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Fancy Football Words: A Primer

Alternate title: how to sound like a football snob

Arsenal FC v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

One of the beauties of football is the artistry that the game’s elite work with the ball at their feet. Stars have signature moves and techniques, honed through years of practice and hundreds of thousands of repetitions. Mesut Özil’s shooting-into-the-ground. Cristiano Ronaldo’s chop. Arjen Robben’s cut and shoot. Some of the moves even bear the name of their creator or their most famous user. Others are terms that you may have heard on broadcasts or at the pub and not exactly know what they meant. Well, now you do, and pulling them out will earn you street cred with other soccerheads.

It’s a non-exhaustive list, so if you have any personal favorites, let me know in the comments!

Nutmeg - starting off with the classic — playing the ball through the defender’s legs. There are all sorts of variations on the theme: which way you’re facing, what part of the foot you use, how thoroughly you own the defender. But one thing remains the same, I will never get tired of watching them. SB Nation writer @_Zeets has a years long, ongoing thread of “Nutmegs as Great Philosophical Arguments.” In the one below, you can see the exact moment the defender’s soul leaves his body.

Cruyff turn - as performed for the first time ever by Johan Cruyff below. It’s one of the first moves I learned as a young soccer player. You see it used every weekend in the Premier League. Simple, yet effective; a classic that has stood the test of time.

Step-over - another one of those oldie-but-goodie moves. By most accounts, footballers have been doing step-overs for more than a century. In working on this piece, I learned that they are called pedaladas in Spanish. Step-overs are involved in one of my favorite football snippets ever, the clip below. Not shown in that video, Lilian Thuram calmly dispossessing Denilson after his approximately 100 step-overs.

Elastico - also known as a flip-flap, it was a favorite of Ronaldinho. You move the ball with the outside of your foot as if you are going one way to commit the defender, then quickly take it the other with the inside of that same foot. Done correctly, it makes your foot and leg look elastic, hence elastico. Aside: if you want a treat, watch more of this Ronaldinho highlight video — that man was an absolute wizard on the ball.

Maradonna - the move goes by many names — the 360, the Roulette, the Girosflin, the Marseille turn. According to Wikipedia, it was first popularized by Yves Mariot, but Maradonna and then Zinedine Zidane were best-known for using it.

Sombrero - I hadn’t heard sombrero used for flicking the ball over your opponents head. It happens so frequently in football that I’m not sure it needs its own name, and I don’t think the term is in widespread use. But apparently it’s a thing.

Rainbow - for this move, you roll the ball up your back leg then use your heel to flick it over your head and the defender, and like actual rainbows, the move doesn’t appear that often. It looks pretty cool when you pull it off, though.

Cuauhtemiña - also known as the kangaroo hop or Blanco bounce, it’s one of the rarer moves you’ll see in football. It’s so rare that I debated having it on this list, but ultimately decided that the inventiveness of the move and the courage to try it merited inclusion. In fact, I can’t remember seeing anybody other than Cuauhtémoc Blanco do one. Fun fact: he’s now a governor in Mexico.

Rabona - playing the ball by swinging your foot behind your standing leg. No discourse on rabona is complete without mentioning Ricardo Quaresma, a man who viewed every touch of a football that wasn’t a rabona as a wasted one. Seriously, it was almost all he did, and it was wonderful.

Panenka - the name given to chipping a penalty down the middle as the keeper dives to a side. Named for Antonin Panenka, who used the technique to help Czechoslovakia win a penalty shootout in the final of the 1976 European Championship. Alexis Sanchez won the 2015 Copa America for Chile with a panenka and scored one for Arsenal against Burnley. Zinedine Zidane scored one against Italy in the 2006 World Cup Final. Don’t be fooled by the title or the thumbnail — that’s the OG panenka.

Olimpico - scoring directly from a corner. Incredibly difficult to do, but magnificent when you pull it off. Naturally, Thierry Henry has done it.

Bicycle Kick - most football fans know this one, but did you know that it is called a chilena in Spanish? I think the two most famous, recent examples come from Wayne Rooney against Manchester City and Cristiano Ronaldo against Juventus. I’ve given you The Boss.

Scorpion Kick - another one that we, as Arsenal fans, probably know because of Olivier Giroud’s Puskas award-winning one against Crystal Palace. But I’ll take any excuse to watch and share that goal again.

I’ve also decided to christen a new move, The Wilshere. It’s where you hold onto the ball for too long, get clattered, and injured. I swear, I really like Jack. The guff comes from a place of love. But man, did he hold onto the ball too long.