Penalty shoot-outs have become a mental exercise above anything else. How much does a player trust what they do? How well can they execute that plan?
With the modern technology and artificial intelligence involved, you can collect all the data you want with the data analysts, so when you go to the shoot-out you know everything about every player. At the same, you know as a goalkeeper the player who walks towards you has been told by the analyst everything about you.
Both parties go to the duel with all this information but still second guessing the other: what if he changes? Once you start having these doubts, it can affect your execution from both sides.
My spot-kick strategy
Twenty years ago, I would make notes in my notebook about where I had seen guys shoot. We would have a few clips on the VHS cassette. It would be an entire game and you would have to fast forward. Now it’s an entirely different story! Analysts have all the tools, and on the highest level this became a big part of the game.
Everybody has their own way of going into a shoot-out. Ultimately you must find your way of getting the most out of it. My game was all about details and analysis, and then trying to apply it in the heat of the moment to ensure you do the right thing with the right timing.
Some people, like Kepa, have a more energetic approach. They like to move before. You can do all sorts of things. You can be still and pose a different strategy. Without moving you can make the taker think twice about whether you will move or stay.
Timing and technique
As a goalkeeper, what you look at is how people shoot. It’s completely different to face somebody who watches the goalkeeper, like Jorginho, or a penalty shooter who puts his head down and runs and shoots. You know then they have probably made the decision the moment they put the ball down, and they don’t care if you move or if you don’t move. In that instance, movement is not the key. It’s about timing.
It’s exciting, it gives you an opportunity, and it’s a test of your mental and physical skills.
— Petr Cech
A penalty shoot-out, or penalties in general, is something you should have a feeling for. The sense of timing, the intuition, some people have that. They don’t bother too much about statistics or data, they just go in and save it. That’s a gift. People have different approaches, and ultimately you have to find the way that suits you and gives you the most success.
No substitute for the real deal
You can never replicate a penalty shoot-out because you can never replicate what is at stake. It’s as simple as that. When you shoot in training, there is nothing at stake. Even with a punishment, like having to wash the dishes in the kitchen if you miss, it might be what you hate but ultimately, what does it mean?
We would do little games where whoever missed would have to take everyone out for dinner, things like that, but it doesn’t replicate the real thing, because missing a penalty in an important shoot-out never leaves you.
You have the pressure of the moment, you have the physical exhaustion of the game, and you walk from the halfway line where you can change your mind with each 10 steps. People underestimate that walk. You have so much time to think. For people who have never been in a situation like that, it’s difficult to imagine how much a player can feel the weight of the occasion.
The crowd can have a big impact on the takers, too. For a goalkeeper, they are behind you, so you don’t have the visual movement with people waving their arms. If somebody pulls their trousers down, I don’t see it! But for the taker, it can play a part.
If you look at major tournaments or big games, you have seen in the past how many fantastic players have missed. The better the player, the bigger the pressure because everyone expects you to score. Think Roberto Baggio at the World Cup in 1994. He was the best player of the tournament.
I took penalties once!
I used to take penalties when I played for my Under-16 team in Czech Republic. Then we changed the coach and he was not that keen to send the goalkeeper up. He was worried I would miss and then the opposition team would break!
When I was 16, I had an open high strategy aiming for the top left. That was the safe one for me, I felt comfortable, not completely side-footing it.
I never took a penalty in a shoot-out in my professional career, though. In one game for Rennes I was the sixth taker, but it never came to that because I saved the fifth one. I was thinking I had to save it otherwise I would have needed to take a penalty! I preferred just trying to save them. It’s exciting, it gives you an opportunity, and it’s a test of your mental and physical skills.