Another week, another penalty decision. Controversy sells and Fleet Street was presumably rubbing its hands with glee at Sir Alex Ferguson‘s post-match comments following the lack of an award for Wayne Rooney‘s tumble against Tottenham Hotspur. This week it was Ryan Giggs’ conversion to send Manchester United on the way to a comfortable victory against Fulham. Casting aside arguments about referee favouritism or lack thereof, the other pertinent issue is United’s lack of a spot kick specialist.
Giggs is the fifth different player to take on duties from the penalty spot so far this season. Some teams are lucky to get five penalties, let alone be able to hand the burden about. Like the captain’s armband, it should not matter who is tasked with the job so long as they are successful. Alas, that simply has not been the case this season as proved with Giggs being the latest to try his luck.
Robin van Persie against Southampton, Javier Hernandez against Wigan, Nani against Galatasaray, Wayne Rooney against West Ham – United should count themselves lucky not one of those misses has proved costly. Sooner or later one errant strike will cost points and you begin to wonder where the problem lies. Is it the lack of a specialist or too many egos wanting to try their luck?
Oh, how we long for the days when you could depend on someone from twelve yards. Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin, Eric Cantona. Those were when men were men and no-one cried at a missed penalty. Arguably, the team was spoilt for choice but at least you knew who would claim the ball game to game, plant it on the spot and convert. Now you can pick and choose yet variety is not the best policy.
In these heady days of squad rotation, if you were to pick someone to take on the duty you simply cannot be guaranteed they will be starting, injury permitting. During the 1990s, the duty passed from Bruce to Irwin and finally rested with Cantona. Each was a reassured presence on the team sheet. Looking at the list of players to take penalties this season, even Rooney and Van Persie have been rotated at some point so it is difficult to have a definite penalty taker.
For a while, it appeared Rooney was the man to assume authority from twelve yards. Strikers need goals and Rooney’s temperament was better suited to recover after any miss. To be fair he has had the practice given that his record from the spot reads. Taken 27, missed ten.
Interestingly against Fulham, Rooney was indeed on the pitch meaning that his skied miss against West Ham has probably moved him down the pecking order. After the match Ferguson said:
“With Wayne missing the penalties he has, it was time to give him a break but he will come back to it. The one thing about Wayne is that it doesn’t faze him if he misses one. He has a fantastic temperament.”
Presumably the demotion will not faze him either which raises the question with Giggs unlikely to hold down a starting berth – but who is next in line?
Given his scoring record and undoubted composure with the goal in sight, Robin van Persie simply has to be awarded the responsibility. After his strange, almost chipped effort against Southampton, he seemed to have learnt his lesson at Anfield by aiming for a top corner and putting his foot through it. Arguably, he is the closest thing to a guaranteed starter and there are few strikers brimming with as much confidence as the Dutchman. That is unless he misses the next penalty and the debate starts again.
Can De Gea take spot-kicks?