Does England really have a goalkeeper problem? A counterargument

Scientific findings do not always reflect public opinion. This also seems to apply to the so-called penalty curse of English football players. A recent study by the German Sport University Cologne was unable to substantiate the widespread cliché that English football players are bad at taking penalties.

When public opinion deviates from scientific findings, this can sometimes lead to problems, such as when a majority of the public holds certain stereotypes and behaves according to these clichés. A popular stereotype in football is that England constantly loses in penalty shootouts and has a goalkeeper problem.

In a prevoius study, the team led by Professor Daniel Memmert, head of the Institute of Exercise Training and Sport Informatics at the German Sport University Cologne, was already able to prove that English penalty takers do not perform worse from the penalty spot than players from other nations. Now, Michel Brinkschulte and his colleagues Dr. Philip Furley, Max Klemp and Prof. Dr. Daniel Memmert took a closer look at football goalkeepers and investigated whether the goalkeepers' nationality has an influence on their success rate when facing penalties. The results are now available in Scientific Reports under the title "English Goalkeepers Are Not Responsible for England's Poor Performance in Penalty Shootouts in the Past."

The scientists analyzed a sample of 2,379 penalties taken in World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and Europa League matches, with 629 different goalkeepers standing between the posts. They then compared the success rates of goalkeepers from different nations. Daniel Memmert summarizes the main result: "The results show no significant differences between the success rates. The average is 22.23 percent, which means that just over one in five penalties was saved by the goalkeeper. We therefore conclude that English goalkeepers are not responsible for England's poor performance in penalty shootouts in the past, as they perform just as well as goalkeepers from other nations." Consequently, the team of authors provides a counterargument to the widespread stereotype that England has a goalkeeper problem.

The study's lead author Michel Brinkschulte underlines: "The reasons for the English national team's poor performance in penalty shootouts in the past most likely lie in a number of factors – including the enormous external pressure when it comes to this decisive moment at the end of an important match, the expectations of their own fans and the expected negative media coverage if success is not achieved."

Co-author Philip Furley adds: "In addition, the rather negative public perception of England's penalty performance may also exist because of an unreliable measurement of performance in penalty kicks to date as well as a general public tendency toward stereotyping in everyday life and sport."

Consequently, a goalkeeper's nationality does not per se affect his success rate in penalty kicks. English goalkeepers are not responsible for their nation's poor performance in penalty shootouts in the past. The widespread stereotype that English goalkeepers are not good is therefore not in line with this finding.

Michel Brinkschulte & Professor Daniel Memmert
Institute of Exercise Training and Sport Informatics
Phone: +49 221 4982-4320
Phone: +49 221 4982-4330