You know all the clichés, professional footballers should never miss from twelve yards but even the best players have missed penalties. Look at Maradona, Baggio, Shearer, Ronaldo, Messi… and I haven’t even got onto Southgate, Vassell or Carragher yet.
The topic of my article this week was sparked by an uncharacteristic miss by Robin Van Persie, which didn’t seem to matter too much, if anything it seemed to spur him on as he scored a hattrick at St Mary’s. Yet it proves even the invincible are vulnerable to a spot of complacency.
And in Van Persie’s case, that’s what it probably was. He admitted to changing his mind at the last minute and as expert Matt Le Tissier professed vehemently in the studio, that’s a vital mistake to make. To be fair to Matt, 48 penalties scored out of a possible 49 does qualify that as a non-sarcastic claim.
RVP had the balls to boldly attempt the outrageous penalty that seems to be a growing trend at the moment. We were all ranting and raving (well, the BBC studio was) when Andrea Pirlo effortlessly stroked the ball down the middle in the European Championship shootout against England in July. It was the height of eloquence and summed up a classic performance from Pirlo; yet he’s not the first nor the last person to attempt such a trick. We saw Sergio Ramos chip the ball home against Portugal in the semi-final just days later, rather uncharacteristically for a defender, could you imagine Gary Caldwell trying that?
It’s the footballing version of unprotected sex I suppose, when it goes well it’s a treat, but on the flip side, it can go spectacularly wrong. And there’s not much middle ground.
The first player I can remember attempting the chip down the middle was Dwight Yorke, who made a mockery of David Seamen by doing so in the mid 90’s, and it’s still a magnificent sight all these years later, simply because it’s so unexpected.
But risky penalties some in all shapes and sizes. Remember the Henry and Pires incident at Highbury back in 2006? The original the stunt was supposed to look like was immaculately performed by Johann Cruyff and Jesper Olsen back in 1982. Yet the most outrageous penalty I’ve ever seen can only be truly appreciated by watching it for yourself, it’s one of those you have to watch again and again and again…
Here it is: www.youtube.com/watch?v=upb_gUGLQz4 Ezequiel Calvante, remember the name.
Over the years at Wigan, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in regards to penalty takers, with various different penalty taking styles.
Let’s start with the good. Now I may be biased, but Nathan Ellington’s record speaks for itself. Despite his rather risky and unorthodox approach to taking a penalty, the Duke never missed from the spot for the Latics, and I’m not sure if he’s missed one ever before.
Unlike most others who generally opt for the safe bet of power in such pressure situations, Ellington casually strolled up to the ball, threw a shimmy in there and gently rolled the ball into one side of the goal. Incredibly, the goalkeeper seemed to fall in the opposite direction like a log every time and Ellington made a mockery of them every time.
We’ve seen the technique repeated (maybe even copied? Surely not!) over the years by players with varying degrees of success. Yakubu and Berbatov have both been rather successful with this ploy (both against Latics in the past) but the likes of Shane Long and David Silva as recently as this season have both failed. I couldn’t help but think when Jason Roberts said it ‘looks amazing when it comes off’ on Match of the Day 2 the other weeks, he was thinking of Ellington.
To get it right every time though can’t be a fluke on Nathan’s behalf, the 50/50 chance of the keeper going the right way must mean they’d guess correctly (and ultimately save a very weak shot) once in a while if there was no skill to it? Maybe it’s in the eyes, maybe it’s in the shuffle, but I still think Ellington could have a role as David Silva’s penalty coach, especially if he’s deemed a fringe player by Ipswich nowadays. He’d probably earn a fair wage at City for his troubles too.
That’s enough of me blabbering on about Ellington for a bit of nostalgia, there have been other successful penalty takers for Wigan in the past too. Take David Unsworth for example.
A stellar spot kick taker all his career, it took balls of steel for Unsworth to step up for that penalty against Sheffield United in the ‘Battle of Bramhall Lane’ back in 2007. But boy did he step up to the plate. Just writing about it brings it all back: “Who put the ball in the Sheffield net? Big fat David Unsworth!”
That might be a bit harsh on David, especially considering most of the middle aged, balding men chanting that song weren’t exactly size zero themselves (mind you, you’d be more worried if they were), but David wasn’t bad at penalties, although he did miss one we’re all very grateful of.
I’m sure all you anoraks remember the game between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers at Bramhall Lane back in autumn 2006. Unsworth was a United player back then and actually missed a penalty in a 0-0 draw (Rob Hulse and Lucas Neill also missed spot kicks in a bizarre game), and that added even more significance to the script which saw him score a penalty to save Wigan at United’s expense. If he’d scored that kick earlier in the season, we may hate West Ham even more at this point.
Unlike Ellington, Unsworth’s technique was generally to smack it hard and low, which saw him a reliable taker for Everton for many years. Strangely, he chose to side foot the aforementioned penalty against Blackburn and missed. Predictably then, he chose to return to his old ways for round two, which was the queue for the wildest celebrations ever seen by mankind.
Other successful penalty takers we’ve had over recent years off the top of my head include Andy Liddell (the founder of the penalty ‘shuffle’), Jason Roberts, Antoine Sibierski, Denny Landzaat, Jason Koumas, Amr Zaki, I think even Mido bagged one against Liverpool on his home debut.
And the bad? Well, where do we begin? Over recent seasons alone we’ve seen woeful penalties from Svetoslav Todorov, Mauro Boselli, Hugo Rodallega and Ben Watson, although generally reliable, did manage to miss one against Swansea last season. Of those four, three were strikers which shows you that maybe a composed head is a greater weapon than a good finisher in such situations. Mind you, it’s debatable if any of the relevant three can be considered ‘good finishers’!
And finally the ugly, it was quite well timed in terms of this article (or probably vice versa), that there were two penalties at the DW on Saturday, both very well taken, but surely Jonathan Walters is the best qualified for this section? I can’t remember Carlos Tevez, Jay Spearing or Gabby Agbonlahor missing penalties recently.