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Rivalry, tension, and goals are just some of the things that excite us about soccer. The time when 11 of our favorite players run across the field, pushing the ball to the opposite goal as if their life depends on it, is what we’re looking forward to every week. And then, when we think that the excitement has reached its peak, one of them pulls an extraordinary move, driving us over the edges of our seats. One of those moves is the ever-popular nutmeg. What is a nutmeg in soccer?
In soccer, a nutmeg is a movement of kicking the ball between an opponent’s legs. This dribbling technique is not only effective, but it’s also visually interesting to the crowd. That’s what’s made it one of the most popular moves in soccer. Nutmeg is also a commonly used technique in basketball and hockey.
Nutmeg is, however, much more than just pushing the ball between someone’s legs. It’s a movement that requires lots of practice, confidence, and luck. Once a player gets it right, nutmeg quickly becomes their favorite go-to move. The cheers from the crowd, the demoralized and humiliated opponent, as well as the confidence boost this dribble provides, is just unmatched by any other. That’s why we’ll dedicate the rest of this article to the origin of nutmeg, as well as the techniques behind this popular soccer move. Also, read on if you want to find out how to defend from nutmeg and learn who are the soccer kings of nutmeg.
Where did the term nutmeg in soccer come from?
When it comes to the origin of the term nutmeg, there are three possible explanations for where the term comes from:
The first version says that the term nutmeg in soccer comes from Cockney rhyming slang. According to this origin theory, as well as The Guardian, nutmeg is cockney rhyming slang for the leg. During the 1940s, when English players would play the ball between an opposing team players’ legs, the crowd shouted Nutmegs.
According to other theories, the term nutmeg originated earlier than the 1940s. In Victorian England, the slang verb nutmegged was used to indicate that someone was tricked or deceived in a way that made them look foolish.
The third and final version of the origin of the term nutmeg is the most logical one; when pushed between their legs, the soccer ball passes right below the players’ testicles. The term nutmeg is, therefore, a sort of an evolution of the word nuts. In some parts of the world, such as northern England, nutmeg is in fact called nuts.
All of these three stories can be the true origin of the term nutmeg, and it’s up to us as individuals to decide which one we subscribe to. Personally, I’m going with the last one.
How do you nutmeg easily?
Before proceeding to the techniques behind a nutmeg in soccer, we should clear out what nutmeg really is and what’s its purpose: A nutmeg in soccer is just another way of getting around an opposing player. What sets it apart from all the other dribbles is its flashiness and the fact that it looks cool. It’s definitely not a necessary move to have at your disposal, but it’s always handy to have it in store for when the stars align. Here are some of the basic and best nutmeg tips:
- Tip 1: Misdirection
If you want to pull off a nutmeg, the basics need to be covered, and this is one of them. The defender needs to be misdirected, meaning that you should lead them away from where you actually want to go.
- Tip 2: Make them overcommit
When the defender overcommits, it’s time to nutmeg them. Whether they’re coming in too fast, trying to get to the ball too desperately, or stretching a bit too far to block a cross or a shot, the overcommitted defender is the easiest nutmeg target a soccer player can have. You can make them overcommit easily by giving them the false impression that they can reach and take the ball from you.
- Tip 3: Catch them off-guard
Nutmeg is not an everyday move. It should be saved for when you are 100 percent certain that you can pull it off. Before attempting a nutmeg, make sure that the defender you’re about to nutmeg is not expecting it. This can be ensured by running a different move a few times before attempting a nutmeg. Another way to catch the defender off guard and nutmeg them is to place the ball between their leg in a sudden lateral movement.
When done correctly, nutmeg is a thing of beauty that we all praise and celebrate. However, even though a nutmeg might seem like a great idea to soccer players, they should keep in mind that it can often misfire and make the attacker look like a clown. Here are some situations that warrant the use of a nutmeg move:
- Situation 1: A defender coming in too fast
Imagine this situation; you’re running down the line with the intent to cross the ball, and a defender comes in way too fast at you. What do you do in this situation? In their legs are far apart, there’s only one answer: you nutmeg them. If not, opt for a less risky movement.
- Situation 2: A defender goes off-balance
When overcommitted to defending, soccer players can easily be guided off-balance by a swift direction change by the attacker. If their legs stay apart, it’s nutmeg time. The nutmeg tactic can even be applied in a 1v1 situation with a goalkeeper, but only if you’re willing to risk missing out on a certain goal.
- Situation 3: A defender is unaware
Sometimes defenders can just seem to be out of it. This is the perfect time to bring them back to reality by placing the ball between their legs. Remember that you can also use this move to make a pass.
A nutmeg in soccer is similar to chocolate in life; it makes us feel great, but it should not be overindulged in. Nutmeg is a risky move, and it should be used moderately and only in special occasions. Also, players who keep trying to nutmeg others become predictable, as defenders know what to expect.
How do you stop nutmeg in soccer?
