Football’s version of toddlers at a party fighting over the last piece of cake

<span>Tetchiness, earlier.</span><span>Photograph: Ashley Western/Colorsport/Shutterstock</span>
Tetchiness, earlier.Photograph: Ashley Western/Colorsport/Shutterstock


Having watched his team record their best result of the season against Everton, Mauricio Pochettino must have been thrilled that talk in his post-match press conference was dominated by talk of an unseemly squabble between several of his players over who should take a penalty. And while it might sound like we’re being facetious, nothing could be further from the truth – finally, the wider football world had been provided with incontrovertible evidence of what exactly the Argentinian has to put up with. An elite manager cast into a role more kindergarten cop than Jürgen Klopp, it has long been suspected that Pochettino has had foisted upon him a squad seriously lacking in wisdom and experience. And on Monday night, like two entitled toddlers at a party fighting over the last piece of cake, Nicolas Jackson and Noni Madueke proved the point when both tried to snatch a spot-kick from each other and their team’s designated penalty-taker. Ultimately neither petulant tantrum-thrower got their way and demonstrating effortless cool of the jazz musician his name suggests he should really be, Cole Palmer got to riff, be-bop and scat on an already perfect hat-trick.

Of course we have been here before. The sight of one player blocking the penalty spot while trying to wrest the ball from under the arm of a nearby teammate is not an uncommon one in professional football and it is not from the ground that Madueke and Jackson licked their selfishness. From a sulking Cristiano Ronaldo refusing to celebrate with Real Madrid teammates because Xabi Alonso had denied him a spot-kick opportunity, to Edinson Cavani asking an aggrieved Neymar if he thought he was Messi, some of the biggest names in the game have been reduced to playground bickering in comical disputes in which individual selfishness prevailed, or threatened to prevail over the collective good. “If we want to be a great team, fighting for big things, we need to change and think more in a collective way,” lamented Pochettino, although he did rule out a spell on the Naughty Step for either of his errant kids.

Arguably the greatest penalty spat of them all took place at Selhurst Park in December 2017, when bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace were drawing 2-2 with Bournemouth and earned themselves an injury-time penalty to win. With Luka Milivojevic, renowned for taking spot-kicks with all the subtlety of early-morning police raiders crashing through a suspect’s door, ready to take his second of the game, the Palace skipper was vociferously overruled by Christian Benteke, who had not scored in 11 games and proceeded to strike with all the venom of a defanged cobra. Roy Hodgson was left decidedly unimpressed. “It was a unilateral decision, no one on our team was able to wrest the ball from him,” he fumed. “We – the management – decide who the penalty takers are and we don’t expect players to change those during the course of the game.”

We say arguably the greatest, but not the greatest. That was in the infamous shootout lost by Sunderland against Charlton in 1998, arguably the greatest playoff final of them all. Having drawn 4-4 at the end of extra-time, the sides were deadlocked 5-5 on penalties after each of the designated takers had taken their turns. It went to 6-6 and then 7-6 to the Addicks, with players who hadn’t volunteered being forced to make the long journey from the centre-circle to the spot. Needing to score to stay in the game, Sunderland had striker Danny Dichio to rely upon, a man who would surely step up in their hour of greatest need. On the contrary. He sat on the grass with his boots off and “didn’t fancy it”, according to full-back Mickey Gray, who was left to shoulder what would prove a horribly unbearable burden. Now that is the kind of penalty-taking spat we all really love to see.


Join Scott Murray from 8pm BST for hot Big Cup MBM coverage of Barcelona 3-3 PSG (agg 6-5), while Taha Hashim will be on deck at the same time for Dortmund 2-1 Atlético (agg 3-3, 4-5 pens).


“He has apologised three times to me and he doesn’t have to ask for forgiveness. It’s inevitable that we’ll remember this … that’s part of the game” – Osasuna manager Jagoba Arrasate shows far too much leniency for Football Daily’s liking after watching striker Ante Budimir take one of the worst penalties we have ever seen (yes, it’s up there with the one by Pat Nevin and that Peter Devine effort) to throw away a point in the 97th minute of their 1-0 La Liga defeat against Valencia.


I’m going to try ‘I believe in rainbows and unicorns’ (yesterday’s Football Daily, full email edition) at my next performance review with management when they ask me what I’m going to do to improve my work performance. I would have thought ‘stop shipping calamitous own goals’ might be a better solution. Once is unlucky, twice is careless” – Brian James.

Wow! That Wrexham team must be really good, back-to-back promotions. They must be better than any other team in League Two. What’s that? They have played one game more than Stockport County and are four points behind. But, but, that must mean Stockport are a better team this season? Must be a fluke. Wrexham were champions of the National League last year. Where were Stockport then? Oh, in League Two because they won the National League the year before. Where were Wrexham that year? Oh, second, behind Stockport and failed to go up in the playoffs. What about head-to-heads? Stockport 5-0 Wrexham, game at Wrexham still to be played. That’s good, it will give the Wrexham players the opportunity to form a guard of honour for the champions (hopefully)” – Dave Challinor Brian Ross.

Send letters to Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Brian Ross.