A bicycle kick, also known as an overhead kick or scissors kick,[A] is a physical move in association football achieved by throwing the body up into the air and making a shearing movement with the legs in order to get one leg in front of the other without resting on the ground. In most languages, the manoeuvre is named after either the cycling motion or the scissor motion that it resembles. Their complexity and uncommon performance in competitive football matches make them one of association football's most celebrated skills.[B]
Bicycle kicks are used when players find the acrobatic manoeuvre their best resource. It can be used defensively to clear away the ball from the goalmouth or offensively to strike at the goal in an attempt to score. The bicycle kick is an advanced football skill that, due to its difficulty, is dangerous for inexperienced players. Its successful performance has largely been limited to the most experienced and athletic players in football history.
The bicycle kick was invented in South America, possibly as early as in the late 19th century, during a period of development in football history. Innovations like the bicycle kick were the result of local adaptations to the football style introduced by British immigrants. Football lore has many legends on the possible origins of the bicycle kick. Newspaper archives from the turn of the 20th century evidence a complex, multinational history for the bicycle kick's invention, naming, and diffusion. The sensational effects of a well-performed bicycle kick have not diminished over the course of more than a century.
As an iconic skill, bicycle kicks are an important part of football culture. Executing a bicycle kick in a competitive football match, particularly when a goal is attained by way of this action, usually garners wide attention in the sports press. The bicycle kick has been featured in works of art, such as sculpture, film, and literature. The manoeuvre is also used in other similar ball sports, particularly in the variants of association football (like futsal and beach soccer). The controversy over the move's invention and name in Brazil, Chile, and Peru (and its status as an element of the notable football rivalry between these last two) has added to the kick's acclaim in popular culture.
The bicycle kick is known in English by three different names: "bicycle kick", "overhead kick", and "scissors kick". The term "bicycle kick" describes the action of the legs while the body is in mid-air, resembling the pedalling of a bicycle. The manoeuvre is also called an "overhead kick", which, according to football instructors Klaus Bischops and Heinz-Willi Gerards, refers to the ball being "kicked above head level", or a "scissors kick", reflecting the movement described by professional football coach Colin Schmidt: "[when] the kicking foot goes to meet the ball, the non-kicking foot makes a quick move back toward the ball (like blades of scissors coming together)".
In languages other than English, the manoeuvre's name also reflects the action that it resembles. Sports journalist Alejandro Cisternas, from Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, compiled a list of these names. In most cases, they either refer to the kick's scissor-like motion, such as the French ciseaux retourné and the Greek psalidaki, or to its bicycle-like action, such as the Persian gheychi and the Portuguese pontapé de bicicleta. In other languages, the nature of the action is described: German fallrückzieher (falling backward kick), Polish przewrotka (overturn kick), and Italian rovesciata (reversed kick).
Exceptions to these naming patterns are found in languages that designate the move by making reference to a location, such as the Norwegian brassespark (Brazilian kick). This exception is most significant in Spanish, where there exists a fierce controversy between Chile and Peru—as part of their historic sports rivalry—over the naming of the bicycle kick; Peruvians call it the chalaca, while Chileans know it as the chilena.[C] Regardless, the move is also known in Spanish by the less tendentious names of tijera and tijereta—both a reference to the manoeuvre's scissor-like motion.
A successful performance of the bicycle kick in association football typically requires great skill and athleticism. Not only does the performer need to maintain good form when executing the move, but must simultaneously exhibit exceptional accuracy and precision when striking the ball. According to sports historian Richard Witzig, "[a] player must be courageous and in the right frame of mind to successfully execute a bicycle kick." On the complexity of the action, sports journalist Elliott Turner writes, "[T]he move is exceedingly difficult, but, when pulled off, it elicits a mix of shouts and incredulous silence." The difficulty of the manoeuvre is such that Brazilian forward Pelé, one of the sport's renowned players, once described it as "not easy to do", and recalled having scored from it only two or three times out of his 1,283 career goals.
Bicycle kicks are generally done in two situations, one defensive and the other offensive. A defensive bicycle kick is done when a player facing his side's goal uses the action to clear the ball in the direction opposite his side's goalmouth. Sports historian Richard Witzig considers defensive bicycle kicks "a desperation move" requiring less aim than its offensive variety. An offensive bicycle kick is used when a player has his back to the opposing goal and is near the goalmouth. Witzig considers the offensive bicycle kick a "blind shot" requiring concentration and good understanding of the ball's location. Bicycle kicks can also be done in the midfield, but this is not recommended because safer and more accurate passes can be done in this zone.
