Football News

Ex-set specialist Ian Harte names the Premier League’s best free-kick takers: “A whole different level”

By Ben Green

A whole different level” — Former deadball specialist Ian Harte names the best free-kick taker in the Premier League

Published: 14:30, 14 November 2022

Former set-piece specialist Ian Harte has provided his verdict on the best free-kick taker in the Premier League at the minute.

Harte, 45, cultivated a reputation for his set-piece expertise during his playing days for the likes of Leeds United, Levante and the Republic of Ireland.

The former left-back-cum-midfielder even once compared his free-kick taking ability to that of David Beckham and Roberto Carlos.

Indeed, Harte is better placed than most to give his thoughts on the game’s current best from deadball scenarios. And he has selected two names in particular who sit above the rest when it comes to curling one around a wall.

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Squawka interviewed Harte on behalf of bet365.

Asked who he believes are the best free-kick takers in the Premier League, he replied: “I think James Ward-Prowse is one, and Kevin De Bruyne is another. He is just on a whole different level.

“Technically he’s amazing, and the free kick he scored the other day against Leicester was literally right into the top corner.

“I think even if there had been two goalkeepers in there they wouldn’t have saved it.

“There are some very good technicians, and it’s always nice when you see it come off as well.”

Since the start of the 2016/17 Premier League season, Ward-Prowse is the only player to hit double digits for direct free-kicks scored (13). The England international is followed by James Maddison (eight), Philippe Coutinho (five) and then De Bruyne (four).

David Beckham has scored more direct free-kicks than any other player in Premier League history (18). The next-best total belongs to Ward-Prowse, who has scored more Premier League free-kicks than Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham combined (8 v 7) since the start of the 2020/21 season.

Ward-Prowse’s impressive talents with a still ball were unable to convince Gareth Southgate of handing him a place in England’s World Cup squad, which former Three Lion boss Roy Hodgson told Sky Sports “would have been one of the tougher phone calls that Southgate had to make.”

Then again, set-pieces are one area England where need little improvement. The men’s national team scored from five set-piece situations at both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 — more than twice as many as any other nation to compete in both competitions.

England have a crowded talent pool when it comes to corner- and free kick-takers. Alongside Ward-Prowse, Mason Mount has the joint-most assists (13) from set plays in the Premier League since the start of the 2019/20 season, followed by another England squad member, Trent Alexander-Arnold (12). Meanwhile, Kieran Trippier scored with two of his first four free-kicks for Newcastle and has created the joint-most chances from set-plays this Premier League season so far (22). The Newcastle full-back also has the best crossing accuracy (41.2%) of any player to attempt more than 30.

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Harte has already said he’ll be rooting for England in the World Cup despite his Irish roots, and he’s provided a few pointers for England’s travelling set-piece experts on how to take the perfect free-kick.

When explaining the technique that defined his career, Harte said: “Whether we were playing on a Saturday or a Tuesday or Wednesday night, I used to visualise it the night before.

“So if I got a free kick on the edge of the box, the best way to describe it is like the white lines on a motorway. I just used to visualise getting a free kick on the left side of the box or the right side of the box, trying to visualise those white lines, or trying to bend it up over a wall and hitting the target.

“That’s the way I approached it.”