At the top level of football, it’s very rare that a player will have a clear, uncontested chance to score a goal. That’s one of the reasons why penalty kicks are so prized: they pit an attacker against a goalkeeper, head to head and toe to toe, with just 12 yards between the ball and the back of the net.
The global conversion rate for penalties is between 75-80%, while the Expected Goals (xG) data confirms that a spot kick is likely to be the best chance to score that a team has in a game of football. So why, if you could, would you want to pass the ball from a penalty kick? Believe it or not, some have tried the unlikely ruse over the years with very mixed results, it has to be said.
Are You Allowed to Pass a Penalty?
Believe it or not, there’s nothing within the laws of the game that prohibits a penalty-taker from passing the ball to a teammate. There are some rules governing the position of said colleague: all players, except the taker and the goalkeeper, must be outside of the 18-yard box when the ball is touched.
That explains why those who have tried to gain an edge in this fashion have had to do so in a single way: the penalty taker rolls or taps the ball a matter of inches, which allows the teammate to then charge into the box and shoot with the moving ball. The ball must travel forwards from the taker’s initial touch of the ball, and they are not allowed to touch it for a second time until any other player has made contact with the ball.
Why Would You Pass a Penalty?
It’s a good question! But when you consider that some of the greats of the beautiful game – from Joahn Cruyff to Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry – have attempted the ‘penalty pass’, maybe there’s some logic to it. More on their efforts shortly.
The main advantage to be gained is the element of surprise. When the penalty pass is agreed by two players before the game, they already have an edge when the spot kick is given – the taker knows he or she has to touch the ball forwards, while the receiver also knows they need to be the quickest to the ball next before shooting or passing the ball back to the taker.
On paper, it sounds easy. But the confusion and chaos that ensues after a penalty pass ensures it’s anything but – take a look at the effort of Henry and Robert Pires, two of the most talented and notably cool, calm and collected players in Premier League history.
Henry has since protested that the kick should have been retaken – sounds like sour grapes to us. “That penalty should have been retaken, because the ball never moved from the spot,” the Frenchman has claimed.
We did it so many times in training, but in training everything is easy. I thought the big man Robert wouldn’t have lost his composure. But he did. I don’t know why he tried to roll it.
Who Has Passed a Penalty?
The momentary mind-block of Pires and Henry, which allowed opposition defender Danny Mills to run in and hoof the ball clear, will forever be part of Premier League legend.
But, in fairness to them, they’re not the only ones to have made an absolute mess of the penalty pass. In Turkey, Galatasaray’s Kerem Akturkoglu played his part perfectly – deftly rolling the ball marginally forward off the penalty spot. However, he didn’t bank on the onrushing Mauro Icardi blazing his shot wide of the post when unchallenged.
If you’re going to be clever with a penalty, at least hit the back of the net… 😬
Mauro Icardi with a shocker for Galatasaray 🙈🤣pic.twitter.com/3LMUNO4TF0
— Daily Record Sport (@Record_Sport) September 27, 2023
Although the exact origin of the two-player penalty isn’t known, the first recorded instance – in English football at least – came way back in 1961. For that, we head to Plymouth Argyle, whose ingenious pairing of Wilf Carter (penalty taker) and Johnny Newman (second player) came up with the ruse against Aston Villa; Carter tapping the ball for the onrushing Newman to slot home.
Incidentally, the south coast club repeated the feat three years later against Manchester City – this time, Newman was the provider as he touched the ball on for Mike Trebilcock to score. Johan Cruyff has often been considered amongst the most innovative thinkers of football throughout the years – a piece of skill he originated was even named after him, aka the ‘Cruyff turn’.
It’s perhaps no surprise that he was one of the first to introduce the penalty pass on continental European soil. And Cruyff and Jesper Olsen did things a little differently in Ajax’s thrashing of Helmond in 1982 – the former rolled the ball forwards and sideways before the latter drew the goalkeeper in. With perfect timing, Olsen squared the ball for Cruyff to tap into the empty net.
From one legend of the beautiful game to another. If Lionel Messi was standing over a penalty, you’d feel pretty confident that he’d score anyway. But when lining up for Barcelona against Celta Vigo back in 2016, the Argentine was in charitable mood – he rolled his spot kick for Luis Suarez, the first player to reach the ball, to fire home and complete his hat-trick. Rik Coppens and Andre Piters combined to score a penalty pass for Belgium against Iceland, but there’s no doubt that this technique is fraught with some risk – as the likes of Henry, Pires and Icardi have shown us.
Even a deadly finisher like Karim Benzema has fouled up the two-player penalty. He and Sergio Ramos tried the technique for Real Madrid against Villarreal in 2020, with Ramos rolling the ball forward for Benzema. Awkwardly, the referee adjudged that the striker had entered the penalty area before Ramos’ contact, and so the spot kick had to be re-taken. This time, Benzema took the penalty in more conventional fashion and found the back of the net.