Why is it called a nutmeg? Explaining the origin of some of football’s popular skill moves


The World Cup is the ultimate stage for the planet’s elite players to strut their stuff.

Over the years, millions have watched from the edge of their seats as Pele, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo (Cristiano and Fenomeno) and Johan Cruyff have bamboozled and embarrassed their counterparts.

Fancy flicks and tricks are a staple of football at this level, although the ever-increasing introduction of new, flashier statistics and analytics has somewhat stifled attacking aesthetics.

That said, they do certainly still exist and The Athletic is on hand to explain the most popular skills — and some tactics — that you might have seen at the World Cup.

Why is it called a Nutmeg?

This has been a really popular one at the World Cup.

Luis Suarez and Aissa Laidouni showed perhaps the two best examples of nutmegs (against Inaki Williams and Edouardo Camavinga respectively) in Qatar.

The Uruguayan striker has always been associated with the skill while Ronaldinho and Juan Roman Riquelme are two of the most iconic exponents from years gone by.

It’s a very simple skill. A player must simply kick the ball through an opponent’s legs to perform a nutmeg.

The origin of the term — also the name of a spice used in cooking — is unclear as there are several explanations.

One of the claims was that it comes from Cockney rhyming slang with the ball going through the opponents nutmegs (legs).

But, writing in the book ‘Football Talk – The Language And Folklore Of The World’s Greatest Game’, Peter Seddon explains that its origin relates to the exportation of nutmeg between North America and England in the 1800s.

“Nutmegs were such a valuable commodity that unscrupulous exporters were to pull a fast one by mixing a helping of wooden replicas into the sacks being shipped to England,” Seddon wrote.

“Being nutmegged soon came to imply stupidity on the part of the duped victim and cleverness on the part of the trickster.”


A lesser-seen phenomenon at the World Cup.

On most occasions, a Rabona is used more for flair and aesthetics than actual efficacy.

To perform a Rabona, a player must kick the ball with their kicking leg crossed behind the back of their standing leg.

As Erik Lamela has showcased excellently above, it is often used when a player is uncomfortable using their weaker foot and would rather use the foot they feel more confident using.

One of the earliest examples of a Rabona came from Pele — who will be mentioned regularly throughout this glossary — in the 1950s while a number of the world’s most talented players have popularised it ever since

In Spanish, the term Rabona means to play ‘hooky’ (to skip school). Ricardo Infante used the skill all the way back in 1948 and was pictured on the cover of ‘El Grafico’ magazine — dressed as a schoolboy — with the caption: ‘El infante que se hizo la rabona’ (‘The kid who plays hooky’).

From there, the term Rabona has been associated with every time a player has replicated that skill.


It is a rare that a game goes by that doesn’t involve a stepover.

It really is as simple as it is sounds; a player completes a stepover when he/she steps over the ball with their foot without touching the ball — as you can see from Enzo Fernandez, below, before scoring his first World Cup goal.

The two Ronaldos are perhaps the best practitioners of the skill as they have both used it to devastating effect over the last few decades.

Pedro Calomino — one of the footballing pioneers of the early 1900s — is credited with being the inventor of the stepover, as well as the bicycle kick (which we’ll come to later).

He is still considered one of the best players to ever wear the shirt of Argentine giants Boca Juniors and will forever be remembered as long as players in the modern day continue to practise the stepover.


One of the most rare, yet aesthetically pleasing, pieces of skill in world football.

Also known as the flip-flap, the Elastico is completed by a player who pushes the ball in one direction with the outside of the foot before immediately moving it in the other direction using the inside of the foot.

It’s a really tough one to explain so I’ll let the master, Ronaldinho, take it away.

Jude Bellingham became the most recent player to pull off an Elastico on the biggest stage at the 2022 World Cup, 52 years after Rivellino exposed it to the world at the 1970 World Cup.

He admitted to learning the skill from his Corinthians team mate, Sergio Echigo before passing it onto a number of his Brazilian successors. Ronaldo and Ronaldinho could often be seen leaving defenders dumbfounded with this skill, among plenty of others.

