Sport · Word of the week

Word of the week: Rabona

Rabona is a word I have been meaning to write about for several months. I had never heard it before March 2021, but it has entered into the vocabulary of football-watchers, taking its place with Panenka. I could try and describe both techniques, but will use a couple of Wikipedia entries instead.  

As you can read here, “the Rabona is the technique of kicking the football where the kicking leg is crossed behind the back of the standing leg”. And the Panenka is described on this page as “a technique used while taking a penalty kick in which the taker, instead of kicking the ball to the left or right of the goalkeeper, gives a light touch underneath the ball, causing it to rise and fall within the centre of the goal, deceiving the goalkeeper who is counted on by the taker to have guessed a side and committed to a dive away from the centre”. 

The Panenka has been with us since 1976, and Sergio Aguero attempted one for Manchester City in their Premier League game against Chelsea last season. It went horribly wrong, and City went on to lose the game.  

The goal that introduced many of us to the term Rabona was scored by Eric Lamela for Spurs against Arsenal on 14 March 2021. You can see it here, on the BBC website. It went on to win Goal of the Season. It did not, however, win the game for Spurs. Arsenal won 2-1. 

I have never been a fan of the Rabona. I spent countless hours playing football as a child and nobody I played with ever tried it. As an adult I have noticed that it is only attempted by people who are younger than me. It strikes me as a very low percentage way of passing the ball or taking a shot. Keep it simple. It is hard to imagine the pragmatic hard men who played professional football in the 1960s and 70s being practitioners of the Rabona, but there is an example in this classic “Match of the Day” clip. It’s from 1972, when Leeds United were on their way to beating Southampton 7-0. At 0:06:43 (6 minutes 43 seconds) into the clip you can see Johnny Giles pass with an extravagant Rabona. Ordinarily I regard the technique with suspicion, but when you’re winning 7-0 it might be just about acceptable.  

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