Yes, I know a lot of people will say things like ‘You say that now…’ but you’re going to have to either believe me or not, I guess. It is true however that Louis van Gaal’s goalkeeper substitution shenanigans in the World Cup quarter final over the weekend brought back memories of another penalty shoot-out some twenty-four years ago, and an outlandish suggestion I made at the time.
It was American Independence Day 1990, and with Argentina already having defeated hosts Italy on penalties the day before, England were facing Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup. The prospect of defeating our old adversaries, and taking on an extremely weak looking Argentina side in the final, was enticing to say the least. Revenge for the notorious ‘Hand of God’ goal four years previously and picking up the trophy seemed within our grasp. Although the Skinner/Baddiel ditty wouldn’t be written for another six years, it was a case of ‘24 years of hurt….’
The Germans had taken a lead when an Andreas Brehme free kick was deflected, and cruelly looped over a stranded Peter Shilton to dampen all England fans’ hopes. Then, Gary Lineker slotted an equaliser to renew belief. Extra-time was almost played out, and a penalty shoot-out was looming to decide who would qualify for the final.
At the time, on the England bench was a certain Dave Beasant. The mop-haired ‘keeper had saved a John Aldridge penalty in the FA Cup final a couple for years previously to ensure Wimbledon won the trophy, and I remember saying to the wife that Sir Bobby Robson – just plain Bobby in those days – should take Shilton off and put Beasant on just before the end as it may confuse the Germans.
Understandably receiving a fairly askance look in reply, I didn’t pursue my thoughts. After all, the man between the sticks was Peter Shilton. ‘Shilts’ was one of the best ‘keepers in the world, would go on to become hold the record for most England caps, and Beasant was this big lumbering bloke who’d secured both of his caps in a couple of friendlies the year before. At the time, however, he was playing for Chelsea, and I suppose that may have clouded my judgement somewhat.
In fairness however, I did genuinely think that in this sort of situation, the goalkeeper’s ability is probably less important than the mind-set of the kicker. If the ball was hit with power and accuracy, it really didn’t matter who was between the sticks, as it was probably a goal anyway. Put a little doubt in their minds I thought, just to tip the balance a bit. Needless to say, Sir Bobby didn’t and England were out. Of course, I can’t claim that if the change had been made it would make any kind of difference. Germans and winning penalty shoot-outs, eh? It just seem a bit like night and day. One seamlessly follows the other.
Fast-forward to this weekend however, and van Gall played his card. Now, I don’t know how the Dutch manager rates Ajax’s Jasper Cillessen, as a ‘keeper, or whether he worries too much how the change may have affected Cillesen’s confidence. If the rumours about van Gaal are even vaguely true, he probably wouldn’t be overly bothered, I guess. Did he sincerely think that Tim Krul was a better option to save a penalty or two? Well, if his recent record is anything to go by, maybe not. Of the last 20 spot-kicks Krul has faced, 18 have found the back of the net. So, when facing five, a record of stopping one in ten is hardly inspiring is it?
None of that matters of course. Krul saved two and Holland went through, therefore van Gaal was right. Of course it may have been that Cillesen would have done just as well, but who knows. Sometimes you have to do the unorthodox thing just because it’s something you can do. If you have the three of hearts as your only card, play it. The other guy may only have the two. Krul delivered on his manager’s ‘Dutch courage’ and made him look like a tactical genius. I’m the last guy in the world to criticise one of my all-time heroes, but if only Sir Bobby had done the same back at Italia 90, who knows…