Leo Messi missed yet another penalty.
Against Athletic Club de Bilbao in the opening fixture of the Spanish league season, Gorka Iraizoz saved Messi’s penalty. Iraizoz joins a pretty special group, including only Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves, as the only goalkeepers to block penalties from both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
I’m on record saying that Messi is the greatest player of all time. So me, a grown man who owns a velcro wallet, finding something to criticize is, well, pedantic.
But in his Barca career, Messi has made 77.7% of his penalty kicks.
Contrast that with the fact that 81% of all World Cup penalty kicks (since 1966) have been converted and Messi comes out looking slightly below average. So what’s happening here?
(For the record, Cristiano scores 89.1% of his penalty kicks.)
One theory comes from Ben Lyttleton, who literally wrote the book on penalties.
Lyttleton says that Messi changed his strategy over a year ago. Whereas he used to wait for the goalkeeper to make a move and react, now he picks a spot and goes for it regardless of what the goalkeeper does.
Lyttleton points out the moment that may have convinced Messi to switch strategies. It was during the 2012 Champions League semifinal against Chelsea.
Petr Cech had studied Messi¹s methodology and knew that he liked to wait for the keeper to make the first move. So Cech did not commit. He waited and waited, and forced Messi to make the decision for himself. Messi went for the roof of the net, doubling his margin for error (you can hit the ball too high, but you can never hit it too low), and his effort struck the crossbar.
Lyttleton claims that waiting for the goalkeeper to move is the more effective method, but more difficult. Since the switch, Messi has been just downright bad at penalties for both Argentina and Barcelona: He’s missed more than half.
Another weird thing is that Messi seems to make a habit of missing the first penalty he takes in a season. He’s done that four times now: this season, last season, in 2011, and 2010.
But it doesn’t really matter because Messi is still amazing and will still score hundreds of goals this season, and he’ll still crush all my hopes and dreams like he has for over a decade I hate you please retire already.