Seeing Stevie Gerrard scoring another penalty for Liverpool last night prompted a quick web search of successful penalty takers. A BBC Sport Online article argues that Southampton favourite and former player Matthew Le Tissier proved himself to be the spot-kick king, converting 48 of the 49 penalties he took during his career at the Saints. In an interview he highlights some of the technical, tactical, mental and emotional aspects of his game that enabled him to achieve his incredible track record:
“It’s a personal thing and not something you can teach. I don’t think there was any secret to my success. [he then goes on to share them…] Self belief and confidence were the biggest thing. I believed that when I stepped up to take them, I was going to score. It was an easy chance for a goal. Being a goalscorer and loving hitting the back of the net, I just didn’t want to waste that opportunity.
From 12 yards out, it’s a free shot and you should be scoring nine times out of 10 – at least! I was fortunate that my technique enabled me to side-foot the ball but also with quite a lot of power. That was probably the key to my success. I always went for the corners. I wasn’t brave enough to hit it straight down the middle. That takes a lot of bottle. I stuck it in the corner and if the keeper went the right way it was hard enough to beat him.”
During the years he almost single-handedly kept Southampton in the top-flight, Le Tissier inevitably spotted the ball up with a huge weight of pressure on his shoulders. But he never let a penalty become a mind-game duel between him the keeper 12 yards away from him.
“I never made eye contact with the keeper. I kept my eye on what he was doing, but never at his face,” said Le Tissier. “I always chose the corner I was going to put it in before I started my run-up. But if the keeper moved towards that corner early enough I could always change my mind at the last minute. It takes a lot of bottle to step up there in the first place and put yourself on the line. If you’re confident, have missed a couple but still want to take them, then go ahead.”
This speaks to us of a confidence but also of not being afraid to miss, and there is a great example of some positive self-talk: “I believed that when I stepped up to take them, I was going to score. It was an easy chance for a goal.” For him, such belief massively increased the chances of success, and led to a phenomenal 98% return.
If only England could achieved that, if only…