Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Finkler's move from Brazil to Wellington

Gui Finkler came from the streets of Brazil, where he'd try and hit free kicks into self-made targets. Photo / Photosport
Gui Finkler came from the streets of Brazil, where he'd try and hit free kicks into self-made targets. Photo / Photosport

Gui Finkler always took three shirts to training as a child growing up in southern Brazil.

He wore one while the other two were draped off the crossbar of a goal, one at each corner.

This was how Finkler, who will turn out for the Phoenix tomorrow night against Perth Glory, developed the technique that has made him one of the best dead-ball exponents in the A-League.

Finkler would practice for hours, trying to hit the shirts as they flapped in the breeze on a dusty field in Caxias do Sul, the second-largest city in the state of Rio Grande De Sul which borders both Uruguay and Argentina.

"We didn't have the mannequins to put as a wall or anything like that so we had to work out for ourselves something to aim for," said Finkler. "One of those things was to put the shirt on the top corner, as Zico used to do."

That's Zico, one of the all-time legends of the Selecao, who was also the grand daddy of free kicks, bringing a new level of precision to the art.

He would seemingly pass the ball into either corner even from well outside the area, effortlessly lifting the ball over or around walls. One of the most notable was the 1982 World Cup effort against Scotland, and he scored numerous goals for Udinese in the early 1980s. Former team-mate Leonardo recalled him doing 50 free kicks after training sessions, and hitting the shirts 30 or 35 times.

"Zico was the first [to try that] and, after he did that, you saw more and more players doing it," said Finkler. "It went like a virus, because you didn't have the mannequin or other equipment so you had to find another way."

Finkler started taking free kicks from an early age, after a childhood coach assigned him the duty. Since then it has become a constant quest to be better. Aside from Zico, other free kick idols were Juninho Pernambucano, who scored an astonishing 44 free kick goals in eight seasons at Lyon, and Corinthians player Marcelinho Carioca, who earned the moniker Pé-de-Anjo (Angel foot) for his prodigious abilities.

"They were really consistent," said Finkler. "They got the ball on target, testing the keeper. You won't have many chances in the game and you have to be spot on when you get them."

Finkler spent most of his career in Brazil, before arriving at the Melbourne Victory in 2012. He scored 20 goals in 93 appearances as an attacking midfielder and laid on many more. His most famous goal was a 94th-minute equaliser against Western Sydney Wanderers in 2013, a free kick struck from almost 30 yards on a difficult angle.

"That is the famous one," said Finkler. "People like to talk about that, it was a big moment. Hopefully there are more to come."

The 31-year-old has arrived in Wellington as a marquee signing, expected to add more pep to the Phoenix attack after goals were hard to come by last season.

"The expectations, the pressure, it doesn't change anything," said Finkler. "Every time I put a top on I want to deliver a good game for my team-mates. That is all that matters."

Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has asked Finkler to play a slightly different role in Wellington, pushing forward to support the strikers.

"I need to cover some more metres, score more goals rather than just make them," said Finkler. "I always played as a No 10 in Brazil and my first job was to try to assist and set up goals but hopefully I can do both."

Tomorrow night's game looks more onerous than other editions of the 'distance derby', with the Phoenix's five All Whites making a mid-week dash across the globe from North America. Kosta Barbarouses and Andrew Durante will start, while Michael McGlinchey should see some game time from the bench.

Perth are one of the title favourites but stumbled at home last week to draw 3-3 with the lowly-rated Central Coast Mariners. The Phoenix enjoyed victories in their last two clashes in Western Australia.

- NZ Herald

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