08
May
12

On the spot

It is often assumed that penalty kicks are foregone conclusions, and some even suggest that strikers who inflate their scoring ratios from 12-yards should have their hauls judged accordingly. If you ask me that’s ridiculous… 

This week I want to take the opportunity to discuss the issue of penalty kicks.

Josh Kennedy, the J.League’s top-scorer for the past two seasons, has often had his achievement questioned in some quarters because of the fact that he is Nagoya Grampus’s penalty taker and thus is assumed to have an advantage in the race for the golden boot (and hideous sponsors’ trinkets).

Personally, I’ve always felt that was nonsense and recent events have served to back me up.

Three former World Player of the Year winners – Kaka, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – all failed from 12-yards in their Champions League semi-finals, and their misses prove that penalties are far from being as good as a goal.

When I played football back in England I was generally used as a fairly ineffective defender.

Because of that I wasn’t exactly a regular on the scoresheet, and any chances that did fall my way tended to end up anywhere but the back of the net.

However, when it came to penalties as an enthusiastic teenager I was always first to raise my hand.

I can still remember the first time I volunteered to take a spot-kick as part of a penalty shoot-out when I would have been 17 or so.

Several of my more attack-minded (and more talented) older teammates weren’t keen to have a go so I offered my services.

My manager pretended not to hear me and asked again who fancied one.

I again raised my hand and said I’d take the fifth kick – I fancied a bit of glory.

After realising no one else was going to volunteer he grudgingly accepted and I duly tucked my kick away and we won the game.

At the time I really couldn’t work out why my teammates were so nervous. To me it was just like completing a pass to a teammate. The goal wasn’t far away, all I had to do was pass the ball to the corner before the keeper got there; nothing to it.

Another penalty shoot-out came about and I again took last and again scored the winner. Having proved it wasn’t a fluke I was then installed as the team’s regular penalty taker.

Of course, as we all know, in every story the protagonist suffers a fall just when everything seems to be going well.

I had grown up watching Eric Cantona coolly slot home penalty after penalty and until that point my youth and naivety meant I was so full of confidence I would score it never entered my mind that I might not.

A couple of penalties down the line those doubts did eventually surface.

It was a bit of a windy day and as I was placing the ball on the spot I heard a teammate comment to an opponent that there was no way I would miss.

“What if do miss?” I thought.

And that was it. Suddenly the goal seemed tiny, the keeper looked huge and the breeze appeared stronger. I doubted if I could even reach the goal-line, let alone cross it.

Needless to say my attempt was saved and my confidence from 12 yards evaporated.

The level I was playing at was completely inconsequential compared to a Champions League tie – perhaps a couple of dozen spectators and the odd dog – and while J.League games are also a step away from the very elite level, keeping your emotions in check in front of thousands of expectant or jeering fans is no mean feat.

I put the question to Kennedy himself after a Grampus game earlier this season and he, too, insisted that spot-kicks are far from straightforward.

“Penalties are harder to score than people think,” he said. “If I had the choice between a sort of half-chance in the game or a penalty I’d rather have a half-chance.”

The fact that there is thinking time adds to the pressure, and it is dealing with that, more than the technique, which separates those who can from those who can’t.

Therefore, nothing should be taken away from Kennedy or any other players who bolster their records from 12 yards.

The man himself put it best.

“At the end of the day they all count. They all win games and that’s how I see it.”

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