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What is a nutmeg in football and why is it called so?

When a player puts the ball through an opponent’s legs successfully, it is called a nutmeg in football.

Football is called the beautiful game for a reason. The sport of football allows for players to express their creativity with a variety of skills that end up bamboozling the opposition while also wowing the fans. These skills and expressions are sometimes viewed as disrespectful on the part of the trickster, but it must also be kept in the mind that one of the objectives of playing football is also to entertain as many people as possible.

Skills like the nutmeg, the rabona, rainbow flick, sombrero, trivela, elastico and roulette capture the complete imagination of the world’s greatest game and make games more fun. It also enables a player to rub in his superiority on the pitch.

Nutmeg is an essential tool that is used not only to wow the crown but also to dribble past someone effortlessly and escape pressure. But what is a nutmeg in football and why does it have such a strange name? Let’s find out:

What is a nutmeg in football?

The act of pushing or passing the football through the legs of the opposition player in order to dribble out of pressure or simply to showboat is known as a nutmeg and the process is called nutmeg. The victim is said to be nutmegged or megged if he ends up letting the ball pass between his legs.

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Owing to the effectiveness of the move, its simplicity, as well as the fact that it is visually very impressive, the nutmeg is extremely common amongst footballers and all of the world’s greatest players end up trying it on more than one occasion.

The most notable players to perform a nutmeg in football on a regular basis are Luis Suarez, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Juan Roman Riquelme, Eden Hazard, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robinho among others.

Luis Suarez, Ronaldinho, Neymar and Lionel Messi are especially quite adept at that skill and extremely nonchalant about the way they perform it. As such, it is often said that these players can even nutmeg a mermaid.

The skill is also extremely common especially among Brazilian footballers who have a penchant towards playing football as skillfully and with as many outlets of creative expressions as possible. The whole process is called Joga Bonito (Beautiful Game) in Brazil and has become very famous over time while also being synonymous with the cultural identity of the footballers from the five-time World Cup-winning nation.

The nutmeg also holds a special place in Brazilian football and they have a special name for it. In Brazil, and by extension South America, it is called ‘panna’ instead.

While in the rest of the world, and especially in England, doing the nutmeg or panna is often frowned upon as it indicates a sign of disrespect towards the opposition and against the spirit of the game, most fans consider it to be a part of the Joga Bonito side of the game and enjoy it when they’re pulled off well.

Why is it called a nutmeg in football?

Answering the question of why it’s called a nutmeg in football is not so simple. The name of the skill as well as the spice that is used in cooking has several explanation and origin stories. Such stories are often embedded in the language and folklore of the world’s greatest game.

Nutmeg is a common parlance in football and an interesting claim is that it comes from Cockney rhyming slang with the ball going through the opponents nutmegs (also known as legs).

In his book “Football Talk – The Language And Folklore Of The World’s Greatest Game”, English historian Peter Seddon explains that the word had emerged as a 19th-century Victorian slang in old England.

He further argued that the word nutmeg has also been listed in the Oxford English dictionary where the official etymological origin is: “Arising in the 1870s which in Victorian slang came to mean ‘to be tricked or deceived, especially in a manner which makes the victim look foolish’.”

“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,” he further explained.

Also Read: Who is the king of dribbling skills in football?

Nutmeg is not only limited to football, but it is also common in several other sports. When a puck goes through the goalkeeper’s legs in ice hockey and into the goal, it is known as a ‘five hole’. Similarly, in cricket, when English player Nat Sciver hit the ball through her legs, it ended up earning the nickname of ‘Natmeg’ all over social media.

Even in basketball, popular NBA players Manu Ginóbili and Jamaal Tinsley often try to pass the ball to their teammates through an opponent’s legs and it may also be considered as a nutmeg in basketball.

How to perform a good nutmeg in football?

It is very important to know how to perform a good nutmeg in order to avoid being embarrassed on the field as well as losing possession cheaply. Such a let down can even change the momentum of the game.

Therefore, it must be utilised judiciously and at the right moment so that it has maximum impact while having very little adverse effect on the outcome of the game. For these reasons, it is preferable to perform the nutmeg in the opponent’s half and especially the final third.

Trying a nutmeg near the sidelines, corners or when racing down the flanks on a dribble is also encouraged since failure to pull it off successfully will result in the ball going out and reduces the opposition’s chances of mounting a counter-attack instead.

Another great time period to perform nutmegs is during the closing stages of the match when opponent’s legs are tired and they find it difficult to keep up the intensity.

Another key aspect to keep in mind while performing the nutmeg is to show the defender a different direction with a body feint that you will not end up taking as you will only pass the ball through his legs and go the other way instead. Trying to catch them off balance as they are coming in fast and fail to slow down is also advisable.


Who does the best nutmeg in football?

Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Ronaldinho, and Juan Riquelme perform the best nutmegs in football

What are some other popular skills in football?

Other popular skills in football include Elastico, Cruyff turn, Marseille roulette, Rabona, Sombrero, Trivela and the Stepover.

Who is the king of nutmeg in football?

Lionel Messi is the king of nutmeg in football.


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