To perform a bicycle kick, the ball must be airborne so that the player can hit it while doing a backflip; the ball can either come in the air towards the player, such as through a cross, or the player can flick the ball up into the air. Crosses that precede an offensive bicycle kick are of dubious accuracy—German striker Klaus Fischer reportedly stated that "By and large, you have to say that every cross that leads to a bicycle kick goal is not a good cross." Moreover, performing a bicycle kick is dangerous, even when done correctly, as it may result in the injury of a startled participant in the field. For this reason, the player executing the bicycle kick must have enough space to perform it—Peruvian defender César González explained that he "would let the ball pass ahead, then move rearward before going up in the air to clear [the ball] using the bicycle kick". For the player using the manoeuvre, the greatest danger happens during the drop; a bad fall can result in injuries to the head, back, or wrist. A poorly performed bicycle kick can also result in great ridicule for the player who made the failed attempt. Witzig recommends players attempting the move to land on their upper back, using their arms as support, and simultaneously rolling over to a side in order to diminish impact from the drop.
The bicycle kick was created in South America during an era of innovation in association football tactics and skills. Football was introduced to South America by British immigrants who, during the 1800s, were attracted by the region's economic prospects, including the export of coffee from Brazil, hide and meat from Argentina, and guano from Peru. In the countries that they settled in, these immigrant communities founded institutions such as schools and sporting clubs, where among the activities was the practice of association football—thus, in the words of British sports journalist Jonathan Wilson, "[the British] exploited South America's natural resources, and in return they gave soccer."
The practice of football had previously spread to mainland Europe, principally the Netherlands and Scandinavia, but no innovations had been made to the game. According to Wilson, "[t]here was never any sense [...] of trying to do anything different from the British, whether from a tactical or any other point of view." Matters developed differently in South America because, rather than simply imitate the British immigrant's style of play—which was based more on the slower "Scottish passing game" than on the faster and rougher English football style—the South Americans contributed to the sport's development by focusing on the players' technical qualities. According to sports historian David Goldblatt, South America "added a greater emphasis on individual trickery and dexterity, the continent's footballers claiming the invention of the bicycle kick and bending free kicks, and allotting pride of place to the individual dribble".
The possible origins of the bicycle kick have been a part of football lore, with many legends narrating when it was first performed and who created it. According to the story asserting that the Afro-Peruvian footballers of Callao, Peru, invented the bicycle kick, the manoeuvre could have been created as early as the late 19th century. The skill could have also been developed in the early 20th century, amid the nascent football of the Río de la Plata, according to the narrative that attributes the bicycle kick's invention to the creative Argentine striker Pedro Calomino. Another tale claims that the move was created in 1914 in the port city of Talcahuano, Chile, by the Spaniard Ramón Unzaga, a Basque athlete and naturalized Chilean who played as a defender. The action was also allegedly invented in the 1920s by the dexterous Brazilian forward Petronilho de Brito in São Paulo, Brazil. Journalists Uli Hesse and Paul Simpson regard the invention of the bicycle kick as one of the several "conundrums" of football, but find that separating fact from fiction is possible when searching the available records—and the answers, albeit not always clear, can turn out being "much more complex and entertaining".
Uruguayan sports journalist Diego Pérez considers that these numerous legends obscure the origin of the bicycle kick—in an article for the Montevideo-based newspaper El País, he wrote that "as it usually happens, there exists the 'official' responses and the others". The Brazilian football chronicler Mario Rodrigues Filho explains these claims of authorship over football skills using the context of the times, which he describes as "the days when moves were still being invented"; accordingly, when a player performed a unique action in this period of football history, "[t]he author had a sort of copyright of the move". Peruvian football journalist Roberto Castro argues that it is impossible to know for certain who was the first to perform the bicycle kick, "as anywhere where there may have been a football in play, someone might have decided to arch the body and hit the ball with their back towards the goal".
