Robert Pires reveals what happened during one of the most famous penalty kicks of all time.
“Come on Titi, we’re not doing it”
After putting Arsenal one nil up against Manchester City from the penalty spot, French midfielder Robert Pires was set to take a second spot kick only 10 minutes later, when teammate Thierry Henry came up to him and suggested they try a routine they had practiced the day before in training.
Pires revealed all about one of the most famous penalties of all time while speaking to French football website French Football Weekly this week. The French and Arsenal legend admits it is the one topic that Arsenal fans always want to talk about and explained the details that led to one of football's greatest bloopers:
"It was during a training session. And Henry comes up to me and says “let’s do the trick that Cruyff did”. And I thought, OK, it’s only training, we could try to do it. In the training session, it was Thierry who passed it, and me who scored."
Playing City at Highbury, the match was at a critical point, a 2-0 lead and Arsenal would have been difficult to catch, probably not the best time to try something as daring as Johan Cruyff’s famous spot-kick. This didn’t deter Henry though. As part of “The Invincibles” this Arsenal side felt that they could achieve anything and it was that spirit and sense of daring that helped Henry convince Pires to play his part:
“You don’t have ten minutes to decide. It’s one minute – not even. And I said “no Titi, I don’t want to”. “Yes, come on, we have to – like yesterday, except that this time you make the pass, and I come in and score”.
We’ve all seen the video. Pires runs up to the ball, everyone expecting him to tuck it past David James liked he had done only 10 minutes before, but then everything stops…
“The last view I have of Thierry Henry, it’s that he is stuck behind two defenders! I’m facing the keeper, and in my head I’m thinking “he’ll never get there first”.
“For me it wasn’t going to work and lots of things were going through my mind. So I take my run up, and just as I get to the ball, I don’t know why, but my foot said NO! It was like an allergic reaction – you mustn’t make the pass. So I kind of froze. And I barely touched the ball.”
The famous image that followed the incident is that of Henry looking back at Pires, his face in shock and the ball sat on the penalty spot:
“He was the first to get there – I don’t know how – and said to me “but what are you doing?”
Confused with what just happened, the referee blow his whistle and gave Manchester City a free-kick. In the laws of the game the ball has to make a full revolution to be in play. The penalty should have been re-taken, but the sheer bewilderment of what just happened tricked everyone and would forever go down in football folklore.
Luckily for Pires and Henry, Arsenal managed to win the match 1-0. They would end that season in fourth place, qualifying for the Champions League. It’s very interesting that they finished only two points ahead of London rivals Tottenham Hotspur that season. How different that story would have been if City had equalised after the penalty incident, not sure Arsenal fans would be as eager to hear the story then.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald