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Taking the Mkhitaryan

Sunday 22nd January 2017
I'm quite sure Antonín Panenka had no inkling of the far-reaching legacy he was about to gift the world of football as he lined up to take his crucial spot-kick for Czechoslovakia in the European Championship final of 1976.

I mean, he may have had an idea of what he was about to do with the kick, sure. And he was fully aware that this was it, the death or glory shot. He knew success meant the European Championship for his underdog nation against the overwhelming might of West Germany. But all that other stuff?
There isn't a kid who kicks a ball around anywhere in the world who doesn't know what a ‘Panenka' is. Give the goalkeeper the eyes, hope that he dives right or left, and dink the ball straight down the middle. Simples. When it doesn't come off you look a chump. And that's the beauty of it. Antonín, we salute you. To do it in the pressure cooker atmosphere of a penalty shoot-out in a major cup final takes extraordinary nerves of steel. To be the first to do it warrants having the entire spectacle named after you.

Without wishing to be unkind to Panenka, who was a world class midfielder in his own right, such honours are usually reserved for those players who operate at the very highest echelons of the game, the rarefied atmosphere of the uber elite.

Step forward Johan Cruyff. The Dutch master is fondly remembered as one of the greatest players of all time. He had elegance and grace in abundance in tandem with football intelligence and of course those outrageous ball skills. It seems derisory to remember him solely for the ‘turn' he gave his name to. Still, those of a certain age who remember the 1974 World Cup finals will recall the magnificence of Holland versus Sweden, when Cruyff did something none of us watching could quite understand without seeing it dozens of times on a replay. He was already a world famous star, but that moment took him to immortality. If executed well the Cruyff turn is such an effective move that even the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu can bag themselves a goal.
Not all moves have such happy associations. The Pele dummy, made famous by the great man at the 1970 World Cup and which takes out an onrushing goalkeeper, resulted in what can only be described as a missed sitter (by Pele's standards at any rate). Other moves, such as the Marseilles turn, have not relinquished naming rights to any individual player despite the popularising efforts of those greats Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane.

What about the ‘Rabona'? Well, it has a name of course but it's not the moniker of a famous former player. The name's derived in a rather convoluted way from the Spanish word for playing hooky. And then we have the ghastly ‘step over' which doggedly remains the ‘step over' even though Cristiano Ronaldo has to date executed approximately seven and a half million of them in his ever-lengthening career. Will the attachment of his name to this tiresome trick be the only honour to elude the great man?

In the same vein, the scorpion kick, made famous by eccentric Columbian goalkeeper René Higuita in the 1980s and 90s is still up for grabs. As far as I'm aware it's not globally referred to as a ‘Higuita' (nor for that matter as a ‘René). Not yet anyway. These things sometimes take time, but you do feel Rene's shot at immortality has vanished. Perhaps instead, future historians of the game will identify season 2016-17 as the moment the ‘Mkhitaryan' or (God forbid) the ‘Giroud' established itself as a thing in world football?
But in these days of Internet memes and social media, it's increasingly difficult to predict who the next landmark move will be named after. I'd like to suggest naming seven years without a goal a ‘Lucas'. All it needs is someone to champion the cause. Consider it done.
Derek Dohren
Anfield born and raised and a Red through and through, though I'm an advocate of supporting your local team, wherever you may find yourself living. Hence I have also followed Hamilton Academical and FC Granada in my time. I pray to the gods I never have to live in Birmingham. Author of 'Ghost on the Wall', the authorised biography of Roy Evans and founder of the website shankly.com.

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