The oldest-known person to have performed the bicycle kick is Ramón Unzaga—he is at times credited as the move's inventor. The author of Talcahuano's football history, the Chilean journalist Luis Osses Guíñez, argues that Unzaga's first recorded bicycle kick occurred in 1918, as proven by a civil law notary report filed after a heated football match (between Talcahuano and the neighbouring city of Concepción) turned violent—the result of Unzaga, described by Osses Guíñez as "a Basque with a terrible temper", getting into a fist fight with the match's referee after the football official had called a foul on Unzaga's bicycle kick. This event was reported a few days after the match in the Concepción newspaper El Sur, where Unzaga defends himself by indicating that he had previously executed the manoeuvre in other matches without it being called a foul.[E] To name the move, Chilean newspapers during this period refer to the bicycle kick as a chorera (alluding to Talcahuano, Chile, where Unzaga played).[F]
Chilean newspaper records from 1900 also name the bicycle kick as a chalaca (alluding to the port of Callao, Peru), a term that they would use again in 1935 when Peruvian forward Alejandro Villanueva performed it during Alianza Lima's undefeated tour in Chile. Newspaper archives further indicate that the bicycle kick was already being used by footballers in Callao at the turn of the 20th century, during football games played between locals and British workers (sailors and railroad employees).[G] The director of CONMEBOL's official magazine (Magazine Conmebol), Argentine football journalist Jorge Barraza, is quoted as stating that "[e]verything indicates that (the manoeuvre) is Peruvian, is known internationally as chilena, was patented by a Spaniard and took its name in Argentina."[H] Peru's chief seaport had practiced the sport since the second half of the 19th century, and it was a common practice for British mariners to play football (as a form of leisure) in commercial centres such as Callao. Historian Steve Stein writes that these matches played in Callao were informal, and that local participants were fishermen and stevedores—for this reason, Stein writes that football formed in the Peruvian port as a "working-class sport". Football was also commonly played between Peruvians and Chileans during these years,[I] and Barraza reasons that Chileans learned about the bicycle kick or tiro de chalaca (as the spectators named it) through these matches.
Colombian journalist Alejandro Millán Valencia considers that this is where "the stories come together" because Chilean footballers would be the ones to first notably perform the bicycle kick outside of Western South America, in football matches held in Argentina and Spain. During the first editions of the South American Championship, Chilean defenders Ramón Unzaga and Francisco Gatica amazed the public with their bicycle kicks;[J] Gatica's bicycle kick, used to stop an imminent goal, garnered so much attention that he was credited with the move's invention. Also notable were the actions of Chilean club Colo-Colo founder David Arellano, who played as a forward and performed the bicycle kick (among other skills) during his team's tour of Spain in 1927. Arellano perished in that tour from an injury caused by one of his risky manoeuvres—as a result, Millán Valencia argues that "with his name, the myth of that football skill [the bicycle kick] would be installed into the records of that football that he had charged himself to export to the world".[K] Impressed by the Chileans' bicycle kicks, the aficionados from Spain and Argentina would name it the chilena (alluding to the players' nationality).
Football skills from South America, including the bicycle kick, also reached Europe through Italy, which received numerous Argentine, Uruguayan, and Brazilian footballers until the mid-1930s. Goldblatt considers that the South American style and the Danubian School, a football system from Central Europe that emphasized ball control and tactical positioning on the field, "had a significant impact on the game in Italy[,] where a fourth model of play evolved". This Italian football style furthered the sport's complexity by giving more precise roles for individual players, especially defenders, and emphasizing micro-level tactics. During this time, one of the first notable performers of the bicycle kick in Europe would be the Italian striker Silvio Piola. According to historian John Foot, "Piola did not look like much of a footballer", but "in action, he was a 'force of nature' with a perfect grasp of when to arrive in the area". In Italy, the phrase "a la Piola" (like Piola) became synonymous with bicycle kick goals, and Piola was proclaimed the move's inventor.
The bicycle kick attained even greater notability after it was performed in the France 1938 World Cup quarter-finals match between Brazil and Czechoslovakia, by the Brazilian forward Leônidas da Silva. Leônidas would also be hailed as the manoeuvre's inventor, or as the one to have perfected it, and the bicycle kick continues being closely associated with the Brazilian football style. Italy would ultimately win the 1938 World Cup, in Goldblatt's words, "with a considerable phalanx of Argentine players who had taken Italian citizenship". This influx of South American footballers would end prior to the start of the Second World War.
