A penalty kick in football is awarded when a player commits a direct free-kick offence inside their penalty area or off the field as part of play, as outlined in Laws 12 and 13 of the IFAB's (International Football Federation Board's) laws of the game.
Penalties in football have long been a fascinating topic of interest and research for both casual fans and sports scientists alike. After all, penalties are rare one-on-one situations in a team game where the penalty taker goes up against the opposition keeper, with the odds and laws of probabilities heavily stacked against the latter.
"Penalty kicks are taken from a distance of 12 yards away from the goal. The strongest shooters can kick the ball at speeds of up to 80 mph. This means that the ball reaches the goal-line in 500 milliseconds. A goalkeeper takes 600 milliseconds to move from the centre of the 24-foot-wide goal to one of the posts. In short, a well-struck shot is all but guaranteed to be a goal," as stated by Popular Mechanics.
In other words, due to the limitations of human reaction time, the probability of a successful penalty save is reliant on a keeper 'guessing' the right way and making a decision to dive (or not to) before the ball is hit by the penalty taker. Thus, a well-placed penalty hit at the right speed can still elude a keeper who dives in the right direction.
In a comprehensive analysis of almost 100,000 penalties in various football leagues and international games around the world since 2009 carried out by Instat, it was found that three out of every four penalties go in. Nevertheless, penalty takers the world over know that taking penalties is not for the faint-hearted.
Regardless of their modest on-field achievements, some players are simply better at penalties than others. That is evident in some prolific-scoring players having underwhelming penalty-conversion rates.
For instance, Max Kruse, a little-known German player who plays for Bundesliga side Union Berlin, has scored 22 successful penalties (excluding penalty shootouts) on the trot since missing the only two penalties of his professional career in 2007.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, there are quite a few notable big-name players who have had successful careers in club and international football but have an underwhelming penalty-conversion record. On that note, let us take a look at the ten worst active penalty takers in the 21st century.
Ten worst active penalty takers in the 21st century:
Among players to have attempted at least 11 penalties during the 21st century (excluding penalty shootouts), the following ten have fared the worst from the spot than anyone else.
#10: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Ajax/Netherlands): 10 misses out of 43 penalties (23%)
With 358 goals in club football and a further 42 for the Oranje, Huntelaar reached the milestone of 400 career goals, a tally that includes 151 for his current club Ajax. Only retired compatriot Robin Van Persie has scored more for the Netherlands than Huntelaar.
The 36-year-old Huntelaar, a right-footed striker with a penchant for scoring, averaged a goal every 95 minutes for Ajax in the Eredevisie last season. However, the Dutchman would have liked to be more clinical from the spot during his career.
Though he scored the winning penalty against Mexico that sent the Netherlands to the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals, Huntelaar has missed 10 penalties out of 43 he has attempted for club and country.
Seven of these misses came in the Bundesliga, with one each in the Eredevisie, UEFA Champions League and the Toto KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup).
#9: Franck Ribery (Fiorentina/France) - 5 misses out of 17 penalties (29%)
France and Bayern Munich legend Franck Ribery has scored goals aplenty for club and country during an illustrious two-decade long professional career.
The left-winger, who has scored at least one league goal in each of his 20 seasons as a footballer, enjoyed his most prolific spell with Bavarian giants Bayern Munich during a 12-season stint.
Ribery scored 124 goals in all competitions in 425 appearances for Bayern, which is almost 80% of his total goal tally in club football. Not surprisingly, the Frenchman also won a plethora of team honours during this period, lifting a trophy for Bayern Munich on a record-tying 23 occasions.
Ribery, who now plays for Italian club AS Fiorentina, has scored several majestic goals during his career and has been the creative fulcrum for various teams over the years.
However, the Frenchman has a rather ordinary penalty conversion rate. He has scored only 12 times from 17 attempts from the spot; Ribery has not taken penalties since 2013-14.
#8: Marek Hamsik (Dalian Professional/Slovakia) - 10 misses out of 28 penalties (35%)
Napoli legend Marek Hamsik scored 121 goals in 521 appearances for the club in various competitions before making a move to the cash-rich Chinese league in the summer of 2019.
The attacking midfielder's versatility allowed him to be deployed in many positions in the attacking third of the pitch as he became the club's all-time top-scorer during 12 successful seasons in the south of Italy. Hamsik's 121 goals for Napoli is an impressive tally for someone who is not an out-and-out striker.
Despite his scoring prowess with both feet and the ability to both score and create goals, Hamsik's return from the penalty spot was anything but extraordinary.
The 33-year-old Slovak has missed as many as ten penalties from 18 attempts for club and country, with no other player missing more spot-kicks than Hamsik during the 21st century.
#7: Antoine Greizmann (Barcelona/France) - 9 misses out of 26 penalties (35%)
Antoinne Greizmann arrived at Barcelona in the summer of 2019 on a transfer of €130 million. But the prolific former Atletico Madrid striker failed to set the stage alight in his new surroundings, producing an underwhelming tally of 15 goals in 48 games in all competitions.
