• Language: Spanish (Rioplatense – dialect spoken in the Rio de la Plata basin of Argentina and Uruguay)
  • Pronounciation: [ raˈβo.na ]
  • Etymology: from rabón (a short-tailed or tailless animal)

So a couple of weeks ago Erik Lamela did this.

In English we’ve started calling this the rabona, a word we’ve lifted from Spanish.

Prior to importing the Spanish term, in English the move had no name (probably because the whole thing just reeks of whim, fancy and excess, and we don’t really hold for that kind of thing round here). The nearest we came to a unified term was the spectacularly workaday ‘crossed-kick’, so we can be thankful for the globalisation of football and its effect on our mother tongue.

Where does it come from?

As has been widely reported, the word rabona comes from Rioplatense (specifically Argentinian) Spanish, and means ‘to skip school’ (hacer rabona). The use of rabona in footballing terms comes from a pun dreamed up by an opportunist sub-editor at Argentinian football journal El Grafico.

In a match between Estudiantes de la Plata and Rosario Central, Estudiantes player Ricardo Infante (his surname means ‘child’ in Spanish. This will be important in a minute) used the move to score from distance. El Grafico ran a front cover with the headline The Infante (‘child’) Who Skipped School (El infante que se hizo la rabona). The idea being that Infante ‘skipped’ the use of his wrong foot by using the technique.

Going back further, the word rabona comes from rabón (rabo – meaning tail – with the suffix –ón which is usually augmentative but sometimes, as here, used to add a negative connotation). This means an animal that has a shorter tail than would be expected for its species (or no tail at all). In Lunfardo – the late 19th/early 20th dialect spoken around Buenos Aires – una rabona also meant a camp follower, or military prostitute. What links either of these things to the idea of skipping school is a matter for wild speculation.

Origins of the specious

Speculating wildly, we could look to the root word rabo – tail – and wonder if this in itself was being used by the El Grafico journalist as a description of the trick (the leg whipping like a tail), and whether the journalist was making a gorgeously layered pun around rabo/rabona. We’d like this to be true, although we suspect it probably isn’t.


Rabona-Penalty-And finally…

  • La rabona has since become a tango move, inspired by the football trick
  • The Italians maintain that the move was invented in 1976 by Calgiari player Giovanni Roccotelli, and use the Italian word incrociata (‘crossed’) to describe it. It is interesting to note that where the word used in English has become common in most other countries, Italy has its own word. This is also the case for the Panenka penalty, which the Italians call colpo a cucchiaio (‘the spoon shot’)
  • The rabona has also spread to American football