Paying the penalty
Fernandes miss put down to Ronaldo
Published: Sep 28, 2021 02:53 PM
Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes (right) and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer walk off the pitch after losing to Aston Villa on Saturday in Manchester, England. Photo: VCG

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes (right) and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer walk off the pitch after losing to Aston Villa on Saturday in Manchester, England. Photo: VCG

When Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez pointed at Cristiano Ronaldo and asked him to take Manchester United's penalty at Old Trafford last weekend he was doing what a lot of fans of the home team were thinking. 

The subject of who would take Manchester United's next penalty has been a topic of debate since the Portuguese superstar returned to the club from Juventus this summer. Many fans had expected the returning hero - who his detractors often refer to as "Penaldo" for his scoring record from 12 yards - to resume spot kicks.

It had not been a factor until Saturday's home game against Villa with the late spot kick giving the hosts a chance to level the scores at 1-1 and take a point.

Up stepped Bruno Fernandes.

The Portugal midfielder had been impressive from the spot since arriving in Manchester from Sporting Lisbon having scored 21 of his previous 22 penalties in all competitions. Last season he scored a record 13 in the English Premier League.

This season his record is now taken one, missed one with the ball ending up deep in the Stretford End rather than in the back of the net.

Martinez celebrated in front of the home suppporters in the stand behind the goal, though the Manchester United manager was unimpressed with the Argentine's antics before the kick was taken.

"The way they get round the penalty spot, get round Bruno, that's not to my liking," United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the match.

"I understand it, Bruno's normally very good in those positions but unfortunately missed this one."

Martinez has made a reputation for putting penalty takers off, ­famously helping his country to a win over ­Colombia at the Copa America this summer after taunting Everton defender Yerry Mina in the shootout.

"You're laughing, but you're nervous. I know you already, fool. I know you. Look out, I'm gonna eat you alive. I'm gonna eat you alive."

Martinez saved the spot kick and then taunted him some more. "Dance now! Dance now!" he said to Mina, who had danced  after scoring in the previous round.

Solskjaer dismissed that as a factor in Fernandes missing.

"It doesn't get in Bruno's head. He's strong mentally and he'll step forward again. The decision [on who takes penalties] is made before the game."

"Sometimes it just doesn't go your way," he added. "Bruno is such a good penalty taker and today you would have backed him with your mortgage I would guess."

Questions have been asked, with Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit and former Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood quick to offer his opinion.

"You don't miss that Jeff," he told show host Jeff Stelling. "You never see him blast it over the crossbar, he normally waits for the goalkeeper to go down and rolls it into the other corner.

"It's the pressure, the main man is here," Sherwood said of Ronaldo. "It's distorted his thinking, he's got one chance, one chance only and we've seen it gone there."

Penalties had been a sore point for Solskjaer before the game with the Norwegian angry after Ronaldo was denied three times against West Ham United in the previous game before the Londoners were handed a late chance to equalize from the spot.

"We just have to hope we get what we deserve," said Solskjaer. "We should have had three penalties in the last two games."

He then pointed to the criciticism in the press from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp last season, with the German critical of how many penalties United had been awarded.

"There was a certain manager who worried about us getting penalties last year and after that the decisions were difficult to give.

"I've seen a big difference since then on. So leave it to the refs and make the right calls very soon."

The call was made against Villa but it was a missed opportunity, as the manager said. "We've got great takers and it's a missed opportunity for us to get a point."

Fernandes, the man who missed, apologized via social media.  

"Nobody is more frustrated and disappointed than me for missing the penalty and the consequent defeat," he wrote in an Instagram post after the match.

"I've always assumed my responsibilities and I've always embraced them under pressure in moments like this.

"Today, I failed. But I took a step forward and faced the challenge with the same ambition and responsibility as when, on the many other occasions, the ball ended up in the net.

"Criticism and contrasting opinions are a big part of football. I've learned to live with it, even using them to drive me on, and I consider it all a very important part of my commitment to never stop trying to improve and to become the best player I can possibly be, for me and the team.

"Today I once again took the responsibility given to me almost since I joined United and I will take it again without any fear or dread whenever called upon.

"The most important thing for me is to win together and I'll always do everything I can to help my teammates and the club to be the best we can be.

"I'm a player who leaves everything on the pitch, with great desire and commitment. And that's what I'll continue to do.

"Thank you for all your support after the final whistle! Hearing you chanting my name in the stadium was very emotional…

"I will come back stronger for me, because these are the standards I hold myself to, but most of all for my teammates and our fans who have always supported us."

Solskjaer has not said who will take his side's next penalty.

"This is going to be the headline. Bruno has been excellent and Cristiano is probably the one who has scored the most penalties in world football."

Only one of them can step up and it will be a shock if it is not Ronaldo next time.

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