Life From 12 Yards: The Terry “Slip”

Penalty. A term, that can ruffle the feathers of even the calmest of beings.  A term, that in any walk of life, shocks and triggers signals of doom and punishment for some, and  hope  or satisfaction for  others. Football, is no exception. Goalden Times  bring you a series where we look at the more unfortunate events of missed penalties (and their aftermath??). Enjoy the ride with Subhashis Biswas.

Terry Miss

Player : John Terry, Chelsea.

Opponent Goalkeeper :  Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United.

Match venue and date : Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia, 21st May, 2008, UEFA Champions League Final.

Till that night, Sir Alex Ferguson did not have a very good record on penalty shoot-out in competitions other than the community shield. All that was about to change thanks to an infamous slip by a famous player. Ferguson was about to win a penalty-shoot out in any major competition after six failed attempts.

But first, let us lead up to the event. It was a rainy, wet, drenched murky night at the Russian capital, Moscow. After five years, when AC Milan and Juventus did so in 2003, two clubs from the same country – Manchester United and Chelsea of England –were again squaring off in the final. Manchester United were looking to clinch the trophy for the first time in nine years, while Chelsea were making their maiden appearance in the Champions League final.

We are trying to focus on that single moment, 120 minutes and nine shot later from the kick-off, when John Terry was walking to the penalty spot, confidently, taking his usual strides, adjusting his armband, thinking in hindsight that in a few seconds, he will be the first captain in the history of the London club to win the much coveted UEFA Champions League.

Red devil fans were not feeling so comfortable that night. Their team had taken the lead through  Cristiano Ronaldo in the 26th minute only for Frnak Lampard to equalise 19 minutes later benefitting from a complete mishap near the goal. Manchester United faithful saw in disbelief their darling “Ron” missing the penalty in tie-breaker. This gave Terry the perfect opportunity to win the Champions League by scoring from the last spot kick of the penalty shootout.

Life is not so simple. If it had been, problems would not have been plenty.

John Terry is through and through a Chelsea man. Playing at the centre half position, he is one of those old school English defenders who go to the ground every day to come out as winner, no matter if blood runs down his nose or a bone or two is broken. He wanted to win. Chelsea was not exactly the trophy clad club till Russian money and Jose Mourinho arrived in 2004. But they had tasted success in domestic league for two consecutive seasons earlier. Time was perfect to capture some European glory. No better person than John Terry to lift the cup.

Terry is not a natural penalty taker. Didier Drogba slapped Nemanja Vidić in the 116th minute after a little bit of gamesmanship from Carlos Tevez, and was sent off by the referee. Drogba was the destined penalty taker in the shootout along with Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Ironically all of these first four shots had been converted, and Petr Cech managed to save Ronaldo’s shot to give Terry the chance to win it for Chelsea.


Undoubtedly Terry showed a lot of courage and character by walking up to the spot, but the decision of the coach Avram Grant can be questioned as well. Even with forwards like Solomon Kalou and Nicholas Anelka (he would miss the final penalty in the sudden death) in hand, Grant allowed Terry to take the shot. If you are looking for logic, you can also argue that Terry had more authority over Grant regarding team selection and several other tactics during the latter’s short tenure at Stamford Bridge.

It was raining heavily and Edwin van der Saar was an experienced goalkeeper. He had good reflexes and had taken part in many penalty shoot outs in his career. On the other hand, one has to really dig dip to find the stats for John Terry as a penalty shooter. His strides were confident. He placed the ball in the middle, took a few steps back, and waited for van der Saar to take his place in the line. Rio Ferdinand, from the huddle with his fellow United men in the centre circle, waved to van der Saar and indicated that Terry would shoot to the right of the goalkeeper.

The teams stand pretty close to each other in the centre circle during penalty shootout, and I do not know if this signal by Ferdinand was result of some conversations that he might have picked up from the Chelsea squad. Nevertheless, the message was given to van der Saar, and when Terry took the shot, van der Saar did dive to his right.

But the story, the comedy or tragedy whatever you want to call it, lies on the moment the shot was taken. If one looks into the statistical possibilities of a shooter shooting the ball in a particular direction, he or she will notice that a right footed player would prefer to shoot the shot to the right side of the keeper to generate more power. Studies have shown that more than 94% of time the ball goes in if a right footed player takes a penalty to the right side of the goalkeeper. From the goalkeeper’s perspective van der Saar predicted the same and dove to his right.

There was an awkward sense of nervousness in his mind as Terry walked to the spot. He adjusted his arm band twice and did not take a long run up. There was hurriedness in all his steps. He took barely three steps, tried to plant his left leg beside the ball and place it to the left of van der Saar.

Van der Saar was standing on the goal line with an outstretched hand, and by moving both sides with outstretched hands, he was trying to put off Terry. Though by the way he dove, it seemed that he had made up his mind to dive to the right (as per Ferdinand’s signal), even before Terry started that run. It is difficult to sense that whether Terry read that movement correctly, but his placement in the end was in right direction, if you want to call that placement.

His left leg slipped when he was about to take the shot. It was actually a commendable job that he managed to place the ball in right direction as he was falling down while taking the shot. Had his balance been a fraction more right, his precision would have been little more and the ball would have been inside the net. But instead, the ball stuck the outer part of the goalpost (left of van der Saar, exactly the opposite side in which he dove), and went wide.

A distraught, broken Terry sat on the penalty spot with his head buried in his knees. Had it not been raining, had the field not been that slippery causing him to slip, it would have been John Terry who would be pumping his fist by then.

But as we all know, there is absolutely no ifs and buts, as far as life from 12 yards is concerned. Terry admitted that even after a year or so, that penalty haunted him. Whether he was taking dinner with his family, or walking back from training ground, or boarding the team bus after a game, those few seconds kept on replaying in his mind. He would rewind them several times, 40-50 times in a day. He wrote an apology letter in Chelsea’s official website, apologizing to the fans for the agony.

Terry kept that shirt he wore and runners-up medal he received in that dreaded night in Moscow, and drew inspiration from it. Four years later, in Munich, at the home of Bayern Munich, Chelsea won the Champions League final … through penalty shoot-out! This time Drogba was present to take – and convert – the last penalty in the shoot-out to give the cup to Chelsea. John Terry was suspended for the match, but he dressed up as if he was playing the match, and turned up for the presentation ceremony to lift the cup. He drew a lot of flak for this incident, but John Terry had waited four long years for this moment. He probably still replayed that “slip” in the rainy Moscow night, as he was celebrating with his teammates after the victory in Munich.