Since the adoption by UEFA of the penalty shoot out in the 1970s, there has been a much disputed question circling over its head: Is a penalty shoot out the ultimate test of skill, nerve and courage...or luck?
I came to this thought whilst watching the Manchester United vs. Wolfsburg game on television tonight. The commentator said that a win would be Sir Alex Ferguson's 100th European win...if you counted their penalty victory over Chelsea in Moscow in the 2008 Champions League final.
The dilemma was that some statisticians marked that match down as a draw, whereas others said it was a win.
I do not wish for this article to be a debate as to whether United should have won that final, as it would only create two sides: One of United fans claiming it was most certainly a win...and the other made up of everyone else.
Rather, I would like everyone to put their most objective hats on and really think about it: Should a penalty shootout be viewed as a win for the "winning" team...or a draw? Is it luck...or skill?
There is no doubting the drama of a shootout.
The tension is like nothing else in a sporting arena, especially if it is your team participating.
The devastation as a penalty is saved.
Elation as you see the net bulge.
They are like a good horror movie.
Truly "behind the sofa" viewing.
Time and time again, though, penalties are referred to as a "lottery."
But are they really?
Surely it takes skill to be able to slot the ball home from 12 yards.
Surely it takes nerve to pick your spot and block out the sound of 80,000 people screaming for you to bottle it.
Surely not every penalty save can be a fluke.
Words like "guess" and "luck" are banded around in reference to the dreaded finale.
If it were based on luck, then the match should be counted as a draw. In fact, if the outcome is based wholly on luck, what is the point? A football match is meant to be the battle of two teams, the better, or at least the most clinical, coming out on top. So surely a lucky kick of a ball is no way in which to decide such a contest, let alone a World Cup final.
Once again, I do not wish the debate to be whether we should have shootouts—we have them, and it doesn't look like it is going to change. But can a team truly claim to have won when emerging from the match after scoring more penalties than its opponent?
The heads of the game must view them as tests of skill, as previously mentioned; otherwise, they would not be or should not be the basis of deciding a match. So then, why would statisticians insist a penalty shoot out victory be counted as a draw?
What if a team has dominated a match for 120 minutes and then loses on penalties? Does that mean the other team have suddenly got better in the five minutes sorting out who will take a penalty between extra time and the shootout?
In my opinion, the penalty shootout is down to a combination of skill and nerve. There is nothing that amazes me more than seeing a player slot home the deciding penalty without a glimmer of the nerves they were surely feeling. On the flip side, I can't see how a penalty save is down to pure guess work. The best keepers tend to save more penalties and, for me, that can be no mere coincidence.
I therefore believe a shootout should be recorded as a win. Although I have been left bitterly disappointed because my team have lost a match which they had dominated, I nonetheless feel so disappointed because they have lost. Not because they have drawn.
What is your opinion? And when I say opinion, please take a very objective view on this subject. Try not to base it upon a recent victory or loss by your team.
Please comment below. Thanks for reading as always.
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