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April 25, 2012
Academic conferences should be about intellectual challenges, pertinent questions, and insightful comments, and in some lucky cases, like at the FREE Kick-off Conference in Angers, they are. Yet very often, coffee break exchanges, lunch talks and dinner discussions are just as revealing and worth remembering.
In Angers the real star of the show was Antonin Panenka, the Czech footballer who surprised the (football) world with his famous penalty kick at the EURO 1976 final.
It all started with a little multi-national pre-conference gathering around nuts and beer in a hotel room in Angers. All of a sudden, it turned out that the younger of our colleagues were not familiar with Antonin Panenka’s penalty. Thanks to YouTube and an available iPad, the famous scene could be recalled easily. For some of us, Panenka’s penalty is one of the defining moments in football history because we see the Czech striker as a ground-breaking footballer: someone who dared to think out-of-the-box under enormous pressure.
At least, as I have to confess, this has been my view for a long time as well. It is easy to go along with the dominating discourse, I guess. However, during the Kick-off Conference Gabriele Klein made me think twice. We asked her to critically read the FREE Project and to challenge our views. And so she did! When she referred to the ‘micro-politics of the choreography of the game’, I could not help but thinking of Panenka.
Should Antonin really be a football hero? Actually, isn’t he more of a dictator? Panenka was under enormous pressure at a EURO finals penalty shootout, granted. But in a penalty situation, it is the striker who has the power. Most penalties are converted, and it is usually said that a penalty is only missed if it is poorly executed. Basically, goalkeepers are at the taker’s mercy. In that situation, why did Panenka opt to ridicule Sepp Maier, one of the world’s best keepers of the time? He abused his powerful position over the rival, to delicately lob the ball. In a way, Panenka could have said: Look, you fool under the sticks, I know I can do whatever I want, and it is a goal… So instead of dispatching a traditional penalty, he mocked the keeper, and wrote football history.
Should we deconstruct Panenka’s penalty? Shouldn’t Sepp Maier be seen as the gladiator subject to the Emperor’s mercy in that position? On the other hand, why should Panenka conform to the Taylorist approach to football positions and players’ roles and kick the penalty in the traditional way?
This ‘deconstruction of Panenka’s penalty’ is just a humble blog post, but it is one more illustration for the fact that there is much more to this game than kicking a ball around in shorts. This is slowly being recognised by the academic community and, now, even by the European Commission. Good to know they are deconstructing their own conventional wisdom and traditional views on the game.