“Just catch it”
“Why hasn’t he come for that cross?”
“It’s in the 6 yard box so it should be his”
“You shouldn’t be beaten at your near post”
“His kicking is poor”
“He should be quicker off his line”
These are just a few of the phrases that get thrown in the goalkeepers direction from outfield coaches, managers and fans, there are more as well!
Firstly I must state that this blog isn’t to make out that goalkeepers are never to blame and there isn’t anything they could do better. Most goalkeepers and goalkeeper coaches are honest on reflection of incidents in games and want to be better and do more to prevent goals. It’s to point out that many factors come into play and the difficulties the goalkeeper faces. The way things are nowadays it seems very easy for so many people to come out and criticise and make out every situation is black and white when in fact it’s far from it.
Types of Goalkeepers
Before I even look at the types of criticisms I’ve already mentioned, the first factor I want to look at are “Types of Goalkeepers”.
When you look at outfield players you get different types.
- The big centre back that is great in the air, wins his headers, gets the big tackle in but can’t pass the ball for toffee.
- The playmaker midfielder who has a great range of passing, capable of scoring a fancy free kick but barely makes a tackle or competes for a header.
- The ball winning midfielder who works his socks off all over the pitch, winning tackles, competing for the ball in the air and making things hard for the opposition then gives a simple pass to the flair players.
- The target man striker who is big, physical, holds the ball up, competes against the centre half for headers.
- The fox in the box striker, small, great technical ability, turns and gets shots off in tight spaces but unable to really compete well physically against two big centre halves in the air.
It’s been said to me before when I’ve grumbled when the ball has gone in the air and the flair player midfielder hasn’t bothered to compete for the ball, that “it’s not part of his game”. So in making that comment on that basis a coach/manager/fan accepts that players cannot do every aspect of the game well.
So why do they not have the same philosophy for a goalkeeper?
Goalkeepers also come in different types and have different strengths and weaknesses to their game.
You have the smaller goalkeeper who is quick around their goal, sharp off their line, possibly good with their feet with the ball but perhaps don’t come for as many crosses as other goalkeepers.
There is the “Big” goalkeeper that many crave after but sometimes these may look big in the goal, come for crosses but struggle to get around their box and come off their line quickly and may not have the quick feet and technical ability to play out from the back with skill.
You only have to look at the situation with Claudio Bravo last season where he was brought in because of the brilliance he had with his feet to distribute but he was found wanting in other areas of his game.
Each goalkeeper at every level of the game is better at some aspects of goalkeeping than other areas yet often it is perceived that the goalkeeper should come for every cross, make every save, be quick off his line and play out from the back like Rio Ferdinand!
“Just Catch It”
In the last few years alone I have seen at first hand the “Jako” ball used in the National League, the “Mitre” ball used in the Football League and the “Nike” ball used in the FA Cup.
Let me be clear about this, all three of those footballs move all over the place when struck and do not always travel in a straight line! Although the laws state that the ball must be a weight of 410-450g (14-16 oz) they do not all feel the same when you strike them and some feel lighter than others. For me personally the Jako ball and Nike ball feel lighter than the Mitre ball.
As much as I personally encourage goalkeepers to try and catch the ball, the way the ball moves certainly makes a difference on whether you can catch or parry. Sometimes you simply have to get something in the way of the ball to keep it out.
Secondly and this applies to wet conditions more than dry conditions, it’s the coating on the ball which can cause problems. Again for me the Jako ball and the Nike ball have very smooth slippery surfaces to them whereas the Mitre ball has a slightly rougher surface which gives a small amount more grip when trying to catch.
Although technology has moved on with goalkeeping gloves these days, a wet modern football is still difficult to catch “every time”.
The pace a ball is hit, the movement of the ball and the weather conditions on the ball simply affect your chances of catching.
In goalkeeping coaching you will hear the term “dippers”. These are shots or even headers that travel through the air but bounce in front of the goalkeeper. Some of these attempts may not have masses of pace on them so they look simple. At times however these can actually be far more awkward to deal with than if a player hits a powerful drive at the goalkeeper in the air or on the floor. With the “dipper” you simply don’t know if the ball will skid, or bounce and if it bounces how high it will bounce off the surface (weather and pitch conditions will play a factor of difficulty, wet, muddy, firm, bobbly)
“Why hasn’t he come for that cross?” / “It’s in the 6 yard box so it should be his”
In my opinion dealing with crosses is the hardest aspect of goalkeeping. Firstly there are so many variables that affect a cross.
Sun in your eyes
Floodlights shining in your eyes
Wind meaning the ball is swinging away, swinging in or just wobbling all over the place
Rain making the ball wet and slippery
Where the cross comes from (Deep free kick, deep open play, corners, free kicks, open play, cut backs)
Opposition players (height, strength, speed)
Pitch conditions (Muddy/slippery and can’t move your feet quickly)
A goalkeeper has a split second to assess all that and decide if they can come for that cross or that they want the defenders to deal with it.
Because of all of this it’s easy to be fearful of coming for a cross as there are high chances of a mistake and often if a mistake is made on dealing with a cross there is a good chance it will result in a goal and people are quick to be critical of the goalkeeper which can then affect their confidence. If you take this into outfield play, players often miss-place passes, fail to win a tackle or header, not hit the target when shooting at goal, its commonplace yet it’s quickly forgotten about. However if a goalkeeper makes a mistake on a cross it’s highlighted hugely and often they can be tarnished for weeks/months or in their career that they are not “commanding” or dominant on crosses.