In spite of the war, football continued being practiced in various European countries. During the 1940s, the bicycle kick was again popularized in Italy by Italian defender Carlo Parola, also known as Signor Rovesciata (Mr. Reverse Kick)—Italians even credited him as the move's inventor. At around the same time, Doug Ellis, President Emeritus of English club Aston Villa, claims to have invented the manoeuvre at Southport. Due to the lack of new developments in British football at the time, this last claim is unlikely to be true—according to Wilson, "The shaming aspect for British soccer is that the game's homeland was so ill disposed to innovation that it is just about conceivable that Ellis was the first man to perform a bicycle kick on British soil."
The bicycle kick continues to be a skill that is rarely successfully executed in football matches. Hesse and Simpson consider that "a good bicycle kick is a shortcut to [football] glory", and the United States Soccer Federation once described the bicycle kick as "one of the moves that makes soccer such a beautiful game". Players that have mastered the move include a few of the sport's iconic figures, such as the Brazilian forward Pelé, the Mexican forward Hugo Sánchez, and the Argentine midfielder Diego Maradona. Other notable players to have performed the bicycle kick include Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimović, who in 2012 scored what Hesse and Simpson describe as an "overhead wonder goal" during an international friendly match between Sweden and England, and English forward Wayne Rooney, who in 2011 scored a bicycle kick that was voted as the best in the Premier League's history.
Some of the most memorable bicycle kicks have been performed in the FIFA World Cup finals. German striker Klaus Fischer scored from a bicycle kick in the Spain 1982 World Cup semi-finals match between West Germany and France, tying the score in overtime—the game then went into a penalty shootout, which ended in favour of the German team. Hesse and Simpson consider Fischer's action as "the most famous bicycle kick in World Cup history". In the Mexico 1986 World Cup, Mexican midfielder Manuel Negrete Arias scored from a scissors kick during the round of 16 match between Mexico and Bulgaria. Journalist Paul Gardner writes that Negrete's goal "was hailed as the goal of the tournament", until Maradona scored what would later be known as "The Goal of the Century" in the quarter-finals match between Argentina and England. A memorable bicycle kick also occurred in the United States 1994 World Cup, when U.S. defender Marcelo Balboa used the skill during the group stage match between Colombia and the United States. Even though Balboa's bicycle kick did not result in a goal, journalist Clemente Lisi argues that it was "[t]he most indelible image of the match, if not the tournament", and historian Witzig considers that "[a] perfectly taken bicycle kick is a thing of beauty, even if it just misses the goal like Marcelo Balboa['s]".
In popular culture
Bicycle kicks are an important part of football culture. Former Manchester City defender Paul Lake considers that a particularly notable bicycle kick performance in the English Premier League "became the root cause of hundreds of head injuries as City fans across Manchester recklessly attempted to recreate their hero's acrobatics". At one point in his career, Italian striker Mario Balotelli, when training to emulate the skill of players like the Brazilian midfielder Ronaldinho and the French midfielder Zinedine Zidane, "became obsessed with the bicycle kick and wanted to try it whenever and however". In an article for theguardian.com, sports journalist Rob Smyth listed what he deemed as six of the best overhead and scissors kicks in the history of football, including the kick executed by Welsh forward Mark Hughes in a World Cup qualification match played between Wales and Spain in 1985, and the bicycle kick goal by Peruvian winger Juan Carlos Oblitas in a 1975 Copa América match between Peru and Chile.
The bicycle kick is notably executed by Pelé in the 1981 motion picture Escape to Victory—the United States Soccer Federation describes it as "the best demonstration of a bicycle kick". Pelé comments on it in his autobiography, stating, "I got to show off a little in the final reel" and describing his bicycle kick as "spectacular". A Google Doodle in September 2013, celebrating Leônidas da Silva's 100th birthday, prominently featured a bicycle kick performed by a stick figure representing the popular Brazilian forward.
A monument to the bicycle kick executed by Ramón Unzaga Asla was erected in Talcahuano, Chile, in 2014; created by sculptor María Angélica Echavarri, the statue is composed of copper and bronze and measures three meters in diameter. A statue in honor of Manuel Negrete's bicycle kick is planned for the Coyoacán district of Mexico City. The Uruguayan novelist Eduardo Galeano wrote about the bicycle kick in his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, praising Unzaga as the inventor. The Peruvian Nobel laureate writer Mario Vargas Llosa has the protagonist in The Time of the Hero's Spanish edition declare that the bicycle kick must have been invented in Callao, Peru.
