Which player has scored the most goals from direct free kicks in Premier League history? We look at James Ward Prowse’s quest to overtake David Beckham at the top of the rankings.
David Beckham has scored the most goals from direct free kicks in Premier League history (18), which will come as little surprise to most. Arguably the skill that Beckham was best known for – alongside his crossing and ability to make the newspapers – the former Manchester United star scored 18 times from direct free kicks across 265 appearances in nine Premier League seasons.
Beckham didn’t score a single free-kick goal in his first two seasons as a Premier League player, with his first direct free-kick goal coming for Man Utd in their 6-3 defeat to Southampton on 26 October 1996 – arguably one of United’s most infamous defeats in the Premier League era, which was Beckham’s 48th top-flight league appearance.
All 18 of Beckham’s Premier League free kick goals came in separate matches, while half of them came across two of his later seasons as a Premier League player – 2000-01 (five) and 2001-02 (four).
Beckham scored six more goals from free kicks for Real Madrid in LaLiga, and one for AC Milan in Serie A, but never for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 at the tail end of his career. Including seven free-kick goals for LA Galaxy in MLS, Beckham ended his career with 32 direct free-kick goals across league competition.
Beckham’s most famous free-kick goal arguably came for England, however. His last-gasp long-range effort in a World Cup qualifier against Greece at Old Trafford sent the Three Lions to the 2002 World Cup.
James Ward-Prowse scored his 17th Premier League free-kick goal in Southampton’s surprise win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 18 February 2023. The strike was the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory, and the sixth time in Premier League history that JWP had scored a winner with a direct free kick.
Thirteen of his 17 free-kick goals have come away from home, including the last eight in a row, meaning he is the most prolific scorer of Premier League free kicks in away matches – two more than Beckham managed on the road (11).
His first attempt at goal from a direct free kick in the Premier League came on 2 November 2013, just under 10 years ago. Since then, he’s converted an astonishing 14.3% of free-kick shots at goal (17 of 119), which is way higher than any other player to have scored at least nine across the top five European leagues across this timeframe. Compare this to a player like Cristiano Ronaldo (4.9% conversion, scoring eight goals) and it’s evident just how deadly Ward-Prowse is from set-pieces.
He’s no Lionel Messi, though. Since Ward-Prowse’s first free-kick attempt in 2013, Messi’s scored almost double the number of free kicks (32). However, Messi has attempted nearly three times as many shots from free kicks (340 vs. 119).
Since 2006-07, when Opta has detailed free kick data from all five of the top European leagues, only Messi (41) and Ronaldo (31) have scored more free-kick goals in league competition, but the only player that beats Ward-Prowse’s conversion rate from these scenarios is Brazilian midfielder Diego, formerly of Atlético Madrid, Juventus, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg. He was able to convert a brilliant 15.5% of his free kick shots into goals across this period.
Ward-Prowse is back in the Premier League now, following a move to West Ham United from Southampton on 14 August 2023. He’ll be troubling opposition goalkeepers from free kicks in no time.
Gianfranco Zola, Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo
It’s fair to say that the trio of players on 12 free-kick goals in Premier League history are among the most talented to have ever played in the competition.
Unfortunately for Gianfranco Zola, we don’t have his all-time league record when it comes to his free-kick scoring prowess – our Italian Serie A free-kick data doesn’t go back far enough. The Italian wizard didn’t make his Premier League debut until his was 30 years old, so it’s impressive that he scored so many free-kick goals during his seven seasons as a Premier League player.
A quarter of his Premier League free-kick goals came in a single month of action, with Zola scoring a free kick in three different Premier League matches in September 2002 for Chelsea – the only other players to score in as many games during a single month of PL action were Wayne Rooney (September 2013) and Ian Harte (May 2001).
Thierry Henry scored a free kick in each of his final six seasons at Arsenal during his first Premier League spell at the club. By the time he returned for four league matches in 2011-12, he wasn’t even given a chance to add to his tally. His 12 free-kick goals in the Premier League for Arsenal are a club record in the competition, with his tally over double that of the next most prolific players, Alexis Sánchez and Robin van Persie (both five).
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 12 free-kick goals for Manchester United in the Premier League – 11 of these in his first spell at the club between 2003-04 and 2008-09. Across those six seasons, the Portuguese legend was the player with the most free-kick goals in the Premier League, with his 11 strikes three more than Henry at Arsenal.
Ronaldo is still the third-youngest player to score a Premier League free kick. His effort for Man Utd versus Portsmouth in November 2003 came while he was aged just 18 years and 269 days old, with only Gareth Bale and Robbie Fowler scoring one at a younger age in the competition.
Across his career, Ronaldo scored 33 direct free-kick goals in the top five European leagues – 20 at Real Madrid in LaLiga, 12 at Man Utd and just one at Juventus in Serie A. That tally is below only Lionel Messi (41) since 2003-04 (Ronaldo’s first season at United) and 13 more than the next best, Andrea Pirlo (20).
Sebastian Larsson and Laurent Robert
Of players to have scored at least 25 Premier League goals, nobody netted a higher proportion from direct free kicks than Seb Larsson (42% – 11 of 26). Six of his free-kick goals came for Birmingham City, while the latter five were in a Sunderland shirt.
Had Laurent Robert played in the Premier League for longer, maybe he could have challenged Beckham for the title of most prolific Premier League free-kick taker. Of the 15 players to have scored eight or more free kick goals in the competition, former Newcastle star Robert averaged his free-kick goals the quickest – one every 994 minutes of playing time.
Robert was one of only two players – alongside Beckham in 2000-01 – to score as many as five direct free-kick goals in a single Premier League season. He netted five for Newcastle in 2001-02, helping them finish fourth come the end of the campaign.
Robert was famed for the power he could generate from his shots, with the majority of his free-kick goals coming from ‘rockets’ via his left foot. To understand how hard he could hit the ball, you only need to ask former team-mate Olivier Bernard.
Ian Harte and Morten Gamst Pedersen
Both players had fairly modest Premier League goal tallies but were exceptionally potent from direct free kicks.
Former Leeds full-back Ian Harte scored 10 of his 28 Premier League goals from free kicks (36%), while arguably one of the most “streets won’t forget” players in competition history – Morten Gamst Pedersen – scored 29% of his Premier League goals from free kicks (10 of 34) playing for Blackburn Rovers in the top-flight between 2004 and 2012.
The Best of the Rest…
Nolberto Solano (9)
Jamie Redknapp (9)
Frank Lampard (9)
James Maddison (8)
Juan Mata (8)
Christian Eriksen (8)