"Place your non-kicking foot beside the ball, bring your kicking foot over the top or around the side of the ball and in one quick motion strike the front of the ball with your heel." That, according to a tutorial on the website of England's Football Association, is all it takes. One of the most spectacular techniques in any player's arsenal, the back-heel can sound like mere child's play when laid out step by step.
Feel free to try it out in the comfort of your own your garden or living room – but could you pull off the same move during a match? Or while running at top speed and at full stretch? And how about during the final of one of the most important tournaments on the planet? A select few footballers have what it takes to master the back-heel in the tightest of spots and those gut-churning moments when the stakes are incredibly high. FIFA.com now pays tribute to their talent and audacity, recalling some of the most memorable moments ever provoked by the back of a heel connecting with leather.
The recent goal scored by Didier Drogba in Galatasaray's UEFA Champions League quarter-final decider against Real Madrid proved that the back-heel has by no means gone out of fashion. If anything, the veteran striker was honouring a vibrant tradition in European club competition, with Rabah Madjer having registered one of the most beguiling examples in history in 1987. Alert and courageous enough to attempt the extraordinary, the Algerian international helped Porto claim their first ever continental title with a stroke of genius against Bayern Munich in the decider. "I had my back to goal and the only way I could score was with a back-heel," Madjer explained to FIFA.com, having followed up that strike by then assisting Juary to notch the winner in a 2-1 triumph. "It was an instinctive thing and I just did it. I didn't have any time to think about it. I tried it again in a league match just after the final and it went in that time too."
For all his other achievements, Madjer will forever be associated with his showpiece strike, 'une Madjer' having been enshrined in the French-speaking world as a synonym for back-heel. In Italy, meanwhile, the same flourish of skill could easily be named after Alessandro Del Piero, except that the iconic striker repeated the feat in a losing cause. Representing Juventus in the Champions League final ten years on from Madjer's moment in the sun, Del Piero could only find the net after a trio of goals helped Borussia Dortmund prevail 3-1.
Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is hoping to reach the final of Europe's premier club competition this year, and not least since he has already finished on the losing side twice. Those defeats still rankle, but the German international can pride himself on having helped his side sew up the Bundesliga title in record time this season, thanks to his back-heeled effort in the 1-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt on 6 April that ended the suspense. An adept exponent of the art, the 28-year-old also used his heel to score against Borussia Monchengladbach three years ago, although he could only watch in horror as Wolfsburg's Grafite did the same after slaloming through the Bayern defence in 2009, the Brazilian forward contributing to a 5-1 win in his club's title-winning campaign.
As Schweinsteiger and Grafite would no doubt attest, the back-heeled goal can enter folklore when produced in a game of great significance. That was also the experience of 1978 FIFA World Cup™ winner Leopoldo Luque, who made the magic happen for River Plate in December 1979. The Buenos Aires outfit needed a draw against Huracan to secure second place in Group B and qualify for the knockout phase of the national championship. The Millonarios fans present at the Estadio Monumental no doubt remember that their heroes did the necessary with a 1-1 draw, but they will never forget the goal that took them through. Racing on to a long pass down the left, Luque tapped the ball one side of the goalkeeper and accelerated past him on the other, before finishing the move with a deft flick of his heel. Having sealed their progress, River went on to claim the title.
Hernan Crespo began his career with the club from the Argentinian capital and clearly learned from the master, as he went on to make a habit of back-heeled strikes. Playing for Parma in the 1998/99 season, he could hardly get enough of them, in fact, using the back of his foot in the second leg of the Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina to help his team lift the trophy, doing likewise en route to a hat-trick in a 4-2 Serie A defeat of Juventus and conjuring a third against Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals. The former Argentina forward then scored again – in more conventional fashion, this time – as Parma beat Marseille in the showpiece.
I don't feel that it's difficult to do a back-heel: what's difficult is to analyse the right thing to do at the right moment.
Crespo got a taste of his own medicine that same season, however, with Lazio borrowing from the same bag of tricks to prevail at the Stadio Ennio Tardini. The scoreline was 1-1 between the two teams when Roberto Mancini met a corner on the volley and steered it past stunned Parma goalkeeper Luca Marchegiani with his heel. "Football is all about flashes of brilliance like that, and it was a masterpiece that affected our confidence," commented the home side's coach Alberto Malesani after Lazio sealed a 3-1 victory.
How times can change, though. Now manager of Manchester City, Mancini hauled off Mario Balotelli just moments after the striker attempted – and missed – a back-heel in a pre-season friendly against Los Angeles Galaxy in 2011. For Mancini, his player was guilty of overstepping the line between audacity and arrogance.
Another former City marksman was left with regrets after an even more famous attempt in the 1970s – despite finding the net with it in one of the most intense derby contests anywhere in sport. Denis Law was the player and Manchester United the opponents in a game at the end of the 1973/74 season, and incredibly his goal consigned City's fierce rivals to the second division.
While his team's supporters revelled in United's misery, however, Law himself was close to tears. Indeed, before moving to the sky-blue half of Manchester, the Scottish international had represented the Red Devils for 11 years. "I was inconsolable," said Law, still an Old Trafford legend despite that strike. "I didn't want it to happen. I played with all those guys. They were pals. I didn't want them down. It was the last thing in the world that I wanted."
'The right thing to do'
In contrast, Johan Cruyff could hardly have been happier when he rattled in one of the greatest goals of his illustrious career for Barcelona against Atletico Madrid in 1973. The game was still goalless when Carles Rexach sent in a cross from the right – and although the ball looked to be curling too far in front of its intended target, the Dutch phenomenon launched himself through the air and back-heeled it beyond goalkeeper Miguel Reina to open the scoring in a 2-1 win. "Cruyff is extraordinary, a player to be ranked alongside Alfredo Di Stefano," remarked Atletico Juan Carlos Lorenzo afterwards, making an apt comparison since the Real Madrid forward showed similar skill to notch one of his four goals in a match against Los Colchoneros in 1955.
The Blond Arrow is thus sure to have appreciated Cristiano Ronaldo's effort for Madrid against Rayo Vallecano in February 2012, the latest player to inherit Di Stefano's mantle at the Santiago Bernabeu securing a 1-0 victory in the process. "I didn't think about it," said the Portuguese international, who plundered 46 goals in total as Madrid claimed the Liga title last season. "I just back-heeled it and, because of that, I surprised the defenders and goalkeeper. That goal helped us get the win, so it had a double value."
French striker Thierry Henry managed 'just' 25 to help Arsenal finish Premier League runners-up in 2004/05, and Gunners fans still reminisce about his cheeky effort against Charlton Athletic in October 2004. Given possession by Jose Antonio Reyes and left with few obvious options as he faced away from goal, Henry caught Charlton No1 Dean Kiely off guard with a powerful and precise jab of the heel. That quick thinking helped Arsenal prevail 4-0, and afterwards manager Arsene Wenger explained what set his player – and all the other names on this list – apart from their peers: "I don't feel that it's difficult to do a back-heel: what's difficult is to analyse the right thing to do at the right moment."