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Friday, 07 February 2020 21:24

Distribution, finding the balance Blog

I hear the phrase “The Modern-Day Goalkeeper” a lot and how these days goalkeepers have to be good with their feet with a big focus being on playing out from the back.

I do agree the game has changed over the years and goalkeepers do in fact use their feet a lot, more so than with their hands therefore they do have to be good with their feet and their distribution skills.

Maybe in years gone by, generally the goalkeeper was expected to just basically kick it as far as he could but now there is a big emphasis on “playing out from the back” but I do wonder at times if we have gone from one extreme to another and a more balanced approach is required with what we teach and work on with our goalkeepers.

I have been fortunate in that I have worked in the academy system for 9 years, 13 years with grass roots goalkeepers, experienced senior non-league football over 15 years and first team professional football for over 6 years so I feel I have seen and worked in most levels of the game. Through all those experiences I have seen the demands placed on all those various types of goalkeepers and seen different philosophies employed by different teams and managers/coaches and the impact on the goalkeepers.

Grass Roots

In grass roots, not all but there are lots of cases of getting the ball from back to front quickly yet the younger goalkeepers often struggle with distance. We have all heard of plenty of stories of the “big defender” taking goal kicks to kick it further than the poor young goalkeeper. I often have parents of young goalkeepers tell me stories of this and how their child became disillusioned when they weren’t allowed to take their own goal kicks. My feeling is why can’t that coach/manager spend time trying to balance spells of trying to play out and coach his team including the goalkeeper along with spells of trying to help their goalkeeper with their longer kicking (allied to patience as some will struggle until they develop physically) so that all members of their team get a balanced education of how the game can be played.

Academy Football

In terms of academy football, I’ve seen a huge emphasis placed on playing out from the back. So much so in some cases clubs have looked to turn outfield players into goalkeepers and then try and work on what you might deem the traditional aspects of goalkeeping like handling and shot-stopping skills. I’ve heard of goalkeeping programmes where goalkeepers have been on trial and in that trial, have hardly been put in situations to use their hands or make saves, the focus has been on could they play out.

Academy football is the area which I feel needs to look at the balance of the goalkeeper’s distribution skills the most. It seems like a “fashion” that goalkeepers and teams in the system play out from the back, short passing or clipping balls to full backs / wing backs or split centre backs. While I agree these are skills that the goalkeepers need to master, they also need to spend a good percentage of their time hitting 60-70-yard balls, especially from goal kicks. The reason being, they will need that ability, technically, tactically and physically when or if they get to first team level.

First Team Football

Apart from maybe teams like Manchester City and Barcelona at the very top level of the game I could probably count on one hand the teams I have seen across the Championship, League One, League Two or National League who truly play out from the back (and I mean by that lots of short goal kicks, bouncing the ball around in tight areas, using the goalkeeper to create overloads and working through the thirds)

A bigger percentage of the goalkeeper’s distributions will be of the longer variety. Therefore, if goalkeepers in the academy system spend so much time playing shorter distribution, when they get to the stage that they maybe required to play in a first team, they will struggle, particularly with the physical demands.

When I was at Swindon Town, the philosophy at the time both in the academy and the first team was to play a passing style, building from the back, playing through the thirds. I purposely sent three different scholar goalkeepers out on loan into the Hellenic league, senior non-league football. They went from having full backs or centre backs in the youth team dropping off to receive the ball to basically seeing those positional players in non-league running up to the halfway line and waiting for the goalkeeper to launch it forward. This meant that they had to deliver the ball over a longer distance but still put it in a good consistent area. Doing that time and time again was physically demanding as well as technically demanding. Each commented on how they felt their groins, quads and hamstrings were hanging off! It was however a good exercise to get them used to both ways of distribution in their development.

In first team professional football I firmly believe there is no right or wrong way of how a team plays, the style they adopt, its each to their own and whatever they feel is the best way to get a result at their respective level and club. Let’s not forget nowadays most managers jobs are under threat very quickly, they don’t have time to build or take risks. Many may like to play an attractive style through the thirds but may also feel that style brings too many risks, which could see them out of work!

 

The differing styles brings different demands on the goalkeepers and I’ll give you some stats to show what I mean.

While I was at Swindon and then Forest Green Rovers there was a strictly defined philosophy of playing out and through the thirds which involved a lot of patient build up play from the back which resulted in more back passes and shorter passes as the team probed to find spaces using the goalkeeper as the extra player to create an overload.

 

Stats after 10 games (distributions with feet)

Wes Foderingham (Swindon) 2014/15 – 492
Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon) 2015/16 – 343
Sam Russell (FGR) 2016/17 – 345
Brad Collins (FGR) 2017/18 – 373

 

At Walsall, Oldham and now Exeter, there were/are less risks taken in the defending third, the football was to be played more in the middle and final third, therefore less risks at the back, less back passes.

 

Stats after 10 games (distributions with feet)

Liam Roberts (Walsall) 2017/18 – 240
Daniel Iversen (Oldham) 2018/19 – 220
Lewis Ward (Exeter) 2019/20 – 277
Jonny Maxted (Exeter) 2019/20 - 238

 

It makes no odds to me personally what style is adopted, I repeat I don’t feel there is a right or wrong way, as a coach I just work accordingly. I do try and work on both aspects, short closer work and longer distance kicking. I may tweak the breakdown and percentages of work (short/long) depending on what the requirement of the team is but its still important that both are worked on.

 

Fashion/modern trends:

The side volley is what most goalkeepers adopt these days when kicking from their hands and when it’s done right, it can be very effective. It is however a difficult technique and less room for error if the connection on the ball isn’t made in the right place.

What I do feel is a shame though is how some are obsessed with it and only use that technique and the drop-kick (half volley) and the throw seems to have died out in the game today. Liam Roberts at Walsall had a brilliant long throw and I tried to encourage him to use it more as he could distribute with pace and accuracy over distance. Who can forget when Peter Schmeichel used to launch fast counter attacks with his fantastic throw for Manchester Utd back in the day!

With windy conditions it’s always hard to kick into it and it used to be felt that the drop kick was a better way of kicking from hands into the wind with the ball going flatter and cutting through the wind better and less time for the ball to move in the air while releasing it from your hands to kick. I haven’t seen it used however for many years so it was great to see Lewis Ward use it last week in our wind affected game. One of the best I worked with in terms of having both the side volley and drop kick technique was in non league with Matt Bulman who was at Cirencester Town and also played for Forest Green Rovers for a spell. Bully could deliver the ball flat with speed and distance using both styles with equal measure and comfort and kicked well off the floor.

 

Steve Hale

 

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