Robin van Persie talks us through his penalty technique
It’s always fascinating to hear Manchester United greats of the past reveal the secrets behind their success.
In the latest episode of UTD Podcast, available to listen to now on all of your favourite podcast platforms, Robin van Persie – the man whose goals helped us march to the 2012/13 Premier League title – lets us in on the mindset that made him such a lethal finisher, not just for the Reds but for Arsenal and the Netherlands as well.
Robin is particularly enlightening when he opens up on his method for taking penalties, something he managed to great effect during his time at Old Trafford, tucking away seven of a possible 10 spot-kicks, including high-pressure efforts against his former club and Liverpool.
It was after discussing his first failure for United, a miss in the game against Southampton, where he would later go on to score a matchwinning hat-trick, that van Persie got onto the subject, telling us how, on that occasion, he broke his cardinal penalty-taking rule.
“It was the worst Panenka ever! I just had a little freeze, because, normally, I hit them hard and that one I didn’t,” Robin remembers.
“Somehow, I changed my mind and that’s the worst thing you can do with penalties. So, if anyone is listening, if you ever take a penalty, choose your corner. Cover it before that – don’t be too obvious – and stick with that corner.
“The moment you change your mind, with me, it didn’t work. I missed about four penalties in my career, I scored more than 20 – all those four penalties, I changed my mind.
“Don’t change your mind, stick to your corner.”
Van Persie went on to reveal that he changed his thought process around spot-kicks as his career developed.
The 2012 and 2013 Golden Boot-winner learned to stop trying to second-guess opposition goalkeepers and, with a little extra work on the training ground, embraced the fact that he was the master of the situation.
“At one certain moment, I changed my way of thinking. I was thinking about what the keeper was thinking and then it’s a gamble.
“It’s like 50 per cent it can go in, or over, or the keeper saves it. The moment I took control, that was after six or seven penalties. I was just thinking about it and thinking long-term this doesn’t work. So I just changed my way of thinking. I said ‘I’m in control, I’m the one with the ball: not the keeper. I will try and choose my corner. I will practise on that corner.’
“So I practised daily, left corner, right corner. I never dared to shoot it through the middle. I thought about it a couple of times but it was too scary for me. I was thinking if the keeper saves it, it looks too bad. So I just made my left and right corners very strong. If you train it, it’s easier, there’s no pressure.”
Hundreds of penalties taken against David De Gea, Anders Lindegaard and co at the Aon Training Complex couldn’t have prepared Robin for one of his most nerveless spot-kicks in a red shirt, though.
Van Persie rolled home a late winner at Anfield in a typically bad-tempered fixture against Liverpool in 2012, but only after negotiating a seemingly endless wait to step up.
“That was one of the most difficult penalties I ever had to take, because there was the penalty and then I had to wait five minutes before I could actually take it,” he recalls.
“And then I was focused, in my zone, but then out of it. In, out, in, out, in, out. The only thing I said to myself was ‘my right side, keep your focus’.
“I was lucky there. Pepe [Reina] went to that corner as well, but it was a good pace and I stuck to my idea. I think you own your own luck there as well, if you just stick to your plan.”
Van Persie largely shared penalty-taking duties with Wayne Rooney during his three years at the club, although this almost came under threat under the tenure of Louis van Gaal.
Robin's compatriot would try and crank up the pressure of penalty practice in training by upping the stakes, as the now 36-year-old reveals: “Louis changed his rule to do a practice penalty shoot-out before every game. The one who took penalties before took it first and if you miss, you will then be number five as a penalty-taker.
“I was like ‘so if I miss once in training, I can’t take penalties anymore!? No, I don’t agree Louis, sorry! I’ve been taking penalties for you [for the Netherlands], I never missed and then you come with this rule?’
“He said he wanted us to feel the game stress and the game tension. I said that if I miss one penalty in training, it’s a bit harsh that I’m the number five on the list.
“After a couple of weeks, we did this again and I missed it in training. I looked at him and said ‘trust me, I will take a penalty if we get one tomorrow!’ He said ‘we will see about that!’ We actually got a penalty, I took it and I did score.”
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