Flint's Off on One

Pretty much nothing is sacred anymore in football, what with the nauseatingly incessant Sky Sports-fuelled barrage on the senses, and the proliferation of social media’s slimy tentacles. Don’t worry, that itself is an area that will without question face my ire in future columns, but today there is a more specific area of desecration that has wound me up no end.

As a kid, I used to take penalties in the garden with my dad in goal, as many of us probably did too at some point. Having an older brother, I naturally became very competitive when our attentions turned to this quantifiable judgement of superiority, but not for the number of penalties scored. You see, in a bid to help us develop, Dad would pay us 5p for every penalty scored with our stronger right feet, but 10p if we scored with our left. Of course I greedily struck every one with my left, and while I lost out financially, seeing those rare left-footers scream into the top corner was a price worth paying.

Later I would have endless competitions with my friends where we would only accept a penalty if it was spectacular in some way. Those boggy fields that served as our stage were far from the pristine UEFA-approved lawns of today in every sense of the word. Hitting the crossbar was always a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, even if it did invariably mean sprinting to collect the errant efforts.

Now I’m all for a bit of fun and adventure – football would be a soulless corpse without it – but in the right context. This is where the godforsaken mass media element of this rant comes in. The world and his dog has now seen that clip of a Romanian player taking a 96th-minute penalty at the weekend to hopefully equalise against Steaua Bucharest, and laughed at his utterly moronic attempt to chip the ‘keeper from the spot. Now in the park with your mates, who cares? The more ridiculous the attempt, the better.

Here, however, it wasn’t back-slapping adulation that was at stake. With a point against the storied former national champions on the line, the blithering idiot decided his swashbuckling image that would have been broadcast across infinite screens within seconds was more important, and executed the most heinous excuse of a shot.

If you have a glorious Italian beard and boundless natural coolness and charm, then maybe, just maybe, you can pull it off. George Calintaru has none of them though. He was even reported to have broken his finger after punching a dressing room table in anger afterwards – serves the fool right if you ask me.

I feel sorry for Antonín Panenka in all of this. A European Championship winner in 1976 with Czechoslovakia, he made the ‘cheeky’ chipped penalty style famous with his never-before-seen effort in the final against West Germany. The thing is, then it was brilliant, because it was executed with one aim in mind – to find a way past Sepp Maier. Fooling the goalkeeper always required thought, and in the context of nobody ever having tried to (publically) score like that, it made sense.

If a teammate had tried that in our university intramural league division two playoff I’d have bloody well chinned him though, never mind in a full professional game. Playing to the gallery is a risk any player who aims for it takes, but I just cannot forgive pure stupidity. It’s the same as the hoard of people who will go all gooey inside at the sight of a penalty smashed into the top corner.

“What a penalty!” – what bollocks more like. Just think about it; you’ve had 120 minutes to entertain the crowd, but a penalty shootout is for business. The tension of a spot kicks is more than enough entertainment, so aiming for the top corner in such circumstances is infuriatingly inane since it is obviously the hardest part of the goal to reliably hit.

My coach at under-14 level once strolled a few paces and then asked me if I was able to pass him the ball. Obviously I said yes, and did so. Then he made me do so ten times as firmly and precisely to his feet as I could. I’m no Franz Beckenbauer, but even for me it was a very simple task. He then walked the same distance into the corner of a goal, and asked me to repeat. Easy.

What I had done though was take ten unstoppable penalties without realising. This muppet Calintaru failed to grasp his situation, and he wholeheartedly deserved every ounce of abuse that came his way. He is far from the only idiot to succumb to the pressures of likes and retweets, but do you forgive a lemming for jumping off a cliff just because everyone else does it?

The glorification of the unnecessarily spectacular is a skidmark on the modern game, particularly when it comes to penalties. Before you start lambasting me for being a boring dinosaur, the key definition here is the necessity of the flair; there are countless situations where it is called for, just not from the spot. A great penalty – and remember I am referring to the professional game here – is one that hits the back of the net as securely and unstoppably as possible. Bottom corner side-foot, done – end of discussion.