It took two years for Antonín Panenka to good the flop-wedge penalty that bears his identify. First he practised it in opposition to the Bohemians goalkeeper Zdenek Hruska in coaching shootouts, on which they’d stake beer and chocolate, then in friendlies and league matches. After which, with Czechoslovakia 4-3 up on penalties within the 1976 European Championship remaining, he noticed the West Germany keeper Sepp Maier transfer early – and scooped the ball impudently over him, not solely securing the trophy however immediately trademarking a brand new transfer.

The key, Panenka defined to Ben Lyttleton in his guide, Twelve Yards, was to make use of an extended runup to see what Maier was going to do. “I ran quick, as a result of then it’s more durable for the goalkeeper to learn your physique language,” he stated. “Even after I’m a yard away from the ball, Maier is already shifting to the left. If I wasn’t utilizing the chip, I might have put it in the other way.”

I considered these phrases after Sergio Agüero’s slow‑motion Panenka-style penalty fell meekly into the fingers of the Chelsea keeper Édouard Mendy on Saturday night time. “He used to do that in coaching however by no means used to attain, so I don’t know why he has tried it,” stated Micah Richards, as social media tutted and frothed. Afterwards, as Agüero issued an apology, the controversy grew to become not simply concerning the miss – however the doubtful deserves of the Panenka itself.

Nobody doubts it’s a high-tariff transfer; one which leaves the taker both trying like a genius or a idiot. However is it well worth the threat? Effectively, that evaluation requires a dive right into a wormhole of science, artwork and the psychology of an excellent penalty kick.

The very best place to begin is with the LSE professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, an professional in discovering recurring patterns amongst kickers and keepers, in an effort to give groups a aggressive benefit in penalties.

“It’s not a horrible concept,” says Palacios-Huerta, whose shoppers have included Chelsea earlier than the 2008 Champions League remaining and Holland forward of the 2010 World Cup remaining. “In my dataset, the scoring fee of a real Panenka is statistically just like that of every other sort of penalty kicks; though it’s barely decrease.”

How a lot decrease, given round 80% of penalties are profitable? Palacios-Huerta says the small variety of Panenkas makes his estimates tentative. However he says “the scoring fee could possibly be 4-5 proportion factors decrease than the typical penalty kick”.

Sergio Agüero attempts a Panenka against Chelsea
Agüero’s gamble did not repay in opposition to Chelsea. {Photograph}: Shaun Botterill/AFP/Getty Photos

This evaluation is backed up by a examine of 1,716 penalty kicks within the massive 4 European Leagues between 2015‑16 and 2018‑19, which checked out all the things from the size of run-up to whether the ball was placed, powered or chipped, Panenka style. “The science definitely suggests the ‘placement’ adopted by the ‘energy’ methods are more likely to result in a penalty being scored than the Panenka,” the lead writer Dr Mikael Jamil says.

Nonetheless, in his guide Lyttleton factors on the market are additionally psychological results of a well-timed Panenka. As an illustration throughout Euro 2012, Spain had been stage at 2-2 within the shootout with Portugal when Sergio Ramos scored with a Panenka to make it 3-2. Moments later Bruno Alves then stepped up and hit the crossbar. Three days earlier, with Italy 2-1 down after two kicks every in opposition to England, Andrea Pirlo dinked a penalty over Joe Hart. Once more the momentum shifted. Ashley Younger stepped up and hit the crossbar – and Italy went by means of.

There’s something else critics of Agüero must also keep in mind.

Opposite to what many individuals assume, happening the center with a penalty is definitely a wise technique. For the reason that 2006-07 season Opta has tracked the placement of each Premier League penalty, placing them into six equally sized zones, and located that capturing low left has a 77.2% success fee whereas going low proper is 80% profitable. That’s what most gamers overwhelmingly do. Nonetheless aiming a penalty kick centrally is 97.8% profitable when the shot is excessive – and 80.2% whether it is low.

In Twelve Yards, the previous Chelsea keeper Petr Cech offers a compelling reason why that is likely to be: he says he by no means preferred staying within the center for a penalty as a result of it would appear to be he wasn’t making an attempt. That’s backed by a scientific examine that discovered keepers had “motion bias” and tended to dive as a result of they felt much less blame can be hooked up in the event that they did not make a save.

In the meantime, the query stays, why attempt a Panenka when statistically it has a decrease probability of success? Palacios-Huerta believes the explanation goes past scoring, and factors out that Agüero perhaps needed to go away a mark in considered one of his remaining video games for Metropolis. Panenka himself, in the meantime, noticed it in a different way. “I noticed myself as an entertainer and I noticed this penalty as a mirrored image of my character,” he stated. “I needed to present the followers one thing new to see, to create one thing that may get them speaking.”

Not less than Agüero’s miss is unlikely to be pricey. Metropolis will nonetheless win the Premier League and the striker’s popularity is safe. For Panenka the stakes had been altogether increased. Actually after the sport in opposition to West Germany, he was instructed that would have been punished if he missed, as it might have been seen as disrespecting the Communist system. What kind of punishment, Lyttleton requested him? “Thirty years working down the mines,” got here the reply.

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