Penalties! The very word generates fear and dread in any England manager.
As everyone knows my England team went out on penalties to Argentina in France ‘98. This after we outplayed them with 11 men, then went down to 10 men and had a disallowed Golden Goal that should have stood.
In fact, I can still remember half my team celebrating the great victory over Argentina when they were counter-attacking and we were shouting furiously from the bench for them to get back!
Well, we lost another penalty shootout and I have no doubt that we will lose one again out in Brazil unless we do something about it, rather than simply believing it is down to luck. Or more ridiculously, the obsession that we need to practice penalties more.
The problem isn’t in the technical ability to take a penalty, although it is a contributory issue, which is resolved by making sure you have as many penalty takers on the pitch at the end of extra-time.
My view has been to bring on any substitutes who are natural penalty takers for their clubs. This helps to make sure they are on the pitch at the end.
I was a penalty taker myself, and you have that confidence in your own ability to put them away if you are a natural penalty taker.
That isn’t the prime concern. The fact is that spot kicks are missed in that long walk up to take the penalty.
For the player, that walk up takes an eternity. So much is going through their minds about the consequences of missing that so vital spot kick with so much riding on it, the whole nation watching, the stigma of missing.
So, clearly, it is all in the mind, and for that reason the players need clarity, a real focus.
They need to know in advance where exactly they will be putting their penalty kick and not be deflected from that, come what may.
But the players do need an expert to coach them through the mental focus that is required to obliterate all the immense pressures during that intimidating walk up when it’s your turn.
For that reason, I would advocate having a psychologist in the England camp to ensure the players are focused on their penalty and not on the pressures that build up with every step on that long walk to take the spot kick.
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