Mario Balotelli and the word "perfect" aren't thrown together often.
The AC Milan striker—who is enjoying a second lease of life after moving from Manchester City—scored yet another penalty in the recent match against his hometown of Palermo. Balotelli has stepped up to the penalty spot 19 times in his professional career. Remarkably, he has netted all 19.
To put that in a little more perspective, let's take a look at the exact numbers Balotelli has posted since making his senior debut in 2005:
|Team||Number of penalties taken:||Number of penalties scored:|
Balotelli has scored seven goals in five starts and one substitute appearance for Milan. This includes penalties against Udinese, Cagliari and Palermo, winning the Azzurri a total of four points from the spot. Most famously, the striker stepped up in the last minute of his Milan debut to coolly secure a 2-1 victory in front of the San Siro crowd.
At the time of writing, his 100-percent penalty-conversion rate is amongst the most talked-about runs in football. The 22-year-old has realistically played a third of his professional career and is still to miss from 12 yards.
The responsibility of taking penalty kicks is an important one. As we recently saw in the Nathan Dyer/Jonathan De Guzman argument during the Capital One Cup final, it's a right that must be earned.
Back in 2009, Balotelli found this out the hard way when Samuel Eto'o refused to move aside against Palermo. Despite Balotelli winning the penalty, Inter captain Javier Zanetti led him away like a father pulling his son from a sweet shop.
Even at this stage, Balotelli was ridiculously confident. Since this incident, the steadily improving forward has shown he is more than capable of beating the world's best goalkeepers in a battle of wits. How does Balotelli continually deal with the pressure? What techniques does he utilise for success? Let's break it down.
The former Manchester City man believes his ability to score from the penalty spot is due to mental toughness . In an interview with TIME Magazine, Balotelli revealed the secret behind his record:
"It’s just like a game of the mind, between me and the goalkeeper. Me, I know how to control my mind. When the keeper moves before me, it means that in this game of the mind he has lost."
Such an approach can be seen in many of Balotelli's goals. He has a habit of stuttering slightly in his slow run up to the ball, making it almost impossible for the keeper to hide which way he is going to dive.
This allows Balotelli to focus on accuracy. With the goalkeeper's diving decision made obvious, the Italian is able to easily roll the ball into the opposite side, which becomes as close to an open goal as possible. As we saw against Sunderland, a successful reading of the goalkeeper's movements allows Balotelli to get away with what otherwise would be classed as a poor penalty attempt.
When players such as Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo misplace a penalty kick, the goalkeeper can easily read their body position and anticipate the direction of the ball. Balotelli gives himself room for error. His little jink of the body throws most keepers off, allowing him to nonchalantly roll the ball past the line. He doesn't have to focus on overpowering the shot or aiming for the top corner; his penalties rely on accuracy and the ability to quickly alter direction.
Of course, this method of attack is open to mind games. Arguably Balotelli's most famous penalty came in Manchester City's 1-1 Champions League draw with Borussia Dortmund. Visiting keeper Roman Weidenfeller whispered into Balotelli's ear. Instead of reacting and fuelling his bad boy image, he brilliantly dispatched the opportunity to rescue a point for his team.
Even Joe Hart, Balotelli's former Manchester City teammate, couldn't stop him from sending Italy towards the Euro 2012 final. The outspoken Englishman believed he sussed out Balotelli's technique prior to his country's showdown with Italy (via Manchester City.com).
Two days later, Balotelli pointed to the corner he was going to shoot in before overcoming Hart in another penalty-shootout loss for the Three Lions (via The Daily Mail).
Will Balotelli ever miss a penalty? Most likely. Amongst a career of enigmatic performances and attitude problems, one question has been answered again and again by the Milan forward: He knows how to put penalties away under extreme pressure.
Balotelli minimises the risk of missing when duelling one-on-one with any keeper. By restricting his run-up speed and amount of power, he is able to completely read his enemy's decision and quickly adapt beyond any difficulties.
Similar to the Panenka penalty, this technique must be celebrated for its artistry. It might not be as easy on the eye as a Pirlo dink over a floundering keeper, but it's certainly just as effective.
Can Balotelli keep his perfect penalty record going? The difficult part starts now.
Will Balotelli ever miss a penalty? Is he the best penalty taker in the world? Let me know in the comments section and be sure to follow me on Twitter:
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