In his nine previous seasons in the La Liga, the 29-year-old scored 164 goals in various competitions. However, during this period, Greizmann netted only 10 penalties from as many as 17 attempts, which is a rather poor conversion rate for a striker.
Greizmann had better returns from the spot while playing for France. He scored his seven penalties for Les Blues before missing his next two spot-kicks against Andorra and Albania in the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers.
The Frenchman then also missed his penalty in the reigning world champions' UEFA Nations League opener against Sweden on Saturday.
In the immediate aftermath of Greizmann's third consecutive miss from the spot, however, coach Didier Deschamps attributed the player's latest miss to the fact that he was not on penalty-taking duties for his club.
#6: Majeed Waris (Strasbourg/Ghana) - 4 misses out of 11 penalties (36%)
Ghanian striker Majeed Waris, who plays for Ligue 1 club Strasbourg, hasn't scored ten goals in a season since scoring 11 for Lorient in 2016-17.
Since that modest return, Waris' goals have become even more infrequent. The 28-year-old has scored just ten times in 63 games in all competitions.
Like his goals return, Waris also has an underwhelming record from the spot. In 11 spot-kicks, the Ghanian has missed four, which gives him one of the ten-worst penalty conversion rates in the 21st century.
5. Aleksandr Kolarov (AS Roma/Serbia) - 5 misses out of 13 penalties (38%)
AS Roma's Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov has had an impressive tally of 17 goals in 100 games in all competitions since joining the Italian club in the summer of 2017. That is more than his tally of 11 mustered during seven seasons at Manchester City.
Kolarov, not known for his pace or physicality, is a ball-playing defender with immaculate crossing and passing prowess. He scores goals from free-kicks with a swish of his magical left foot but is not quite known for the same composure from the penalty spot.
Although Kolarov missed the only penalty he took for Manchester City outside of a penalty shootout, the 34-year-old assumed spot-kick responsibilities for Roma and hasn't done a shoddy job at that.
Kolarov has attempted seven spot-kicks for the Italian club, scoring all but two of them, which is a decent success rate of 71%. However, that rate drops to 62% if his penalty conversion rate during his entire career is considered.
Apart from his two misses for Roma and one for City, the Serbian player also missed a penalty for Serbia in an international friendly in 2014 and another in a Serie A game for Lazio in 2010.
Overall, Kolarov has missed five of 13 spot-kicks attempted for club or country.
#4: Adem Ljacic (Besiktas/Serbia) - 6 misses out of 16 penalties (38%)
29-year-old Serbian midfielder Adem Ljacic has scored 79 goals in 374 cumulative appearances for six different clubs, with 16 of them coming for his present club Besiktas.
Though he has featured in a plethora of attacking roles, Ljacic is at his most effective when playing as a second striker. He is also renowned for his crossing ability; Ljacic had the best success rate among players to have attempted over 25 crosses in the Turkish Super Lig in 2019-20.
However, the Serb has an underwhelming record from the spot. In 16 spot-kicks attempted by Ljajic, only ten have gone in, which gives the midfielder one of the worst penalty conversion rates in the 21st century.
#3: M'Biaye Niang (Rennes/Senegal) - 6 misses out of 15 penalties (40%)
Since making his professional debut for Caen in 2010-11, M'Biaye Niang has scored 67 goals in 292 appearances for as many as eight different clubs.
After several loan spells during his six-season stint with Italian giants AC Milan, the Senegalese striker has enjoyed his most prolific scoring spell with current club Rennes for whom he has scored 29 times in the last two seasons.
However, despite a slight upturn in his scoring fortunes in recent times, the 28-year-old has a pretty dismal record as a penalty-taker. Niang has converted just nine penalties from 15 attempts, with the striker scoring four times from seven penalties last season.
#2: Fernando Llorente (Napoli/Spain) - 7 misses out of 17 penalties (41%)
In a near two-decade long professional career that started with Basconia in Spain's Tercera division (Fourth Division), Fernando Llorente has scored exactly 200 goals in 635 cumulative appearances for eight different clubs. The 35-year-old has scored a further seven in 24 senior appearances for Spain.
Llorente has scored at least ten league goals a season on seven different occasions, most recently doing so for Swansea in the 2016-17 Premier League.
Despite his decent scoring prowess, Llorente's scoring record when it comes to penalties is pretty underwhelming. In 17 penalty attempts by the 35-year-old for club and country, only ten have gone in.
Considering that record, it is perhaps not surprising that Llorente hasn't taken a penalty since missing from the spot in a 2011-12 La Liga game against Granada.
#1: Edin Dzeko (AS Roma/Bosnia and Herzegovina) - 9 missed out of 20 penalties (45%)
Dzeko has scored 292 goals in 662 cumulative appearances in club football and is Bosnia and Herzegovina's all-time top-scorer with 59 goals in 108 games. He is a proven goal-scorer but is often not talked about as one of the best in the continent.
However, despite his goal-scoring prowess, Dzeko's success rate from the penalty spot is pretty underwhelming. He has missed as many as nine penalties from 20 attempts and hasn't taken a penalty for club or country since 2017-18.