Upon returning from his
holiday investigative trip to Brazil, Roy Hodgson tackled the thorny issue of penalty shootouts.
The Three Lions have lost six of seven shootouts in major tournaments, with the victory over Spain at Euro 96 proving the only time they could outscore their opponents from 12 yards. Clearly, something greater than bad luck is at play.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Hodgson expressed his willingness to bring a psychologist to Brazil to help the team overcome their confidence stumbling block:
I'm not averse to using a psychologist.
We are considering, with Adrian's help, the possibility of inviting someone with us but I think it's very important they're someone who is part of the group. I'm not sure just suddenly shipping someone in to give the players a lecture would work.
Plenty of top clubs employ sports psychologists to help assess their young talent, but it doesn't seem likely that many use them to cure penalty yips.
Regardless, here are five other ways England could help eliminate penalty shootout disappointment...
It's hard to believe that athletes who get to perform their dream job and represent their country need any extra incentive to perform, but the sad fact is that most won't get out of bed in the morning for less than five figures.
England players aren't paid particularly well, with the comparatively negligible amount they do receive often going straight to charity.
If the FA want Wayne Rooney to have motivation to perform, offer him £300,000 or maybe even £600,000 if he sinks a spot kick (recent events suggest that Rooney only operates in denominations of £300,000 now).
If Daniel Sturridge is feeling pensive about a penalty, assure him his pre-fabricated mansion will have another floor added to it when he gets home. Money is the language footballers speak!
Psychologists and business experts often cite Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Essentially, it's a theory from the 1940s that shows the different levels of needs that a worker needs to fulfil to feel motivated and satisfied.
The very lowest level of requirements are basic physiological needs like eating and sleeping, but right above that is safety and "freedom from fear."
To satiate this freedom from fear, every red top tabloid in the nation should be made to sign a document confirming they will not mock a player who misses a penalty. Pizza Hut would have to swear never to make an advert like this.
Feeling free of potential damage to their egos, England stars would take their spot kicks with confidence and impunity.
As anyone who watched that fateful night on the 4th July 1990 in Turin will testify, the Germans are really rather good at penalties. They are virtually infallible in a shootout situation, as if the confidence to block everything out and beat the keeper is innate within their DNA.
So, to win like the Germans, be more like the Germans.
Make Steven Gerrard wear lederhosen before every game. Insist that Leighton Baines dumps his mod look and adopts a Rudi Voller-style bubble perm. Put Frank Lampard on a wurst-only diet (if he isn't already). Give the whole squad Audis and let them drive at 140mph on the motorway. Do anything to give them the mentality of Die Mannschaft!
We have already covered the premise of offering extra financial incentives, but for some players, money can no longer be a motivator. After all, how many of the same grotesquely expensive designer watch can you buy when all your peers have the same one?
What the FA needs to offer is a range of exclusive money-can't-buy penalty stimuli.
If Ashley Cole scores, have Ferrari make him a new car that no one else at Chelsea has—call it the Cole360 and put two V8 engines in it. If James Milner succeeds, promise him a dinosaur egg for his mantelpiece. If Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain keeps the Three Lions in shootout contention, have Kanye West write a concept album about him.
It's fine to suggest that a psychologist should be added to England's staff, and all the aforementioned ideas are fun to play with, but everyone seems to be missing the very best way to make the team better at penalties.
Make the team practise penalties more often!
Roy Hodgson reportedly made his squad increase their spot-kick practise in the build-up to the Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy, but the result of the game indicated that they probably needed to do even more. Forget about stretching, set piece drills, practise games, eating and sleeping—get the squad banging them in from 12 yards day and night.
It's hard to think that a millionaire athlete needs extra rehearsal for converting a dead ball from relatively close range, but this is clearly what it takes.