemed defy both gravity and science and one the playmaker firmly made his own.
Ronaldinho – Elastico
Expressive and exciting, brilliant and bamboozling, Ronaldinho’s brief reign as football’s finest player saw the Brazilian embarrass defenders in signature style and all with a smile upon his face.
Ronaldinho’s fun-loving style was visibly apparent whenever he stepped out onto the pitch, a player who relished his role as an on-field entertainer, his showboating style endearing him to the masses the world over.
Under-the-wall free-kicks and no-look passes are amongst the skills the former Ballon d’Or winner helped bring to public consciousness, but it is the elastico for which he will forever be most synonymous with.
Dribbling at speed with spellbinding skill, Ronaldinho would flip the ball one way with the outside of his foot, before bringing it back in one movement with the inside of the same foot to leave opposition players twisted and turned.
A gifted genius whose fun and flair inspired a generation.
Johan Cryuff – Cruyff turn
Johan Cruyff’s influence on football is likely to be everlasting, one of the sport’s all-time greats and a pioneer of Total Football – a starring influence on the history of both Dutch football and Barcelona.
The three-time Ballon d’Or winner is also the inventor of arguably football’s most famously named skill, his Cruyff turn shooting to prominence during a World Cup fixture between the Netherlands and Sweden in 1974.
The move came with Cruyff facing towards his own goal and tightly marked, before feigning a pass and dragging the ball behind his standing leg to spin 180 degrees and leave the defender completely bewildered.
So simplistic yet almost impossible to stop, the Cruyff turn is another indelible mark left on football by one of the greatest to have ever played the game.