Messi and Suarez trick kick just the latest in 60 years of two-man penalties

Messi and Suarez trick kick just the latest in 60 years of two-man penalties

15/02/2016 at 09:02Updated 15/02/2016 at 13:22

Ben Lyttleton takes a look at Lionel Messi's cheeky, controversial penalty against Celta Vigo on Sunday night.

When Barcelona’s front three forwards click, it’s an awesome sight. Seasoned observers at Camp Nou on Sunday night were left grasping for new superlatives after a 20-minute master-class involving Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi blitzed Celta Vigo with four late goals in a 6-1 win (which until then, had looked far from secure).

While each strike seemed an improvement on the last, it was the final goal that made the headlines: Messi’s two-touch penalty, a pass to Suarez from the spot to enable the Uruguayan to complete a hat-trick.

The record books will log the moment as a penalty miss and assist to Messi; the truth is once again it showed what a team player he is.

The first thought of many was to refer to Johan Cruyff, whose two-touch penalty with Jesper Olsen, scored for Ajax against Helmond Sport in 1981, falsely labelled him as a penalty expert.

That penalty was the first and only official penalty he took for Ajax, after ten years and over 250 appearances for the team.

There are two theories why Cruyff did not fancy penalties. One is that the essence of Cruyff the footballer was all about movement and intuition, and that the idea of standing still and waiting to kick the ball after the referee’s whistle was anathema to him.

The other, from Bert Hiddema, author of Cruyff! Van Jopie tot Johan, was that his shot was not hard enough as his curved kicking style, "was more suitable for creative passing than penalties."

Johan Cruyff in action for Ajax

Johan Cruyff in action for AjaxImago

The first player to pull off a two-touch penalty was Rik Coppens, a former Golden Boot winner in Belgium who may have been a contender for the Ballon D’Or had it existed in his peak era between 1950-54. When he tried it, in 1957, Belgium were 4-0 up on Iceland in a World Cup qualifier.

Coppens said "twee tijden" to team-mate Andre Pieters - "two touches" - hoping that Pieters would understand what he meant. The pair had never before discussed or practised the penalty. Pieters passed the ball back to Coppens before the goalkeeper could reach it, and he side-footed it home. (Fast forward to 2:35 in the following video to see the kick).

The Belgian FA were apparently furious at what they saw as ungentlemanly conduct and dropped him for the return game.

Yet Coppens wan't quite the first to try this trick: one month before then, Northern Ireland had beaten Portugal 3-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Belfast and before the third goal, Danny Blanchflower had passed to Jimmy McIlroy from the spot, and the skipper dribbled the ball into the net.

Yet the goal was disallowed. In the excellent documentary film ‘Spirit of ’58’, the Northern Irish players suggested that the referee was confused about the ‘two-touch’ and that’s why he ruled it out.

But the footage clearly shows that McIlroy had encroached into the area before Blanchflower struck the ball; the referee ordered a retake and McIlroy scored the penalty normally. So it had been tried before – but not worked!

Jimmy McIlroy actually encroached before Danny Blanchflower hit the first ever two-touch penalty

Seven years later, the two-touch penalty had reached England and a second division game in which Plymouth Argyle beat Manchester City 3-2. Mike Trebilcock was the Argyle scorer on this occasion, rushing in from behind the kicker to lash the ball home.

“I heard Johan Cruyff call it unique,” Coppens told me when I was researching my book Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty. “I didn't like that, Johan Cruyff shouldn't have said that.”

Henri 'Rik' Coppens

Henri 'Rik' CoppensFrom Official Website

Cruyff probably didn’t know that Coppens had invented the penalty first: he was ten years old when the Iceland game took place, but this was before the television era. Some highlights of matches were shown on news bulletins in the local cinema, but Cruyff had been a professional for 19 years before he tried it. Surely, had he seen it originally, he would not have waited so long to copy it?

Robert Pires told me the same thing. When he tried to reprise the ‘two-touch penalty’ against Manchester City in 2005, he did not know that Cruyff had tried it before (and he had never heard of Coppens either). Pires, though, was not so successful. Arsenal were winning 1-0 at the time of the kick – ironically through a Pires penalty – and the Frenchman has claimed that the idea belonged to Thierry Henry.

In training, the pair had practised the two-touch penalty; but crucially, it was Henry who passed for Pires to score. Against City, it was Pires who stood over the ball. He was reluctant to try it. “Titi came up to me and said, ‘Okay, we’ll do our special.’ I said, ‘You've got to be joking! Not in a real match!’ But he says, ‘Come on, yeah, yeah, yeah, this is the time to do it, we’re winning.’ I really didn't want to do it but he convinced me.”

Thierry Henry and Robert Pires

The switch in roles totally floored Pires: “I can tell you, in my head things were not going very well,” he said. “‘We shouldn't do it.’ The last thing Thierry said was, ‘Don't worry, I’ll be there.’

“So I step forward and put the ball on the spot. I turn back and look to see where Thierry is. He was behind two City players! The last image I have of him in my mind is that, so now I’m even more in two minds: should I do it or not?

"Okay: I do my run-up, stand in front of the ball and in all honesty from then on it's a total black-out. I still can’t see what I did. Everything went black. My foot went over the top of the ball, I don't think I even touched it, then I see Titi next to me saying, ‘what are you doing?’ I felt so stupid. I felt terrible.”

In April 2007, Brondby forwards Martin Ericsson and Morten Rasmussen combined to score a two-touch against Viborg. It was the first time the ball had been rolled to the left and not the right by the penalty-taker. Rasmussen, nicknamed ‘Duncan’, smashed the ball across the face of goal to make it 3-0 late on.

The debate after the Celta game was whether Messi and Suarez had been disrespectful to their opponents by taking that penalty. But if anyone would know it is Pires, and he was adamant that no disrespect was intended.

“If that had happened against my team and they scored, I think I would have applauded,” he said. “It's a daring thing to try and we need fantasy in football. I just wish we’d managed it.”

Danny Mills, the City defender who gave Pires a mouthful after his failed attempt, may not be so generous.

Spanish newspaper AS made an error in its front-page headline on Monday morning. It showed a picture of the Messi-Suarez penalty and called it ‘El Penalti de Cruyff’. It should have read: ‘El Penalti de Coppens’.

The updated edition of Ben’s book Twelve Yards: The Art and Psychology of the Perfect Penalty will be published in May