What is nutmegging in soccer

Alex Youbg

2023-04-24 • 10 min read time
What is nutmegging in soccer

Victorian Slang Theory

One idea is that it comes from Victorian-era slang meaning to be tricked or deceived. In the 19th century, the phrase “nutmegged” was used to refer to being duped or made a fool of. This may refer to how the defender is tricked when the ball is played between their legs.

Cockney Rhyming Slang Theory

Another proposed origin is Cockney rhyming slang. In rhyming slang, words are substituted for common terms based on words or phrases that rhyme. The theory is that “nutmegs” was used as rhyming slang for “legs.” Passing the ball through an opponent’s legs was therefore referred to as a “nutmeg.”

Dishonest Nutmeg Trading Theory

The third main theory relates to the spice trade of nutmeg itself. In the 19th century, nutmeg was extremely valuable, but some unscrupulous traders would substitute wood and other fillers for real nutmeg to trick buyers. This practice of cheating people in nutmeg trading may have inspired the soccer term for deceiving a defender.

While the exact origin is still debated, the most likely explanation seems to be the Victorian slang meaning of trickery or deception. But whatever the roots, the nutmeg remains one of the most entertaining skills to pull off in soccer/football, simultaneously impressing fans and embarrassing defenders. The unusual name just adds to its legacy as a creative and risky maneuver.

The Nutmeg: A Trick as Old as the Beautiful Game Itself

History and Notable Practitioners

The nutmeg is one of the most humiliating skills in soccer. To nutmeg someone is to kick the ball between their legs, evading their attempt to block the pass or shot. Though simple in execution, successfully landing a nutmeg requires perfect timing and close control of the ball.

The origins of the nutmeg are unclear, but it has been a staple skill move in street and professional soccer for over a century. One theory suggests the term “nutmeg” originated in Victorian England. At the time, nutmeg was a precious commodity used in cooking and medicine. Unscrupulous market salesmen would occasionally substitute fake nutmeg for the real thing, “nutmegging” unwitting buyers. The soccer move mirrors this trickery on the field.

The nutmeg became popular in South American street soccer in the early 1900s. Brazilian and Argentine players incorporated it into their improvisational, trick-heavy styles of play. It quickly spread across the region and then globally as South American stars joined European teams.

Famous Practitioners

Pele, the legendary Brazilian forward, is considered one of the pioneers of the nutmeg. His mastery of the technique epitomized the Brazilian emphasis on expressing oneself creatively through soccer. He famously nutmegged the Swedish defender Sigge Parling during the 1958 World Cup final when just 17 years old.

In the 1980s and 90s, a new generation of South American players took the nutmeg to new heights. Argentinian legend Diego Maradona was perhaps the most skillful of them all, using nutmegs and other tricks to devastating effect. Brazilian stars like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Rivaldo also became known for their silky skills.

Today, players like Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Cristiano Ronaldo have made the nutmeg a staple of the modern game. Videos of their outrageous nutmegs rack up millions of views. While disrespectful to defenders, nutmegs excite fans and showcase the artistry possible in soccer. Love them or hate them, nutmegs have woven their way into soccer history over the past century through the daring play of its most creative goalscorers.

How to Nutmeg Like a Pro

Choose Your Moment

Timing is crucial when nutmegging. Do it when the defender has their legs spread apart and weight on their front foot as they try to steal the ball. This opens up the space between their legs. Avoid nutmegging defenders who are standing square or have their legs tight together.

Sell the Fake

Sell the defender on a different move before nutmegging. Take a touch to the right or left like you’re going around them. As they shift their weight to block you, touch the ball back the opposite way through their legs. The misdirection helps catch them off guard.

Strike the Ball with Inside of Foot

Use the inside of your dominant foot to push the ball firmly through the defender’s legs. Keep your toe pointed down and ankle locked for maximum control. Make clean contact to thread it right between their feet.

Accelerate After the Nutmeg

As soon as the ball passes through their legs, explode forward to chase it down. The defender will be caught by surprise and take a moment to react. Use this window to create space and continue your attack.

