Of all the awe-inspiring goals that can be scored in a soccer game — outside-the-box screamers, curling free kicks, cheeky chips, solo run stunners, even those that come off the Hand of God — none are as spectacular as the bicycle kick. The overhead acrobatic practically transcends the game itself, a feat so obviously insane and incredible that it can even amaze the kind of person that swears (incorrectly) that soccer is a snooze fest.
The lineage of the bicycle kick doesn’t begin with the Pelé (in Spanish, the maneuver is widely known as a “chilena,” nodding to its reported early 20th-century origins in Chile), but the footballing great — who died today, Dec. 29, at the age of 82 — was instrumental in popularizing it in the modern imagination.
There actually isn’t a whole lot of video footage (at least that’s readily available on the internet) of Pelé successfully scoring with a bicycle kick. There are a few handy montages on YouTube, grainy footage of Pelé’s greatness paired with pretty cheesy cinematic scores. There is one great clip of a 1976 overhead goal from his time with the New York Cosmos. But funnily enough, the most common video you’ll find is actually of Pelé executing the move, not in a game, but in a scene from the 1981 John Huston sports-war film, Escape to Victory (Pelé’s costars included Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and Max von Sydow).
But while there may be a lack of video footage, there’s not a lack of photo evidence, and these pictures speak for themselves. None more so than the shot of Pelé levitating upside-down, ball rocketing off his leg stretched out at a 90-degree angle, during a 1965 friendly between Brazil and Belgium.
What’s most amazing about this moment, though, is that it doesn’t seem like Pelé actually scored from this kick. For instance, the caption on Getty Images describes it as an “attempt on goal with an athletic overhead kick.” And while video of the match is (unsurprisingly) not easily available online, some deep internet sleuthing led to a 2020 Twitter thread that features what appears to be a highlights package of Pelé’s incredible hat-trick performance during that 1965 game against Belgium (Brazil won 5-0).
Harry Styles Wins Album of the Year in Jaw-Dropping Grammy Upset
Hip-Hop Turns 50. The Grammys Celebrate the Milestone Despite Its Complicated History With the Genre
Bonnie Raitt Unexpectedly Wins Song of the Year for ‘Just Like That’ at Grammys 2023
Harry Styles Drops Lethargic ‘As It Was’ Grammys 2023 Performance
For his first goal, Pelé somehow got a toe on a ball lofted into the box and poked it past the keeper. The second he chipped in after a dazzling run and cut-back that left three Belgian defenders on their asses. The third was a screamer he smashed from right on the edge of the box. But that bicycle kick? He shanked it. Completely missed the target. It landed well wide at the foot of a Belgian defender, who quickly cleared it away.
In his 2007 autobiography, My Life and the Beautiful Game, Pelé summed up the bicycle kick perfectly: “[W]hile actually not too valuable for making goals, [it’s] still a beautiful thing to see properly executed.” He added, “Actually, of all my goals, I think only four or five were obtained with the bicycle kick, but every Brazilian football player longs for the opportunity to perform this kick, if only for the pleasure of the fans.”