What Is A Nutmeg In Soccer?

In many ways soccer is a simple game.

Twenty-two men or women vying for possession of a size five ball, preventing it from entering their own team’s net, whilst attempting to score in the opponent’s goal as many times as they can. 

Yet what makes soccer beloved is its complexities, with players doing something unexpected and displaying a range of skills that stretch beyond normal gameplay, from subtle flicks to extreme ‘showboating.’

An example of such techniques is the nutmeg. For avid followers of soccer this trick will be familiar and when done successfully is entertaining to watch. But for newcomers to the sport it may cause confusion.

So what exactly is a nutmeg in soccer? 

Nutmeg Neymar
Nutmeg

What Is A Nutmeg In Soccer?

To successfully perform a nutmeg in soccer, the player in possession of the ball must kick or pass it through an opponent’s legs.

It is a specific action which is widely accepted as being outside of the normal skill set used during a match. 

Why Do They Call It A Nutmeg In Soccer?

The most popular explanation as to why people call it a nutmeg in soccer is derived from Cockney Rhyming Slang – with the term nutmeg meaning legs – as in “the ball was played through his nutmegs.”

However, there is a more intriguing origin, the Oxford English Dictionary listing the verb ‘nutmegged’ as Victorian slang and meaning “to be tricked or deceived, especially in a manner which makes the victim look foolish.”

This link makes sense, with an opponent often left perplexed and embarrassed that they’ve allowed the ball to pass through their legs.

What Is Another Word For A Nutmeg In Soccer?

A nutmeg in soccer is sometimes known by some other names. Often the word is shortened to a ‘meg,’ so when a player successfully performs a nutmeg people shout “megs!”

In Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Norway or Finland, a nutmeg is called a ‘tunnel.’ This name indicates that the opponent’s legs represent a tunnel that the ball passes through during the move itself.

A nutmeg can be mistakenly referred to as a ‘panna’ but they are actually different skills. A nutmeg in soccer happens when the ball is knocked through the opponent’s legs and then collected on the other side. Whereas a Panna is performed by passing the ball through a player’s legs, perhaps to a waiting teammate and yet it does not need to be gathered again by the player like a nutmeg.

Nutmeg
Nutmeg

Why Would You Use A Nutmeg In Soccer?

The nutmeg in soccer is most commonly used when an attacking player is dribbling towards their opponent’s goal. It should mainly be used as an offensive action rather than defensively because losing possession close to your own net is very risky.

It is a skill that’s rarely seen or attempted during a match for a number of reasons. Firstly, the opportunity to knock the ball through someone’s legs doesn’t occur that regularly during a game.

Also, achieving a nutmeg in soccer requires precise timing and the right situation to arise.

But if used to maximum effect, nutmegging your opponent allows a player the chance to quickly bypass any defensive efforts and attack the goal. 

How Do You Nutmeg In Soccer?

There are two main methods for performing a nutmeg in soccer. Which technique a player should choose depends on the actions of the opposing player attempting to dispossess them.

If the opponent is charging forward at pace, then a player can catch them off guard by knocking the ball through their legs as they lunge into the tackle.

Yet if the attacker is suddenly faced with a defender operating at a slower pace or block then a more considered approach is needed.

The key to a successful nutmeg in soccer in this situation is to lead the defender in one direction and then rapidly switch directions. As they lose their balance then the opportunity to pass the ball through their legs is likely to present itself.  

How Do You Avoid A Nutmeg In Soccer?

There is a real incentive for any soccer player to avoid being ‘nutmegged.’ 

Because if a player is successfully nutmegged by an opponent then it exposes both the individual and their team to being more easily attacked with one less teammate able to protect the goal.

Being nutmegged is avoidable to a degree, although in the heat of a match with the pace of a modern game, it is not completely preventable. The best tactic for avoiding a nutmeg in soccer takes both concentration and an acute awareness of body position in defensive situations. 

The defender should turn their body slightly to the side rather than standing face on, placing one foot in front of the other about a ball’s width apart. This greatly reduces the likelihood of an opponent catching you off balance and then passing the ball between your legs. 

Who Was Most Famous For Using A Nutmeg In Soccer?

Most professional players are capable of performing a nutmeg in soccer. The man oeuvre is not exclusive to the highly skilled or elite talents of the game. 

However, there are some famous soccer players who have either used the trick more than others or performed them in high profile situations. Some of the great soccer players throughout different eras of the sport are perhaps prone to attempting a cheeky nutmeg. 

Manchester United legend George Best was particularly apt at the skill, regularly tormenting British and European defenders with the nutmeg in amongst his other wide range of elaborate tricks. Perhaps the Irishman’s finest ‘nutmegging’ moment and a prime example of an incredible nutmeg in soccer came during a match between Northern Ireland and Netherlands in 1976, when a 30 year-old Best actually had the confidence to push the ball through the legs of none other than Johan Cruyff!

Another excellent example of a player who would regularly nutmeg in soccer is Ronaldinho, one of the Brazilian’s favourite moves and during the early 2000’s in particular, would regularly perform one playing for either Barcelona or Brazil. Usually included as part of a mazy and fast paced run at the defence, he would effortlessly and almost arrogantly slip the ball between the onrushing defender’s open legs before charging at the goal.

The nutmeg in soccer was also performed gracefully by Diego Maradona who was famous for showboating using the move. Such was the Argentinian’s immense talent that it was a near automatic and natural thing he would do. 

Interestingly, he chose to perform a pre-meditated nutmeg on his debut for Argentinos Juniors after his manager insisted he ‘get a nutmeg in.’ The talented teenager obliged, immediately humiliating his defender with what was the first professional touch of a soccer ball!