Vary Your Angle

Don’t nutmeg straight head-on every time. Vary the angle you play the ball through. Go from the side or diagonally to keep defenders guessing. This makes it harder for them to quickly close their legs.

Mastering the nutmeg requires lots of practice to perfect the technique and timing. But once you get it down, this move is a game-changer. Pulling it off successfully will bring cheers from the crowd and strike fear into the hearts of defenders. Just don’t overdo it, or you may lose some friends!

The Dreaded Nutmeg: How to Defend Against It

Positioning is Key

The best way to avoid being nutmegged is through proper positioning. As a defender, you want to stay balanced with your feet staggered, rather than keeping them side-by-side. Standing square on to the attacker makes the space between your legs an easy target. By staggering your stance, you close off that gap and force the attacker to try to kick the ball around your leg instead.

Shift Your Weight

In addition to foot positioning, you also want to focus on your weight distribution. As the attacker approaches, transfer your weight to your back foot. This will bring your front foot up and collapse the space between your legs. Again, you are eliminating the area that the attacker is targeting for the nutmeg.

Read the Attacker’s Movements

One of the keys to defense is reading what the attacker is going to do before they do it. Watch their hips and shoulders to see if they are setting up to push the ball forward or through your legs. If you see them angling for a nutmeg, adjust your feet quickly to take away that option.

Close Down Space

When an attacking player is making a run at you, don’t backpedal and allow them space. Step up aggressively to close down the gap. The less time and space they have, the harder it will be for them to execute a nutmeg. Jockey the attacker and time your tackle rather than lunging too early. Patience and focus are vital.

Practice Reaction Speed

Finally, work on reaction drills in practice to improve how quickly you can respond to an attacker’s movements. Set up cones and have a teammate try to nutmeg you as you move laterally across the space. The more you work on left-right agility and fast footwork, the better you will be at reacting and shutting down nutmeg attempts.

While the nutmeg can be a source of embarrassment for defenders, it is an avoidable skill with the right techniques. Maintaining proper positioning, weight distribution, spatial awareness, and quick reaction times will go a long way in helping you defend against being nutmegged. Put these tips into practice and play with confidence knowing you have closed off one of the attackers’ favorite tricks.

The Nutmeg: Soccer’s Most Exciting and Controversial Skill

Cultural Significance in Street Soccer

The nutmeg is one of the most crowd-pleasing skills in soccer. When a player pokes the ball through an opponent’s legs to get past them, fans are instantly enthralled. The audacity and embarrassment caused by nutmegging make it one of the sport’s most exciting maneuvers.

Nutmegs have special significance in street soccer variants like panna where the aim is to nutmeg your opponent as many times as possible. Top panna players like Soufiane Touzani have gained huge online followings thanks to their nutmeg skills. The nutmeg has become an integral part of panna’s creative street culture.

Sportsmanship Controversies

But nutmegs have also been controversial. Some view them as humiliating or mocking opponents. Overusing nutmegs is sometimes seen as poor sportsmanship - showboating rather than constructive play. Stars like Neymar have been accused of excessive nutmegging.

There are arguments on both sides. Nutmegs exemplify soccer’s creativity and expression. The sport thrives on moments of surprise and skill. But sportsmanship matters too - skills should be used to benefit the team, not embarrass rivals.

An Iconic But Controversial Skill

Overall, the nutmeg encapsulates soccer’s exciting culture. The blend of creativity, embarrassment and controversy is what makes nutmegs so culturally fascinating. Soccer wouldn’t be the same without the satisfying sight of a ball poked cheekily through an opponent’s legs. But players should also be mindful of overdoing it. When used strategically and in moderation, the nutmeg is an iconic soccer move.


The nutmeg is one of soccer’s most skillful and culturally significant moves. Its ability to simultaneously embarrass defenders and excite fans has made it an iconic part of the sport’s history. However, there are valid debates around whether excessive use of the nutmeg is unsporting. Ultimately, the appeal of the nutmeg reflects the creative culture of soccer, but players should be mindful not to overuse it at the expense of sportsmanship and team play. When executed properly and at the right moments, the nutmeg encapsulates the blend of artistry, deception, and spectacle that makes soccer so thrilling to watch.

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