"Mine!" "No, mine!" Football's fiercest spot-kick squabbles
The Mirallas-Baines farrago
Perhaps we’ve all overreacted somewhat. Gary Neville called it a “despicable breach of team spirit” – as if Kevin Mirallas had chinned the onlooking Sylvester Stallone, declared that Liverpool were actually ‘The People’s Club’ and then tried to cop off with Steven Naismith’s wife.
For one, Leighton Baines didn’t seem massively bothered, and gave his team-mate a brotherly slap on the cheek before the Belgian boshed it off the post. And as Roberto Martinez rightly pointed out afterwards, Mirallas has been in good touch lately, and: “if he hits the back of the net, nothing would happen.”
But for those pundits desperately scrabbling to prove that struggling Everton are an unhappy ship, the incident is another crack in the hull.
Why hadn’t Martinez set it in stone that the best penalty taker in the Premier League, with 15 from 16 attempts, takes them all, especially at 0-0 and with Everton hovering above the relegation zone? Shouldn’t captain Phil Jagielka have gruffly confiscated the ball and handed it to Super Leighton, if Baines himself is too polite to do so?
The Twitter mob verdict is in: Mirallas is a selfish Walloon wally who should be flogged in Stanley Park, and Martinez has lost control of his squad. In truth, it was probably just a bit of a cock-up and everyone should calm down. One thing is certain: it won’t happen again.
First Pep Guardiola did the reverse-Martinez, demonstrating his absolute authority at Bayern Munich by humiliating star winger Arjen Robben: he ordered the Dutchman, who was striding to take a pen against Mainz, to hand the ball over to Thomas Mueller instead.
Arjen tossed the sphere aside and was quietly angry afterwards, muttering: “I don’t want to talk about it.” Instead, he let his own petulant actions speak for him in the next game by performing the reverse-Mirallas: during a routine Champions League whupping of Viktoria Plzen, he refused to take a kick despite Pep this time designating him.
Entertainingly petty scenes ensued, with Franck Ribery trying to hand it to Robben, Guardiola shouting: “Arjen! Arjen!” and the Dutchman backing off like a grumpy teddy. Eventually, Ribery took the kick.
“I like it when players have character and take the ball and want to shoot the penalty,” said the gaffer afterwards, implying that stern words would be had, but the team’s ongoing success meant such bickering was ultimately a footnote.
The Mirallas incident on steroids. Back in April 2013, Brentford faced Doncaster Rovers in the final game of the season, with the Bees needing to win in order to gain automatic promotion.
And after an astonishingly tense goalless 90 minutes – and four minutes of extra-time – it looked like they’d managed just that, as a penalty was awarded. Club legend Kevin O’Connor was the side’s designated spot-kicker: surely this was the dramatic moment that sealed his Griffin Park statue?
Nope: Italian upstart Marcello Trotta snatched it from O’Connor and wellied it off the crossbar before anybody could say ‘fermo!’ Rovers then scored on the break (ensuring they were promoted instead), a horrified Trotta “didn’t sleep for two days afterwards,” and the shellshocked side eventually lost the play-off final.
Far from being publicly condemned as earth’s worst human for his banjaxing his team’s chances, however, there was a happy ending: Brentford’s fans largely forgave him, and Trotta was pivotal as the Bees went up automatically the following season.
Hammer and tongs
The most aggro-laden penny of all time. With West Ham playing Bradford City at Upton Park in February 2000, Paul Kitson scampered into the box before being agriculturally felled by Andy O’Brien.
A youthful Frank Lampard snatched the ball from disgruntled stopper Aiden Davison’s gloves and marched it to the spot – only to be confronted by an absolutely seething Paolo Di Canio.
It’s an expression we all know by now: the finger-jabbing Italian barmpot, ready to burst a blood vessel and on the verge of doing something unwise. He makes a counter-lunge for the Mitre Delta, Lamps attempts to cling on, and some pathetically back-and-forth tugging, like twins bickering over a Loom Band, ensues.
Di Canio inevitably prevails (“age has overruled beauty,” chuckles the commentator), and Lampard huffs off. Harry Redknapp gesticulates meaninglessly in an awful claret tracksuit, and the penalty is further delayed due to Trevor Sinclair wrestling with a number of Bradford defenders. And once everyone has stopped being a massive group of babies, Di Canio angrily slots home. Enormous fun.
The hat-trick spoiler
If the Mirallas and Trotta incidents prove that you should always put your best man in for a penalty kick when it really matters, this one surely shows the flip side: when a game is already won, and with a non-regular penalty taker on a hat-trick, it’s surely time to let emotions govern cold sporting logic.
Swansea were 3-0 up against a resigned Bradford side in the 2013 League Cup Final, and with Nathan Dyer having scored two already, the winger was understandably keen to notch his third. “It’s not every day you get the chance for a hat-trick at Wembley,” he grumbled understandably afterwards.
But after a tussle with Jonathan de Guzman and the intervention of his team-mates, the Dutchman took the set piece instead. He converted, and Dyer eventually gave him a hug.
“I’m sorry - it was my mistake,” said boss Michael Laudrup afterwards. “That’s the first penalty we’ve had this season and I forgot to designate someone.” Dyer’s initial arm-waving hissy fit, however, was enjoyable, and once the dust settled the be-medalled pair insisted that they were still “good friends”.