For someone who can seemingly thread a ball through the eye of a needle, at a distance of 80 yards in torrential rain while wearing his slippers, Andrea Pirlo has the tendency to apparently become a somewhat average player from the penalty spot.
That’s right, Andrea Pirlo. The same magician who just a matter of months ago embarrassed Joe Hart at Euro 2012 with one of the most audacious and ice cool penalties the world game has ever seen. While that is an example of what the playmaker can do with spot-kicks, it is by no means the norm.
This, of course, is not news to followers of Serie A. Pirlo has regularly been denied down the years and his shocking effort in last week’s 3-0 win over Torino was just the latest example of his kryptonite. That Marcelo Salas-like derby miss was his eighth from 22 in the Italian top flight – giving him a current conversion figure of 64 per cent.
That success rate has been on the slide since his arrival in Turin. Despite undoubtedly being the side’s most technically gifted player, Pirlo has missed all three of his efforts while wearing the black and white shirt. What makes those human errors even more surprising is that he failed to hit the target with two of those. He admittedly slotted home the rebound against Roma, but he hit the post at Cesena and the Toro miscue didn’t even get close to troubling the woodwork.
Another eyebrow-raising fact is that if you list the 116 players to have taken a penalty for Juventus, in terms of their conversion rate, then Pirlo would be rock bottom. Fifteen other players have also failed every time with their spot kicks in the club’s history, but 13 of them had taken just one penalty and only Virginio Rosetta and Guglielmo Gabetto had failed to score with a total of two.
The numbers thus make it clear that there is a potential flaw to Pirlo’s game, but it is not enough to redefine him as a player. After all, Riverino is not the first ultra-talented footballer to struggle from 12 yards out. Giancarlo Antognoni was hardly prolific given that he missed seven of his 25 League pens, while Gabriel Batistuta only rippled the net in 14 of his 24. At Juve, Zinedine Zidane, Paolo Rossi and Gianluca Vialli only recorded 50 per cent successes.
Pinpointing exactly why Pirlo seems to have developed this defect is complex. He generally places his penalties, which could potentially give goalkeepers more of a chance, but Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero commonly didn’t blast and they scored 82 per cent of their spot-kicks. It surely can’t be a mental issue either, as you don’t delicately chip in a European Championship quarter-final shoot-out if you don’t fancy yourself to score. You also have to throw in the factor of whether the ‘keeper is fortunate enough to dive in the right direction.
Whatever the reasons, there are players who just seem to be more suited to stepping up to the plate than others. Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed just two of his 26 Serie A pens, while Diego Milito has been denied three times in 25. Former Lazio and Milan right-back Massimo Oddo, who was considered a specialist in the field, ended his career with identical figures to the Argentine.
After Pirlo’s miss against Roma last season, boss Antonio Conte confirmed Pirlo as the club’s penalty taker in the on-field absence of Alessandro Del Piero. But something has changed this term with the promotion of Arturo Vidal, who has put away three of his four. Mirko Vucinic then netted in the 3-1 win at Genoa. And, on Saturday, with Vidal rested, there was a discussion between Vucinic, Claudio Marchisio and Pirlo before the latter took responsibility.
You’ve got to give Pirlo credit for that, but it was hardly a surprise. And it wouldn’t be totally out of character if he asked for the ball again when Juventus are next awarded a free shot. Some fans may shudder at the thought, but you don’t take the risks that the former Milan man does on the field of play if you’re scared of failure. Anyone can miss a penalty, but hardly anyone can play like Pirlo.