Battler or Bottler? Rooney’s Penalty Record Under Scrutiny

Manchester United were knocked out of the Capital One Cup last night by Middlesbrough in a penalty shootout at Old Trafford, but there was one glaringly obvious stat that stood out amongst all others.

Yes, it stuck out like a sore metatarsal; all players who missed were English. Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young have all come in for a bit of stick on social media this morning, but even Middlesbrough’s miss came from the boot of an Englishman, with David Nugent missing the target from 12 yards.

Now we’re not the first to try to answer the age old question of why English players can’t take penalties. There’s been books written about it, and I’m not joking either.

Ben Lyttleton wrote extensively on the topic last year in his book Twelve Yards, where he explored the art and psychology of taking a penalty. He quoted a Norwegian psychologist and ex-footballer who claims “the big effects are all about pressure and how you deal with stress. It’s not about football, but psychology.”


He even notes that English players are far too quick to run up to the ball after the referee blows his whistle. Their reaction time from whistle to shot is far quicker than players from other countries, exemplified by Gareth Southgate before he missed his crucial penalty in Euro ’96.

“All I wanted was the ball, to put it on the spot and get it over and done with.”

Sir Alex Ferguson prefers to blame England’s penalty inadequacy on a lack of practice:

“The Germans are good, especially in internationals and big competitions. And I think they practice, unlike in England – it seems they either can’t be bothered or perhaps players see it as boring.”

Yet, Republic of Ireland’s finest hour saw David O’Leary step up against Romania in 1990 with no experience or practice from the spot. The rest is part of Irish folklore.

So is it just a myth that England’s heroic lions are mere pussycats when it comes to scoring from 12 yards? Well, their national side has lost a staggering 6 shootouts in 7 attempts. A stat eerily matched by Jose Mourinho as a manager after Chelsea’s scalping at the hands of Stoke on Tuesday night. A match made in heaven perhaps?

Rooney’s individual record from the spot doesn’t make pleasant reading either. In fact, the stats say he’s one of the worst in the history of the Premier League. Of those who have taken more than 20 penalties, Rooney’s success record stands at a measly 69%, well behind Le Tissier (96%) and Henry (92%).

It’s a record that has seen him slide in United’s penalty pecking order, with Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and arguably others ahead of him in the queue. The youthful confidence and ease with which Andreas Pereira despatched his penalty was in stark contrast to Rooney’s, who has now missed 11 penalties as a United player.

There’s only two below Rooney in that table of Premier League penalty takers, two other Englishmen in Michael Owen and Teddy Sheringham. Pedants may remind me that Owen was born in Wales, and to be fair, he has a 100% record when taking penalties in England games, scoring all one of them.

Last night’s wobble from the English at Old Trafford may not look promising should they face another nervous shootout next summer in France, but only Rooney of those who missed is likely to have to step up. And if his past is anything to go by, he’s more likely to win the battle of wits in the white of England than the red of United.

His England record stands at 6 out of 6, so all is not bleak on England’s penalty forecast.

Even more positively, England’s qualifying record for next summer’s championships is the best across Europe. After winning all 10 qualifiers, 2016 could well be the year that England reach a major final without facing the perils of a penalty shootout, 50 years on from you know what.