The theory is simple: you’re about to receive the ball – train your first touch. Think ahead, you need to know what’s next in advance. Open teammates? Keep possession – train your passing. Already close to goal, possibility to score? Practice your shooting skills. Missed. That’s OK, it was the right call. Now the opponents have possession, switch to your defensive stance. Practice your positioning. The ball is sliding towards your area – learn how and when to apply pressure off-the-ball. They were able to clear it away, but one of your teammates intercepts it. You should now open a passing lane for him – make a run towards the open space. He saw it. Get ready, you’re about to receive the ball.
This cycle represents a great chunk of what’s taught in football schools and youth academies throughout the world. And with good reason, because those technical and tactical concepts are so helpful. They cover most of the game’s situations, but are we not forgetting something? Dribbling has always been seen as a last resort applied in tough short-spaced decisions (although there are already specific drills for it) and probable makes up less than 1 percent of training sessions. However, in game context, that 1 percent may be decisive and actually, is what makes the game all the more beautiful.
Of course there is such a thing as overdribbling – after all, football is a team sport and successful dribbles are not the goal, scoring goals is the goal. But what can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic, so I got together a list of tricks and skills in order to celebrate dribbling, focusing on their righteous pioneers as well. Please note that this is not a Best Skills or a Top Dribblers List, but instead a non-ranked collection of some beautiful technical moves associated with the players that developed them and made them popular.
- Step Over: Nowadays, an everyday move. Reportedly invented in Latin America by striker Pedro Calomino, the Step Over (aka Scissors Dribble) is most useful when running towards your direct marker. Your body movements when you step over the ball with one leg send a message about the direction you’re moving in, and you can use that as a simulation to your advantage. Many players have mastered this dribble, but in more recent times, Ronaldo (The Phenomenon) raised the bar and showed all of its usefulness, while Cristiano Ronaldo came up with millions of Step Over combinations, turning them into many wingers’ weapon of choice.
- Elastico: Also known as Flip Flap because of the way you switch the side of the foot that’s controlling the ball, it is a powerful move when correctly used. Developed by Brazilian midfielder Rivellino, it’s almost as if you did a half-dribble towards one side, then changed your mind. If you get the defender leaning because he wasn’t able to think that fast, you can sprint right past them in the opposite direction. Ronaldinho Gaúcho, an all-around masterful trickster, exaggerated his initial body feint and that’s why his Elastico was so deadly.
- Cruyff Turn: It’s probably easy to guess who perfected this one. While Zico and Mané Garrincha had their special versions of Step Overs, the Dutch genius Johann Cruyff took a simple turn on the ball and made it an incredibly deceitful dribble. The upside of this move doesn’t necessarily reside in touching the ball behind the opposite leg, that’s fairly easy and predictable. It’s all about your body language – the chest and the head are facing one way, it definitely looks like you’re going to pass it, but it only takes a second of illusionism to fool the defender and carry the play forward in a different direction.
- Roulette: Beautiful to watch. Sometimes, three small steps is all you need to get yourself out of a tough situation: One foot pulls it back, away from the defender; then, your whole body turns in an unpredictable angle (I’m guessing around 90 degrees, no need to be a math expert); and your other foot does the rest, dragging the ball at your will. Diego Maradona used it quite often, and the way he used his center of mass was impressive. French legend Zinedine Zidane also mastered the Marseille Turn – how many times have we seen him contour two or more opponents in the same play?
- Rainbow Flick: When football meets magic. The ball is trapped between both feet and flicked over the opponent’s full body. It takes a good deal of practice and, well, a little help from the laws of physics. With a variety of different names and an uncertain origin, it is rarely witnessed in high-level football because of its associated risk of losing possession, but it’s still recorded from time to time, like a rare animal species. Jay-Jay Okocha was a notable exponent of this move and Neymar Jr. has recently produced some delightful moments. If successfully performed, it will linger on the spectators’ minds and the opponents’ ego for a long time.
The art of dribbling is something that is fully explored in what’s called freestyle football, a culture of its own. These are only some of the moves that captivate the attention and spark delight in millions of football fans – if you’re one of them, stick around for Part II.