The Perfect Penalty: An Ex-Keeper’s Perspective

The Perfect Penalty: An Ex-Keeper’s Perspective

Another matchday, another victory for Norwich City as their fantastic form continues, and I couldn’t be more delighted. But having witnessed another Norwich striker bungle another penalty at Carrow Road, I feel the time is now right to shine a new light on the seemingly unanswerable question: how does one take the perfect penalty?

I was reluctantly shoved in goal by my brother and team manager at the age of 5, and have remained there ever since. I have faced hundreds of penalties over the years, and professional ‘keepers face thousands: yet, we are rarely (if ever) asked our opinion about which type of penalties are most difficult to stop. For the sake of Jordan Rhodes and the other Canary attackers who dread taking penalties, I’ll now provide a goalkeeper’s perspective on how to take a penalty.

The first thing you have to do is decide which way to strike the ball; for us ‘keepers, it’s deciding which way to dive. As outfield players, you’re in the privileged position. You dictate the power and direction of the strike, whereas we can only guess at both. Most goalkeeping coaches advise picking a direction at random, as there’s simply no time to watch where the striker hits the ball and follow it with a dive.

If you don’t want the goalkeeper to save your penalty, aim for the top or bottom corners. Some keepers aren’t big enough to cover these areas of the goal with their dive, others are so big that they can’t lumber their body there fast enough. Even if you hit the post, it might not be the end of the world: goalkeepers are always taught to dive diagonally forwards to cover a wider area of the goal, so if you do hit the post, there’s a chance the ball may bounce off the goalkeeper’s back and into your path – or into the net (a surprisingly great number of penalties are scored this way).

If a Norwich striker takes that advice, they will usually fall victim to another crucial dilemma: the power with which they take the penalty. Those that go for considerable power hit the ball with their laces; those that go for less power usually ‘side-foot’ it. I believe that the latter comes from South American and Spanish football, where coolly passing the ball into the goal tends to be most celebrated. They might look clever and cheeky while they do it, but I don’t think they shouldn’t be emulated.

Speaking as a goalkeeper, you will have a far greater chance of beating us if you hit the ball with power – and the reason why is very simple. If you hit the ball slowly, we only have to dive the right way to be able to save the ball: you have given us enough time mid-dive to place our hands or body in an ideal position to block your feeble attempt. But if you hit the ball with power, goalkeepers have to get lucky twice: we have to guess the right way, and guess where to place our hands and body. The ball will be travelling at too fast a pace to allow us time to react mid-dive – we can only hope for the best.

So, hit the ball with power, and aim for the corners! Forget trying to ‘psyche out’ the goalkeeper: they will feel much more intimidated and nervous about the strong run-up it takes to hit the ball with real conviction. Plus, you’ll be decreasing their odds of saving it, and increasing your odds of scoring! Side-footing a penalty tells your opponent that you have no real faith in your ability to score, and that you’re willing to potentially squander a golden opportunity for your team for the chance to look ‘cool’. So never let me never see you take a penalty side-footed again, Jordan Rhodes!

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