What do you think about designated penalty-takers giving spot-kicks to team-mates in need of a morale boost?
This weekend, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski allowed Nicolas Pepe and Philippe Coutinho to register their first goals for new clubs.
Bayern Munich were 2-0 up at home to Cologne on Saturday (and a man up after Kingsley Ehizbue’s red card) when their prolific No9 tossed the ball to the Bavarians’ new Brazilian.
Coutinho scored and, after the game, Lewandowski said: “It was a spontaneous decision to let him take the penalty and score his first goal at home as it’s important for his self-confidence.”
The gesture should not be taken lightly as the Polish striker shares the same insatiable goal lust as that of Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo and, going back a bit further, Romario.
To emphasise Lewandowski’s generosity, he was on a hat-trick at the time.
A quick glance at the Bayern forward’s goal record this season suggests he was in a position to let someone else in on the action — he’s scored 11 goals in his first eight games and already has a hat-trick under his belt.
Coutinho was occasionally booed by Barcelona fans last season and so Lewandowski was right to recognise a team-mate who would benefit from a goal.
A motivated, on-form Coutinho could be a serious asset for Bayern this season and it was worth the risk of passing on a penalty when they were 2-0 up in a game they had under full control.
A day later, a former team-mate of Lewandowski’s did something similar at the Emirates.
And yet totally different…
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For a start, Arsenal were 1-0 down to Aston Villa when Aubameyang allowed Pepe to take the spot-kick.
The match situation meant the Ivory Coast international was under more pressure than Coutinho, but he held his nerve to beat Tom Heaton.
After the final whistle, Unai Emery confirmed the Gabonese forward was ‘responsible for penalties’ and that Aubameyang let Pepe take it to ‘give him confidence’.
Arsenal were equally correct to mix-up their penalty-taker as Bayern, but for a completely different reason.
Here’s the thing, Aubameyang’s record from the spot is slightly below average.
He has converted 73% of his penalties in club football — the average is approximately 80%.
In comparison, Pepe was one of the best penalty-takers in Europe last season, scoring nine out of ten for Lille in Ligue 1.
Aubameyang’s wholesome gesture may have been motivated by kindness but it was also objectively the correct decision as Pepe is the better penalty-taker historically.
The 30-year-old is the Gunners’ primary goalscorer and current Premier League Golden Boot holder (alongside Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah) but Emery would be wise to consider the stats and make Pepe the designated penalty-taker permanently.
This situation is in contrast to Bayern Munich, where Lewandowski’s record from the spot is one of the best in Europe out of those who have taken 20+ in their career.
There’s no way the Pole would have let Coutinho jump the line if the German champions were 1-0 down.
There are many more examples dating back before last weekend.
Lionel Messi has allowed others (most notably Luis Suarez and Neymar) to take penalties ahead of him several times — the legendary No10’s own record is average at best.
Cristiano Ronaldo helped Karim Benzema end a barren run by allowing the Frenchman to take a last-minute penalty against Alaves in 2018 when the Portuguese superstar could have bagged a hat-trick.
Then there’s the instances when a much-loved player is nominated to take a penalty as reward for years of hard work in other departments: Javier Mascherano at Barca and Claude Makelele for Chelsea being the two examples that first come to mind.
Many would argue that the designated penalty-taker should always take them if possible.
You can’t go wrong following that logic but if Coutinho and Pepe use their goals as motivation to improve their form Lewandowski and Aubameyang’s generosity will be justified long-term.
As for the Makelele/Mascherano variation, such instances are harder to rationalise but we much accept that football is a game of emotions.
The sport would be joyless if we were to erase such sentiments.