While feeling great on the attacker’s end, a nutmeg can be a soul-crushing experience for defenders. Great dribblers often seem to be able to do it to everyone, and players can have a hard time defending against a nutmeg. Here are some tips on how to stop a nutmeg:
- Tip 1: Anticipate the nutmeg
Even though it might seem basic, anticipation is the key to preventing nutmegs. Sometimes it’s, however, easier said than done. We can easily predict that a nutmeg is coming with players who apply this move repetitively, while most others remain a mystery and a thing of a hunch.
- Tip 2: Don’t overcommit
Building on the first tip, if the attacking player is holding a ball in a way that seems too good to be true, he might be preparing a nutmeg. When defending, remain aware of your body’s positioning, ensuring that the space between your feet is not easily accessible to the player with the ball.
- Tip 3: Stay in the game
Both professional and amateur soccer players should always keep their heads in the game, and this is especially applied to defenders. Drifting away in your thoughts and forgetting to position your body in a correct way is not acceptable. Players who are easily distracted from the game are the ones that get nutmegged.
Nutmegs happen in soccer and they are definitely not fun to be on the receiving end of. Sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes the dribbler is so good that we can do nothing about it. Whichever the case, remembering that there’s still more of the game to be played and not getting demoralized is the key in surviving a nutmeg. Just remember that even the best soccer players in the world have been nutmegged at some point in their career.
Who are the kings of nutmeg?
After going through the tips for performing nutmegs, as well as the tips for defending against them, there’s only one thing left to do: list the soccer players who are regarded as the kings of nutmeg:
- Juan Roman Riquelme
This Argentinian is not only an Olympic gold medalist and one of the best soccer players in the world, but he is also widely recognized as the king of nutmegs. There are many nutmeg specialists out there, but there’s only one that can nutmeg an opponent without even touching the ball.
- Lionel Messi
Known as one of the best players of the modern soccer era, Messi has also been known to nutmeg a player or two. He seriously threatens Juan Roman Riquelme for the title of the nutmeg king.
- Diego Maradona
Another Argentinian on our list, Diego Maradona is recognized as one of the three best soccer players of all time. Nutmegs, or Panna as South Americans call them, were just one of his many tricks back in the day.
- Ronaldinho Gaucho
There’s no 90s kid whose idol wasn’t Ronaldinho at some point. Known for his smart and attractive play, there wasn’t a player who could step on the field against Ronaldinho and not get nutmegged.
- George Best
One of the first legends of soccer, George Best is the only player on this list that originates from Europe. Playing for Manchester United during the 1960s, Best was able to nutmeg even the best soccer players of the time, such as Johan Cruyff.
While most soccer players will do anything to get around their opponent, there are some moves that are considered ungentlemanly. Nutmeg is considered to be one of them by many players around the world. This is probably the reason why this move is not so popular in Europe as it is in South America where a flashier style of soccer is played. This, however, doesn’t mean that nutmegs don’t happen in European soccer. Ryan Giggs, John O’Shea, and Arjen Robben are just some of the few players that originated in Europe and were considered artists in the game of nutmegs.
To keep things interesting, here’s a list of average yearly nutmeg statistics for European competitions:
- Nutmegs in top leagues and competitions: 2840
- Nutmegs in Champions League per season: 114
- Nutmegs in Europa League per season: 183
- Premier league nutmegs per season: 360
- Series A nutmegs per season: 309
- Bundesliga nutmegs per season: 287
- La Liga nutmegs per season: 264
- Ligue 1 nutmegs per season: 229
Once the season has finished, the player with the most nutmegs is awarded with the Panna d’Ore trophy. The second and third spots are commonly shared by multiple players. The player that wins the trophy typically has around 12 nutmegs during the season on their record and is typically separated from the second spot holders by four nutmegs.
Nutmeg is one of the most potent methods soccer players can call to aid in order to win over the crowd, boost morale among teammates, and improve their own confidence. However, if the attempt at a nutmeg fails, it can prove to be exactly the opposite of the things listed. That’s why players take hours of practice to perfect their technique.
By doing the same, together with following the tips listed in this article, you can be handing out nutmegs around the field in no time.
What is the difference between a panna and a nutmeg?
As we learned by now, a nutmeg is when a soccer player outplays a defender by pushing the ball through between his legs, collecting it once it passes. A panna, on the other hand, can be multiple things. Let’s expand on that:
Panna can be the term used for the same dribble that we refer to as nutmeg. However, while all nutmegs can be called panna, not all pannas are nutmegs. A dribble in which a player outplays a defender by passing the ball around him on one side, and then proceeding to pick up the ball on the other side is also called panna in some cases.
This movement became so popular in street soccer that it led to a birth of a whole new approach to playing the game and a whole new subculture. It even created some fun new games of their own: there are 1v1 Panna Cage matches and 2v2 Panna tournaments which all consist of shorter games that are played until one of the players successfully performs the Panna move on their opponent. These events are gaining more and more traction in the US and around the world, with sponsors such as Nike and Redbull standing behind them.