Rainbow flick

One of the skills that you’re perhaps more likely to see on a video game than in an actual match.

A rainbow flick is completed by a player collecting the ball between their feet and flicking it up in the air, either over their head or to the side of them.

Like the elastico, it’s a tough one to explain to here’s one I prepared earlier, courtesy of Neymar.

Wherever you go in the world, the rainbow flick will go by a different name. Here are some of the alternatives:

  • Carretilha or Lambreta
  • Lambretta
  • Brazilian
  • Ardiles flick
  • Okocha trick
  • Coup du Sombrero

Its first sighting came in, you guessed it, Brazil. Alexandre de Carvalho ‘Kaneco’ — a team mate of Pele’s — was filmed executing a rainbow flick which led to an excellent goal.

Since his invention of the skill, the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Neymar and Ronaldinho have all been keen exponents.


One of the most iconic skills in football history.

In its purest, most traditional form, the skills is performed by a player dragging the ball towards them and, while turning, placing the other foot on the ball and moving it in the other direction.

Another tough one to describe so here’s Dusan Tadic, between five seconds and seven seconds, showing you exactly how it’s done. Enjoy!

The name ‘roulette’ may have confused some people so here are some of the other names for the skill.

  • Marseille turn
  • 360
  • Zidane turn
  • Maradona turn
  • Pirouette

There is no particular player that is credited with inventing the move but Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona were perhaps the two greatest practitioners. As you might have guessed, that explains why so many people use the name of those two players when acknowledging the turn.


One of the most aesthetically-pleasing ways to kick a football.

To performa a Trivela, a player must kick the ball completely with the outside of their foot. It can be a pass, a cross or a shot.

Ricardo Quaresma is widely considered the king of this particular skill so I’ll let him take it away.

Here’s his Trivela goal against Iran at the last World Cup.

Players, like Quaresma, will often use a Trivela in situations where they would rather avoid using their weaker foot. And who can blame the former Portugal star when he has mastered it so perfectly?

Cruyff turn

Perhaps Johan Cruyff’s most iconic creation.

When the Netherlands icon was being closely followed during the group stage at the 1974 World Cup, he faked a pass and dragged the ball between his legs, leaving the defender for dead.

His son Jordi — now a sporting director at Barcelona — tweeted the video of the famous turn a few years ago.

Footage has emerged that shows Pele may have been the pioneer of the skill but Cruyff’s version against Sweden is certainly the most widely-documented and probably the smoothest example.


An increasingly-popular phenomenon.

An Olimpico is a goal that is scored directly from a corner. The taker of the corner must be credited with the goal and the best examples go into the back of the net without a touch from an opposing player or goalkeeper.

In recent times, Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz has tried it on a number of occasions and he completed it to perfection twice in the space of a week earlier this season.

The Olimpico can’t really be attributed to one inidividual player as it has been done numerous times in the past, sometimes accidentally and other times intentionally.

In the last few months in particular, it has become a lethal tactical solution at set pieces when opposing goalkeepers chose to stand a yard or two away from their goal line.

You might have noticed several players trying to pull off the Olimpico at the World Cup.

Seal dribble

The ultimate piece of showboating.

As you may have worked out, this skill is performed by dribbling the ball on your head, similar to a performing seal.

Those of you who have been watching the World Cup may have seen Richarlison pull off the ‘seal dribble’ against South Korea. The Tottenham forward began the move with the eye-catching piece of skill before finishing it off with an ice-cold finish.

Watch the below video between six and nine seconds to see a perfect example of one of the sport’s most complex moves.

Unsurprisingly, it was another Brazilian who popularised the ‘seal dribble’. Kerlon — who played for his country’s Under-17 and Under-20 sides — would often go past defenders with the ball bouncing on his head.

While complex, it is one of the most effective skills in football because of how hard it is for the opponent to intercept the ball. Kerlon was often the subject of rather dangerous challenges such as elbows and headbutts.

(Top photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)


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