If you are old enough to remember or see Bruce Grobbelaar play for Liverpool in the 80/90’s he came for a large number of crosses, more than others did around that time. The more you come for the higher the chances you have of making mistakes and people often highlighted when he made a mistake but what about all the crosses he dealt with which prevented the opposition scoring! Just as outfield players don’t get every pass, header, tackle, shot right a goalkeeper won’t get every cross right.
As coaches, both goalkeeping coaches AND outfield coaches we have to encourage the goalkeeper to have a positive mindset to actually try to come and affect crosses and then show support if they don’t quite get it right. If we hammer them when they don’t get it right, the fear of failure will come in and they will come for less, making them a less effective goalkeeper overall.
As I’ve already mentioned the footballs used nowadays travel faster and move more in the air, players also now can really whip the ball and do all sorts with crosses. There are not so many crosses just lofted up in the air and this has impacted on balls into the six yard box in particular. The “Six Yard Box” is 6 yards deep but it’s 20 yards wide so it’s a big space to deal with when the ball is delivered in with pace! Crosses delivered to a near post or far post area will cause problems especially when you consider opposition players fighting for that ball as well so it’s impossible to claim that every ball in the 6 yard box should be the goalkeeper’s ball.
I would be interested to see some stats on crosses in years gone by as I think there are less these days that goalkeepers can actually come for due to the reasons stated.
In League Two recently I saw some stats covering 36 different goalkeepers on the average amount of crosses per game a goalkeeper dealt with per game. Below is the highest percentage in each category:
Caught Crosses - 2.19 (Lawrence Vigouroux – Swindon)
Punched Crosses - 0.71 (Joe Anyon – Chesterfield)
Caught Corners - 0.65 (Adam Collin – Notts County)
Punched Corners - 0.52 (Christy Pym – Exeter & Conrad Logan – Mansfield)
Caught Free Kicks - 1.04 (Sam Hornby – Port Vale)
Punched Free Kicks - 0.91 (Jamie Stephens – Barnet)
“You shouldn’t be beaten at your near post”
To quote Kasper Schmeichel, a top Premiership and International goalkeeper;
“It’s a myth. Something I have never understood. One day someone just came up with it and said a goalkeeper should never be beaten at their near post. Anyone who has played in goal knows it’s a huge area and you try to cover the whole goal. You can’t try and cover the whole goal and still guarantee the ball won’t go in at the near post if it’s a great shot. Near post, far post, you try to cover it all and you are not happy if it goes in anywhere”
A goal is 8ft tall and 24 ft wide, that is a big space to try and protect! Power and pace on a well struck ball can still beat you even if you do have a good start position in relation to where the shot is struck from.
“His kicking is poor”
Part 1 – Playing out from the back;
Aside from having a good first touch, awareness and a good range of passing, be that side foot, lofted, clipped passes the goalkeeper also relies heavily on aspects out of his control. Are his team mates offering good supporting angles at the right time? Are passes back to the goalkeeper played with the right weight of pass and to his more dominant foot? Therefore if things go wrong, it isn’t always simply down to the “Goalkeeper not being good enough with his feet” it can be down to team-mates and tactics set out by the coach/manager.
Part 2 – Kicking over distance;
Tactics can come into play here. If the manager/coach wants the ball delivered to a wide man near the touchline of course the goalkeeper will try and get that right every time but at times it will be over-hit and go out of play or the wind may hold it up and it be under-hit and not reach its target. At times it may go slightly more central than hoped. You also have to consider what sort of effort the goalkeepers team-mate made in competing for the header. Then consider the goalkeeper may be striking the ball over a distance of 50-80 yards so getting the accuracy will be harder when having to put more power on the strike. If you reflect this back into an outfield situation, how many times have you seen a player take a corner or a free kick and not beat the defender at the near post space or it drifting out of play beyond the back post, or a player switching the play right across the field to an opposite wide player and it goes out of play?
“He should be quicker off his line”
When we talk about the modern day sweeper keeper, the first names that spring to mind are the likes of Hugo Lloris and Manuel Neuer. However these are a couple of the most elite goalkeepers in the world and also the teams tactics and outfield players attributes will also have an effect on how they play.
As a coach / manager you have to look at the attributes of your players, particularly your defenders and your goalkeeper. If you are going to play a high defensive line yet your defenders are not blessed with pace and / or your goalkeeper doesn’t have explosive speed you could be asking for trouble. As I talked about earlier, all goalkeepers have different attributes, strengths and weaknesses. If the goalkeeper hasn’t got that speed, even with a good start position behind the back line, he may struggle to deal with some balls through or over the top if the defensive line is high so it’s important to consider all these factors rather than just say “He should be quicker off his line” as you might be asking the goalkeeper to do something he simply struggles to do.
To sum up, I repeat I am not saying goalkeepers are blameless and can’t do better in situations; I am simply trying to give some understanding to outfield coaches / managers and fans as to why things can be difficult. I am also not saying playing outfield is easy but the difficulties for goalkeepers has possibly more pressure attached to them as if a goalkeeper makes a mistake it can often lead to a goal whereas an outfield player has a better chance of getting away with that mistake.
If you have not played in goal, try it before you judge your goalkeeper too harshly.