Andy Robinson on the not-so-simple art from twelve yards that could define England’s summer.

This Summer England will take part in the World cup in Brazil. A report on the BBC Football website last week indicated that Roy Hodgson is seriously considering bringing in a psychologist to help prepare the players in the event of his side facing the nemesis of English International football, the penalty shoot out. Roy was quoted;

“We have some confident penalty takers, but others less confident. It’s how we get them. We need to know they are as well prepared as they can be. It will be about character, their confidence and their ability to block out the next morning’s headlines”.

Let me just stop you there Roy! “Tomorrow mornings headlines” are only going to be about the daft sod who didn’t have his body shape right as he approached the ball and knocked it way over the bar. The headlines may also be about the cocky little git who tried to out smart the keeper by a little dinky chip down the centre of the goal – I really hope the talented, flashy and deeply religious Daniel Sturridge gets sent a copy of this! The headlines may also possibly be about someone shirking his duties and responsibilities to the national cause. Paul Ince would sprint 70 yards up a pitch to argue and wave his finger under the nose of the referee but the big time Charlie didn’t have the bottle to walk thirty yards to take a penalty when his country needed him. The one thing Roy didn’t need to mention in any discussion about the possibility of a penalty shoot out was the pressure of the headlines in the press the day after.

The season so far has seen some hilarious penalty moments. We have had the feeble effort from Ozil that was highlighted excellently in the “Cutter” last week by Emma Willis. We had earlier seen the Jason Puncheon effort for Crystal Palace that actually set the alarms off at Gatwick Airport the ball went so high and we have had the hilarious penalty shoot out in the Capitol One Cup semi final between Sunderland and Manchester United. United’s penalties were so bad the collective night shift’s on the nearby Trafford Park industrial estate all thought that war had broken out and it was a Nazi air raid as the footballs came flying in from the theatre of dreams. Speaking of United, we also have the brilliantly outlandish and completely unresearched Michael Owen comment on BT Sport on a successful Wayne Rooney penalty. “Rooney just doesn’t miss penalties”. He actually does Michael. His record is 19 out of 27. Which is frankly shocking when you are paid more than a million quid a month. Even my very own hero of the moment Sergio Aguero has managed to miss a penalty this season. However, my club’s excessive amount of “oil money” to quote Stan Collymore ensured the ball rebounded back off the post onto Tim Howard’s head and nestled sweetly in the corner of the net in a rare City win against Everton.

If England do progress through the group stages in the World Cup – and in a group containing Italy and Uruguay and with a squad most likely containing Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling I do concede that it’s highly unlikely then the players maybe better off without the psychologist and spending a nice afternoon like I have done watching the best penalty takers from the last twenty or so years on that most wonderful device “You Tube”.

As far as my research goes the players from the Premiership era and the two decades that just precede the sea change of the big money introduction with the most successful penalties are Shearer, Lampard and Gerrard. The important fact though in this snippet of information is the amount of penalties that these three players have actually taken. We have all seen these three miss more than the odd one. Of the three, Steven Gerrard would be the best from twelve yards. Shearer has always followed the “sledgehammer” method and blasted the ball as hard as he can and when you go for power you always lose that defining element of control. In his later years Lampard has also adopted this approach and he compounds his risk by often going straight down the centre of the goal. Gerrard is the nearest of the three to taking the ultimate penalty. He takes a decent run up, picks himself a corner and hits the ball with power.

He never misses you know.

The greatest penalty takers always take the same approach. They choose the corner they are going to aim for, they take a decent run up and strike the ball firmly with pace using the side of the foot.

In an interview, the greatest penalty taker ever Matt Le Tissier said that this was the methodology behind his incredible success rate of 48 successful spot kicks out of 49. The one he failed to score was in a Southampton game against Nottingham Forest, which Forest won 2 -1. Mark Crossley who saved a penalty a few seasons earlier in the cup final from Gary Lineker was the goalkeeper. Crossley incredibly managed to save 8 penalties from 14 in the Season he stopped the one from Le Tissier. The insight from both the footballers though on the incident is telling. Mark Crossley puts his incredible success down to one reason. That reason is luck. He always made his mind up to dive to one side and went with it. Crossley said the odds always favour the penalty taker. Le Tissier although the loser in his one on one battle that afternoon with Crossley started from the mind-set that a free shot on goal with no defender near him was going to be his best chance of scoring on any given Saturday afternoon. So confident in his own ability, he even had a favourite corner to the keepers left and with the technique of a good run up, a firmly struck side footed shot and as he says the ability to just roll it to the keepers right if he dived early; it meant he only ever missed the one.

All the best penalty takers I have seen by and large follow the Le Tissier technique. These include Bergkamp, Ricky Lambert and Phil Neal. The centre of penalty excellence would be Manchester. With Gerry Daly, Eric Cantona and Denis Irwin for United and Anelka, Elano and one of the odd  exceptions to the Le Tissier technique – Balotelli from Manchester City. Super Mario however, has missed a couple so far this Season with his laconic, laid back and almost casual style. Shearer’s “sledgehammer” technique is perhaps not to be discounted. Going back to my youth this was successfully deployed by amongst others Francis Lee, Alan Woodward ( Sheffield United winger in the seventies for those under the age of 45) and Peter Lorimer. Strangely, it seems to fit perfectly with West Ham. The two best master blasters I have seen were both West Ham full backs; Scottish international Ray Stewart and Julian Dicks.

As a former penalty taker in 1980’s in the Warrington Saturday League with St Benedicts Old Boys and the Gas Social Club in the Warrington Sunday League and with a record of 27 out of 28; ( only true saddo’s keep a diary this length of time) … –  the one I missed; the keeper cheated and moved and the Referee had obviously been bribed because he didn’t sanction a re- take! My advice is to watch Le Tissier and always keep the ball down. If you keep the ball down, it can’t blaze over the crossbar can it ?

No psychology needed here Roy. Technique and confidence are the key to success.