The manoeuvre is also popular in variants of association football, such as beach soccer and futsal. In beach soccer, bicycle kicks are so commonly used that, according to a report by FIFA, "it takes a very special one to really catch the eye of the fans". An action like the bicycle kick is also used in sepak takraw, a sport whose objective is to kick a ball over a net and into the opposing team's side.
Journalist Diego Pérez writes that "[t]oday, these kind of movements are seen with less frequency and when they appear the controversy over who invented them is reborn." Popular opinion in Brazil, Chile, and Peru defend their claims of inventing the bicycle kick. Witzig suggests keeping a cautious approach in this matter, indicating that "[i]n Latin America, the bicycle kick is called a chilena, chalaca, or bicicleta, depending on which country you are visiting." Journalist Alberto Lati, writing for Spanish newspaper El País, considers that "there is nothing wrong in that everyone calls it [the bicycle kick] however they see appropriate"; Simpson and Hesse also suggest that the naming of the manoeuvre is a matter of personal opinion.
The bicycle kick's origin dispute is significantly intense between Chileans and Peruvians—in Goal: The New York Times Soccer Blog, journalist Juan Arango explains that "[i]t [the bicycle kick's invention] might seem to be a minor footnote to most people, but in Peru and Chile it is a big, big deal." In 2009, Peruvian footballer Teófilo Cubillas recommended the Peruvian Football Federation to patent the manoeuvre with FIFA. That same year, Chilean footballer Sandrino Castec expressed his belief that the Peruvian position was based on resentment and claimed that the "traditional name" of the move is chilena.
- Witzig considers the scissors kick as "a bicycle kick done on an angle rather than upside down", but other authors do not differentiate the scissors kick from the bicycle kick.
- Turner refers to it as "[t]he apex of wonder-goals", and Witzig defines the bicycle kick as "the most spectacular—yet the most opportunistic and desperate—move that exists in soccer".
- In Brazilian football culture, the term chilena means a back heel (a reference to the Chilean-style spurs used in Southern Brazil).
- The HMS Amphion had arrived to Callao from Panama, and would next travel to Valparaiso, Chile, for repairs. The squad from Peru was composed of British and Peruvian footballers from the local clubs Unión Cricket and Lima Cricket—the latter possibly being the oldest club in the Americas that today plays association football. The image reads: "The sight that we offer today to our readers was taken especially for El Comercio, in the moments in which was occurring in Santa Beatriz, this past Thursday, the most interesting part of the football match between sailors from the English warship Amphion and the Peruvian eleven that were victorious, as we had reported when we announced past Friday about this beautiful sports fest".
- Some sources indicate that Unzaga performed the bicycle kick in the 1916 and the 1920 editions of the South American Championship,
- Millán Valencia writes that "historians refer to Unzaga as the person who popularized the move", but Wilson considers David Arellano to be the one "who popularized the technique".
- Uruguayan journalist Pérez writes that "therefore, the chilena is in reality Peruvian and it initially was known as chalaca". Colombian football historians Pedro Páez and Daniel Pineda state that "there are very serious registries that indicate its [the bicycle kick's] birth was much further back, in the port of Callao".
- Barraza also considers that Chilean newspapers' reference to the move in allusion to Callao, as also occurs in Colombia and Ecuador, is another strong indication that the manoeuvre's origin is in Peru.
- Journalist Millán Valencia considers these matches as the first international football games between Chile and Peru.
- Unzaga participated in the Argentina 1916 and Chile 1920 editions of the South American Championship; Gatica participated in the tournament's Uruguay 1917 and Brazil 1919 editions.
- Simpson and Hesse consider that Arellano's "memorably premature death is a grim warning about the perils of showboating".
- Witzig 2006, p. 22.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bicycle kick.|
- BBC Sport Academy – Step-by-step guide to perform a bicycle kick.
- Grassroots FIFA.com – Information on basic and special football techniques.
- UEFA Training Ground – Professional footballer explains the technique required to execute a successful bicycle kick.