“With Wayne out Nani and I were practising in training. It was whoever felt good on the day. Nani felt confident but as captain and elder statesman I decided to take it. There were nerves. But you have to trust yourself and trust what you did in training the day before. You have to try and keep calm. We have always had good penalty-takers here from when I first came into the team; Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. I have been quite happy to see them go ahead and take them but I felt quite confident about those two.”
Ryan Giggs scored two penalties for United against Tottenham Hotspur to give United what could have been a crucial 3-1 win in the title race.
Yesterday, with United 2-1 up against Fulham we were awarded a penalty which could have wrapped up the points with five minutes remaining. Nani, who is capable of taking a brilliant penalty, stepped up instead of Giggs and had his effort saved. This miss of course proved costly when Fulham pulled one back minutes later.
“We had an opportunity to seal it with a penalty with a few minutes to go,” said Ferguson. “Score then you are home and dry. But the height is crucial to a penalty and it was a bad height. I thought Ryan Giggs should have taken it – in the last game Ryan scored two penalties and Nani was on the pitch. You don’t want to be dropping silly points – and we dropped silly points here. We didn’t take the opportunity.”
So, why didn’t Giggs take it?
In the second game of last season, we lost 1-0 to Burnley, but at 0-0 had the opportunity to take the lead. However, Michael Carrick took the penalty and missed.
In our next home game we beat Arsenal 2-1, with a penalty levelling the score for United which Wayne Rooney took.
“No-one really knew who was our penalty taker,” said Rooney after that match. “Then we got one at Burnley but Michael unfortunately missed it so from then on I said I’d take them.”
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking this was utterly pathetic. Cristiano Ronaldo, our former penalty taker, had left the club two months before the Burnley game and yet the decision on who should replace him in penalty duties hadn’t been decided by the start of the season? Whilst it’s rare for me to criticise the manager, Fergie really dropped the ball on this one.
Whilst there’s all kinds of things you can look back on from last season, this is arguably the most frustrating. Had the decision already been made for Rooney to be our penalty taker, it’s likely he would have scored against Burnley and likely we would have gone on to win, and that result would have left us two points clear at the top as fourth time in a row champions.
So, how pathetic is it that we’re in the same situation this season? Granted, we haven’t sold our penalty taker this season, but he wasn’t at Craven Cottage, so why had there not been a discussion over who the penalty taker was going to be? This is just a way to mentally prepare whoever it is as much as anything else.
Giggs had only been on the park for ten minutes, which might have meant he was less confident over stepping up, whilst Nani would have been eager to take it, but we shouldn’t be in a situation where the manager is saying “I thought someone else should have taken it.” Well, why didn’t they then? You’re the boss. Make it clear. If Rooney is on the pitch he obviously takes penalties, if not, Giggs, and if he’s not there, Nani. The desired pecking order of the manager should be well established and any time a penalty is awarded, we shouldn’t have players scratching their heads wondering who is to take it, with just a couple of seconds to get themselves in the right frame of mind.
It wasn’t the worst penalty I’ve ever seen but it was poor. Just at the perfect height to be pushed away, like Rooney’s against Liverpool, although he was fortunate enough to see the ball palmed back in to his path to net the rebound. Nani is capable of much better and he has the bottle for it. Let’s not forget he scored in sudden death of the Champions League final at the end of his first season with the club!
Taking a penalty should be easy and if Owen Hargreaves was fit, I’d have him above any player in our team. Every time he belts it in to the top left hand corner. The goalie knows where he’s going to put it but it’s impossible to save. Every penalty should be that way, as far as I’m concerned, but that’s a different matter for a different day. The point isn’t whether Nani should be blamed or not or whether Giggs is a better penalty taker, but that before every game, our players should know who this responsibility falls to.
Is stupid and careless lack of preparation going to cost us another title? I’d argue we’re just two games in to the season and it’s a little premature to start thinking like that, but when the title race can be so tight, with just one point or goal difference separating champions, we can’t afford to let ridiculous things like penalty taker get in the way of a result.
Must do better.