Interview: Antonin Panenka

Penalty legend on Covid, Bruno Fernandes, Jorginho, disrespect and his legacy

I once sat outside a pub near Prague with Antonin Panenka talking about players who had football moves named after them. We went through the Cruyff turn, the Zidane roulette, the Papin scissor-kick, the Madjer back-heel, but found none were as loved, or ubiquitous, as the Panenka. It doesn’t even need that extra word to describe what it is!

In last week’s newsletter, Panenka (the person) helped to determine exactly when a Panenka (the penalty) should be called a Panenka: it’s all about the quick run-up, the trajectory of the ball as it crosses the line, and at what point it hits the net. Even in that short description, you can see that Panenka cares greatly about the aesthetic. Sometimes it's more important how people do what they do. For me, the original Panenka penalty stands out in football like a piece of art.

Thanks to Football Club editor Karel Häring, I recently had the chance to ask Panenka some questions. Here’s how it went:

How are you feeling? You had us worried when you went into hospital with Covid last year.

“It’s not something pleasant but I hope I am fully recovered and don't have any consequences in the future. I feel relatively fine, so let’s hope it doesn’t come back.”

You were obviously the first to score with a Panenka penalty. Do you think goalkeepers have changed their approach to facing penalties now that the Panenka is more of an option?

“It’s obvious that in my playing days, when I used this kick, the striker had an advantage against the goalkeeper as they could react only after I kicked the ball. The rule has changed since, so that now goalkeepers can move across the line, doing their tricks, waving with their hands, simply trying to make the penalty taker nervous. It’s more difficult for them now. From what I have seen lately, I think that more shooters use a hard shot down the middle.”

How do you feel today when you see a scored Panenka? What about a saved Panenka?

“When I see someone trying ‘my’ penalty, it obviously makes me happy. And it always strengthens my belief that it’s a successful way to convert a penalty. But if you want to use it, you have to train for it properly, it shouldn’t be some kind of sudden decision without any previous preparations. Not every player can score from this penalty, and if it’s missed, then it’s the kicker’s fault as the goalkeeper would have recognised it was coming.” (Ben’s note: I once missed a Panenka penalty in a charity shoot-out in front of 30,000 fans at Lansdowne Road. No previous practise. Not recommended)

In the recent Scottish Cup final, Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard scored a Panenka and was branded disrespectful by a pundit. Can a Panenka penalty ever be disrespectful?

“This is nonsense. I don’t know why someone could think about it in this way. For me, it’s the simplest way to score a penalty. It doesn’t matter if you decide to aim right or left or down the middle. There is absolutely no ridicule involved in it. I would be a total idiot if I had to take a penalty in the European Championship final and was just thinking about ridiculing the goalkeeper.”

We looked at this issue last week, but what are the ingredients that go into a Panenka penalty for you?

“The main ingredient is to do with your own behaviour – your body language and your eyes – to ensure the goalkeeper doesn't think that you want to kick the penalty in a different way. My run-up was always longer to gain a bit of extra time; and faster so the goalkeeper doesn't have a chance to change direction. The shot should not be too fast, you have to chip the ball so it glides. Also you have to send the ball directly to the centre because even if it is one metre from the centre on the right or left, the penalty loses its beauty. When the ball is crossing the line, it should be already dropping. Even better if the ball reaches its peak height before the goal-line and then goes down.”

Which penalty-takers do you enjoy watching today?

“I don’t have any specific penalty-takers who I prefer to watch more than others. But I criticise those who take only a very short run-up to the ball. I think they are less successful than those who run longer and shoot properly.”

So you’re not a fan of the Bruno Fernandes hop or the Jorginho skip?

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“I didn’t do it like that. There’s an element of risk in it, the kicker needs to react quickly according to how the goalkeeper moves.”

If you were to take the final penalty in a shoot-out today, where would you aim?

“If this was a situation where no-one knew my kick, I would aim to the centre again. But if that was already known, then I would pick elsewhere. I remember that after the Euro 1976 final, when I had a penalty in the league, goalkeepers sometimes stood their ground or waited until the last moment, so then I used a normal shot to the right or left. There are two types of penalty takers: those who choose a side before the kick and don’t change it however the goalkeeper moves (Goalkeeper-Independent), and those who wait for the goalkeeper’s reaction (Goalkeeper-Dependent). The second option is more risky and it’s definitely better if you take a longer run-up for this. I would say that the second way is more often used by intelligent players, but obviously it also depends on how you feel during the game; whether you are confident or not. I would say that I knew where I was going to aim before 90 per cent of my penalties. I scored on both sides but more often shot to the goalkeeper’s left side (Panenka’s non-natural side).”

I have a theory that a scored Panenka penalty in a penalty shoot-out is worth more than one goal, as it gives confidence to the scoring team and can upset the goalkeeper. Do you agree?

“It shouldn't make a significant difference but it’s possible that it can play tricks in the mind of the player who has take the next kick. It could distract their concentration. He might think, ‘What did they just do?’ and then lose focus on their own kick. It’s all in the mind.”

You once admitted to me that you wish you were remembered for more than just the penalty. Do you still feel like that, or are you able to appreciate your legacy?

I think it’s still like that. Obviously, I am very proud of this penalty that is part of football history. It was definitely the highlight of my career. But I always tried to entertain fans, to bring them joy, to do something unexpected on the pitch so they could talk about it after the matches. And all my goals, all my assists and passes have been forgotten because of the penalty. So I am obviously proud of the penalty, but also a little bit sorry too.”

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  • One of the longest successful penalty conversion runs ended on Friday night, when Robert Lewandowski had his spot-kick saved by Hertha Berlin goalkeeper Rune Jarstein. Lewandowski had scored his last 17 penalties, and Jarstein conceded his last ten. I will be looking more closely at Lewandowski’s penalty technique – and just where this one went wrong – in a future edition. Great save, Rune!

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