Le Tissier, Cantona, Shearer: penalty kings. Experts, upon whom you could almost bet your mortgage in expectation of a successful penalty conversion. But where on earth are their penalty king successors?
As Tottenham fans, we watched yet another golden opportunity pass us by at Bolton as centre midfielder Tom Huddlestone stepped up for his first attempt at coveting the penalty-taker role, following too many failures from sharp-shooter Jermain Defoe.
One look at the match-day squad for this FA Cup fifth round tie left no doubt that this Tottenham side lack neither mega-millions of investment nor gifted ‘technicians:’ Bentley, Defoe, Kranjcar, Modric, Peter Crouch even, from whom the solution should by now be resolved.
Spurs’ only recent gifted penalty-taker since the departure of Teddy Sheringham has been Robbie Keane, who seemed to revel in the pressure of the moment, and of course right on cue, his first game for Celtic against Dunfermline offered him the opportunity to open his goalscoring account from the spot, which he happily accepted.
Yet in truth it’s not a situation unique to Tottenham. Who are the Premiership’s penalty kings of the recent years? They don’t quite come to mind in the way they used to. Indeed, Graham Alexander, the Burnley left-back has an exceptional record and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard has a hugely impressive success rate. However, when you think of the usual top eight or nine Premiership sides, you won’t find too many hot-shot strikers who dominate both the top-scorer positions and also occupy the big numbers when it comes to penalty kicks .
Drogba and Anelka at Chelsea are behind Lampard in the penalty kick queue at Chelsea, whereas at Liverpool Fernando Torres’ obvious world-class talent is hardly reflected in his penalty-taking prowess. The very fact that Steve Gerrard takes them, despite his previous misses, speaks volumes.
Arsenal, more than any team have abandoned the notion of the traditional centre-forward so the penalty taker has often been changed. As stated, Spurs have had their problems and Everton have never had a definitive hotshot in recent years, certainly not since the departure of Andy Johnson.
Then, there’s the champions: after King Cantona came Yorke and Cole who were largely reliable, followed by the Dutchman Van Nistelrooy who, despite ‘that miss’ against Arsenal in September 2003 was a hugely successful and clinical penalty taker. Yet as United’s formation adapted to the modern game (and the arrival and subsequent departure of Ronaldo) Wayne Rooney, brilliant as he is in almost every other department, has been unable to compound his brilliance with a guaranteed penalty conversion, though one suspects that may change as he continues to both improve and mature, and so the assumption of responsibility becomes as much a part of his game as goals and energy.
Perhaps goalkeepers have become more aware of penalty taker’s preferences, ably assisted by advanced technological advances, and perhaps the modern 4-3-3 or 4-4-1-1 formations have led to less penalty king strikers. There’s no doubt we’re witnessing a new breed of centre-forward and this perhaps has its consequences in respect of the clinical nature of both striker and penalty-taker.
There’s no doubt that the Premiership awaits the return of some penalty kings to compete for the throne. Well, Spurs definitely do anyway. Ready and waiting.