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Twelve Yards Hardcover – 22 May 2014
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"Fascinating insight... highly recommended for fans, coaches and athletes in all sports." (Sir Clive Woodward, England World Cup-winning coach)
"Entertaining... splendid... masterful. Footballers of every nation should be reading this." (Sunday Times)
"The penalty shootout is like a lottery; you never know what can happen, though I know that there is an outstanding book, Twelve Yards, that proves otherwise." (Gérard Houllier)
"A wonderful book: extremely well-researched, well-written and international in its scope. Ben Lyttleton has done something very rare in football writing: he has got access to some of the game's leading players and coaches and got them to talk articulately and thoughtfully about a key aspect of their game. Twelve Yards reveals the level of intelligence that exists within professional football: a more cerebral zone than many people realize." (Simon Kuper, author of Football Against the Enemy and Why England Lose)
"The perfect palliative to ease the anxiety of footie fans, aficionados and players... With the aid of statistics, physics, psychology, body language and interviews with players, coaches and sports scientists, Lyttleton has advice and words of comfort, if not joy." (The Times)
A groundbreaking and fascinating exploration into the art, psychology, history and culture of the penalty kick - and how not to miss them.See all Product description
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I've read this a couple of times already and will definitely read again. A must for all football fans!
For too long the mantra has been to repeat past excuses, put one's head in the sand or put plasters over the cracks: "Nobody could beat us in open play" (Bobby Robson, 1990), "You can never recreate on the training ground the circumstances of the shoot-out" (Glen Hoddle, 1998), "The penalty is a unique skill outside of football" (Johan Cruyff), so the task can't be prepared, and, in conclusion, "it's a lottery" (Gary Neville, 2004). In the light of subsequent damaged careers, there is always the recrimination by players (Waddle, 1990, Southgate, 1996, Batty, 1998) for having missed, and asking why the coach had selected them if they were not normally penalty takers.
Though England, with 6 defeats out of 7, is not the only problem nation - the Netherlands has a slightly better percentage (4 defeats in 5), until recently the handicap was also faced by Italy, and until 2007 even World champions Spain, but no one can surpass the continued robot-like brilliance of Germany, 5 wins out of 6, a scoring rate of 93% against England's paltry 14%. The psychologist, Dr Geir Jordet, believes England's problems originate from their facing higher expectations, the severe anxiety and fear of past defeats, their belonging to one of the most individualist countries, and being more prone to strong media criticism looking to scapegoats, each of their opponents in turn benefit at their expense, and the longer England fails to win, the more difficult it will become for future English players to beat the "mental problem", or for a word used by the more superstitious players, the "curse".
After much tested anecdotal evidence, the author is exceptionally critical of club and the national coaches, as well as the establishment's failure to self-criticise, much less to turn a new leaf and develop radical changes. Worse, for him, few club coaches are aware, or know how to coach penalty taking. No player, in his opinion, can be described as having a "character" for penalties, nor is he physically or mentally incapable of scoring a penalty (Butt, Germany; Ceni, Brazil; and Ricardo, Portugal were all penalty taking goal keepers). So the complete drama of penalty-taking at shoot-outs: from the time out, the walk to the spot, the penalty kick, and the walk back to the centre circle, should be properly analysed in detail; or more precisely in the words of Sky Team chief and director of British cycling Sir Dave Brailsford: "analyse the demands of the event".
The kick must be instructed, regularly practised, monitored, and then modified or personalised in all club training to become a routine. Brailsford states coaches should plan players to hit their shots to an imaginary target, as Johnny Wilkinson used to in rugby for Newcastle, and for Toulon, either to the left, the right, or using the ploy first devised by the Czech striker Antonin Panenka.
Just as goal keepers have specialist coaches, there should also exist specialists for the penalty kick, working close to the keeper, as they can spot the kickers' body language, and help them to control their fears.
To provide a purpose and experience to this important need, such shoot-outs could be actually performed and televised at the end of normal club games - an exhibition which could develop into a competition itself: good to the players, the clubs, and a bonus to the TV broadcasters.
Practical and successful ideas from other sports might be adopted to improve techniques in play, and reduce stress. The German squad under Löw, for instance, already uses archery, rugby union, and watch-making. Lyttleton illustrates many tried initiatives by the disabled Doug Blevins (American football), Sir Dave Brailsford, and Sir Clive Woodward, that have been satisfactorily applied in soccer.
England must change their habits to start winning, and stop losing the curse, otherwise as Germany is willing to make constant improvements, as Australia's cricket also did for many years in the 1990s, any success by England will still only consolidate their threatened position. But with regular change, out players will experience less anxiety of the event; by blocking out the noise of the crowd, they can concentrate solely on their task, and hit the target.
Once the shoot-out occurs national coaches will have less difficulty in selecting and prescribing an order of known penalty takers, and the players themselves will have less fear of volunteering, and taking their time in order to score (rather than hurrying to get the job over with, by firing wide, or up in the stands, as Jamie Carragher and Steve Gerrard admitted doing in Gelsenkirchen in 2006 against Portugal). The coach, instead, will be required to plan for the unexpected, and with a little luck, he will, then, suffer fewer disappointments, and experience more smiles with his team; the players themselves will be able to build on their successes positively for the future - so there will be no further tragedies, as experienced to poor Agostino di Bartolomei of AS Roma, who shot himself, on the tenth anniversary of Roma's defeat to Liverpool in 1984, in the final of the European Cup.
There are three features, however, that have irritated the reviewer. The book focuses on men's soccer, and yet out of the blue five pages were inserted on Brandi Chastain goal for the US against China at the World Cup final, in Pasadena, in 1999, to represent the women's game. Was it a symbolic, politically correct walk-on? Essentially such an example was necessary to make the discussion both sound, more rounded and of value to all; however, its significance in the entire debate appeared puny and lame, as an after thought, giving the impression that for Lyttleton the women's game today is still very secondary, and despite its popularity and progress at the London Olympics with team GB under Hope Powell it did not merit much discussion. Shame!
The author, furthermore, uses the absurd liberal-left comments of a professor of semiotics, Dr Alex Gordon, to remind readers to associate the failings in football with the loss of empire and the loss of global status. What proportion of football fans in a multicultural society either remember or, indeed, think about the Empire, when some of the more fanatical members of the ethnic minorities question their British / English national identity, any Western norms, and who rather prefer to propagate their distinct religious community and separate themselves from the rest?
The last on "cheating" by referees: including allowing the "Hand of God" goal to Argentina in 1986, and the infamous South Korea v Italy match in 2002 (no wish to go back to 1973 to the European Cup semi-final tie between Juventus v Derby County), might be vital if it were connected to the English disease, which sadly it is not, and here the author is wilfully padding for the sake of space.
This book is aimed for the general reader, so it should interest sports' journalists or TV presenters wishing to lynch future bad boys failing; for couch managers dreaming of replacing current national coaches: Del Bosque (Spain), Hodgson (England), or Van Gaal (Netherlands), or for any soccer fan eager about the latest plan. Most of all, it is for England club managers and team coaches who together should cooperate for the success of the national team. Though some chapters are a little long, Ben Lyttleton has succeeded in promoting his assets and the work of his firm. The question is will the England FA now put on its specs and take note to the relevant sections?
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