A Pro Goalkeeper On How To Take The Perfect Penalty

Fans seem to go into apoplectic fits every time a player misses a penalty. But it's harder than it looks in a big game. Here's how to do it.
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Fans seem to go into apoplectic fits every time a player misses a penalty. But it's harder than it looks in a big game. Here's how to do it.

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After Arsenal's Mikel Arteta fluffed his lines in the last miunte against Fulham, we asked our resident 'keeper David Preece to what he should have done . . .

A Premier League player, especially one with the technical qualities of  Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie or Arsenal's Mikel Arteta, should never miss a penalty. Never. Go down to any training ground on a Monday morning and ask them to hit a one metre square target from 12 yards away and invariably they’d either hit it or at the very least get within inches of it. So why does it seem we’re seeing more missed penalties than ever before?

The trouble is, the actual technique of sweetly striking a football is only one of the many things you have to factor in to taking a penalty in a match situation. Add in fatigue, the balance and magnitude of the game, the crowd, awareness of TV cameras, the opposition goalkeeper and the pressure from teammates and management and you’ve got yourself a strong mix of mental strains which makes your brain more important than your feet. You'd think the experience of being in that situation many times before would quell the nerves and make it easier, wouldn’t you? And with the data available to the clubs and players, they should be able to use these stats to further sway the situation into their favour and not make it look as hard as they do, yet goalkeepers with a penalty save ratio of 50% are not uncommon.

It seems it’s the keepers who are using statistics to much better effect and that’s why we’re seeing more saves. Over the last few seasons both goalkeeping coaches I’ve worked under, Simon Tracey and Ian Wilcock, both prepared “homework” for myself and Luke Steele to study in the form of a clips package or a printed dossier of the recent history of all potential penalty takers. It’s impossible to cover the whole of the goal but you can cut down the area simply by noting a favoured spot or excluding the areas where the takers previous penalties haven’t been placed.

To me the reason behind the deluge of missed penalties lately is simple. They aren’t aiming for the right area. The stats will tell you that 80% of all penalties that are saved are done so in the bottom third of a goal because goalkeepers know they can spread themselves to cover more of the goal that way. Over half of all penalties scored are placed in this lower third of the goal so it makes sense for the keeper to stay low. Lifting the ball above this zone dramatically increases your chances of scoring. Of course, the perfect penalty would end up hitting the top corner of the netting but as we all know, accuracy is paramount when attempting to loft the ball with any other part of the foot than the instep which reduces the margin for error.

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Speaking from a goalkeepers point of view, I know there is one place in the goal apart from the obvious top corners where I won’t save it: my face. Penalty takers should use the keeper’s face when he’s stood in the centre of the goal as the target. It’s a safe option giving the most opportunity for success but it’s an area that only approximately 11% of scorers are using.

It’s rare for a keeper to stand patiently on their line these days as many jump around like agitated kids after downing a bag of Haribos and Peter Shilton will testify it’s very difficult to react to a well struck kick. When making my debut for Aberdeen against Celtic, my manager Ebbe Skovdahl must’ve mentioned half a dozen times to me that if Celtic were to get a penalty, Henrik Larsson would put his kick straight down the centre and I wasn’t to move. They did get the penalty and Larsson duly rolled the ball calmly to my right as I stood there looking like an idiot. I rarely listened to manger’s advice on goalkeeping after that and it’s that risk of embarrassment which partly causes a keeper to dive rather than stand.

As a target, there is so much more room for error and as long as you lift the ball above waist height to keep the ball away from the trailing foot of the keeper, they won’t be able to recover once they’ve made their initial lateral move. You certainly don’t need to blast the ball either as this reduces accuracy, so a firm side foot is all that’s needed to make sure there’s enough pace on the ball so the keeper doesn’t have enough time to react.

As with any other penalty technique, there is a snag to this. The longer you do it, the more chance a keeper will notice a pattern and perhaps gamble on staying put but there is a solution too. Rotate the penalty takers. They can still aim at the same spot but the keeper will think this is highly unlikely and will refer to type and look to dive. Repetitive use of placing the ball down the centre may make it predictable in the long-term but in a one off situation, it’s always the best option.