Goals are the reason we watch football. Even the scrappiest of them can induce the kind of unbridled, transcendent joy that only football can bring about. But a beautiful goal, one that takes our collective breath away and forces the world to take notice, those are the best goals of all.
The FIFA Puskás Award, named after the great Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskás, is given every year to the player who is adjudged to have scored the most beautiful goal of that year. The winner is usually the scorer of a unique goal, the kind that we rarely see.
There have been ten winners since its inception in 2009, and the recipients vary from the best players in the world to virtual unknowns.
Here we examine them in more detail.
FIFA Puskás Award Winners
2009) Cristiano Ronaldo v Porto
The very first winner of the Puskás award scored the goal in question in his home country on a night which demanded something special. Manchester United needed to become the first English side to win at Estádio do Dragão if they were to reach the next round of the Champions League.
Barely six minutes had elapsed when Ronaldo gave United the lead with a 40-yard piledriver. Even the match director wasn’t expecting him to shoot; he cut to a close-up of Ronaldo on the ball just as he was about to pull the trigger.
It was a stunning strike, but it only narrowly edged out goals from Andres Iniesta and Grafite, with 4% of the vote separating 1st and 4th.
2010) Hamit Altintop v Kazakhstan
Puskás Award winners’ goals often have a touch of subtlety about them, but the first two winners were anything but. Altintop’s thunderous 25-yard volley from the right-hand corner of the box was struck with such gusto that you feared for the keeper as he tried to get a hand on it.
He couldn’t stop it, of course, and the Turkish international won the award by a landslide, amassing 40% of the votes. It beat a wonderful overhead flick and Van Basten-style volley from Linus Hallenius and a surface-to-air missile from Giovanni Van Bronckhorst in the World Cup semi-final to claim the prize.
2011) Neymar v Flamengo
He was nominated for the 2010 award, but it was Neymar’s goal vs Flamengo in 2011 that announced him to a global audience. It came about in a game that finished 5-4 to Flamengo with Ronaldinho having one of the games of his career. But the young apprentice Neymar put his Santos side 3-0 up inside half an hour with a majestic solo run.
He received the ball 50 yards from goal on the left-hand touchline, dancing between two players before exchanging a one-two with his teammate and approaching the edge of the box. He rolled the ball past another defender and dinked the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. A sensational goal from a sensational player.
2012) Miroslav Stoch v Gençlerbirliği
The voting panel returned to the thwack genre in 2012 with Miroslav Stoch’s 30-yard volley. Like Altintop, Stoch’s goal came directly from a corner, though his strike was much more central. The ball flew over from the right-hand side, and Stoch got his body over the ball and swung his leg at it.
Given that he hit the ball so hard, there was an unusual amount of bend on the ball as it beat the keeper and whizzed in at his top-right corner. Stoch won with 78% of the vote with Radamel Falcao’s overhead kick against America de Cali and yet another Neymar solo goal pipped to the post.
2013) Ibrahimovic v England
Neymar would feature again in the top three in 2013 but would not take the crown. That honour went to Zlatan Ibrahimovic after his unbelievable strike against England in a friendly which marked the opening of the new national team stadium in Stockholm.
It was a night to remember. Ibrahimovic had already scored a hat-trick, grabbing his third with a superbly driven free-kick with seven minutes remaining. But he wasn’t done yet. England keeper Joe Hart rushed off his line to clear the ball with a header, but his clearance didn’t go far, and Zlatan twisted and jumped before scoring a 30-yard bicycle kick.
It was one of the best goals of his career, and he’s scored a few. Even the England fans applauded him.
2014) James Rodriguez v Uruguay
James Rodriguez was one of the stars of the World Cup in Brazil and probably should have won the Golden Ball ahead of Lionel Messi. But there can be no doubt that he scored the best goal of the tournament.
It came in the first knockout round against Uruguay with the scores level. Rodriguez took the ball on his chest facing away from goal before swivelling like a spinning top and striking the ball before it had hit the floor. It went in like a rocket, and Fernando Muslera’s despairing dive was utterly futile.
It was one of six goals Rodriguez scored in Brazil that summer. A career highlight for sure.
2015) Wendell Lira v Atletico Goianiense
Wendell Lira is perhaps the first name in this list you’ve never heard of. He spent the entirety of his career as a journeyman striker in the Brazilian lower leagues, never scoring many goals. While I haven’t seen his back catalogue, it is safe to say that this one was the best he ever scored.
Some neat interplay on the edge of the area ended with his teammate scooping the ball over the opposition defender. With the ball falling out of the air, Lire swivelled and in one beautiful fluid movement executed a wonderful overhead bicycle kick.
It was a goal of such quality that it claimed 1st place ahead of arguably Lionel Messi’s finest career goal against Athletic Bilbao.
2016) Mohd Faiz Subri v Pahang
The 2016 winner was a quite astonishing strike from Malaysian forward Mohd Faiz Subri. His Penang teammates lined up in the area expected a cross from the dead ball which was 40 yards from goal and not at an angle conducive to a strike on goal. But what he did next blew everyone away.
He struck the ball with such venom that it looked to be heading for the top left corner, but it changed trajectory, completely fooling the goalkeeper who had dashed to the other side of the goal. The ball went in the top right corner instead. This was the knuckleball technique taken to the nth degree.
2017) Olivier Giroud v Crystal Palace
Olivier Giroud has a penchant for scoring absolutely spectacular goals. But the one against Crystal Palace in 2017 was the best of the lot for its sheer uniqueness.
Alexis Sanchez placed a cross into the area which looked to have fallen behind Giroud. But the Frenchman dangled his leg backwards and executed a scorpion kick which flew into the top corner.
It kickstarted a flurry of similarly scored goals with Henrikh Mkhitaryan scoring one a few days later. But as the original, Olivier Giroud’s rightly got the most credit.
2018) Mohammed Salah v Everton
This was a bit of an odd one. Mohammed Salah’s goal in the Merseyside Derby is universally acknowledged to be the worst goal in Puskás history. He won thanks to thousands of Liverpool fans hijacking the FIFA poll that was used to decide the winner that year.
It wasn’t a bad goal at all, however. Salah spun away from two Everton defenders before hitting a curling shot into the top corner from an acute angle.
In second place was Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic overhead kick against Juventus.
2019) Daniel Zsori v Ferencvaros
The most recent recipient of award scored his goal in spookily similar fashion the famous Gareth Bale overhead kick in the Champions League final the previous year.
A cross from the left was met with an athletic overhead kick into the opposite corner of the net. It was a stunning goal, but Lionel Messi will feel aggrieved not to have won the award with his stupendous chip against Real Betis.