I always like playing in goal. As a non professional, it is great because it means that you don’t have to waste your energy running up and down the pitch just to set up someone else to score. It means that you wont get hacked down by a brutal player, and it also means that you can kick the ball as hard as you want upfield, and then when the ball actually comes to you, and you are are forced to make a save, you can extravagantly leap into the air, kick your legs out a bit and look amazing, and if you are agile everyone thinks you are good. No one cares about your tactical awareness or positioning, it is all about how you make the save.
This quickly stops when you start to get more serious about football, and if you don’t have those other important qualities, you quickly get shown up as bad. Good keepers of old could stop the problem before it started, by having control of their defenders and commanding their own box, and strikers would feel threatened by their huge presences.
As a goalkeeper you are meant to have an advantage, seeing as you can handle the ball, and before you would grab the ball as much as you can instead of punch it to a opposing midfielder outside of the box.
Keepers have huge egos, and in the past this would help them with commanding their box. Until recently, the keepers who were the best in the world such as Edwin van der Sar and Petr Cech (before he had his head injuries) could do it all, they were great shot stoppers, great at collecting aerial deliveries, and were great at distributing the ball efficiently. They had very good all round abilities, and had no obvious weaknesses.
In the Premier league, we have some of the greatest shot stoppers in the world, such as Joe Hart, David de Gea, Michel Vorm and Pepe Reina. They all have super fast reactions and all have animal like agility, but with all of this skill they are all guilty of doing the ‘flap’. The ‘flap’ is where the keeper comes out to an aerial delivery and just about pushes the ball out of the box, instead of firmly grasping it into his chest. A ‘flapper’ doesn’t command crosses, he gets caught in no-man’s land, and opts to stay on his line rather than collecting the ball in the air. The modern keeper will be able to save a shot going into the top corner with relative ease, but they really struggle with aerial challenges.
A recent example of this was de Gea against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, with some relentless shot stopping, with every part of his body, but every time Mata whipped in a corner he looked very vulnerable. de Gea can’t command the box, it doesn’t help that he looks like a weedy teenager though. He can’t be bothered to shout at his defenders, it seems as if the only thing he cares about is shot stopping, de Gea is not alone in this, it is very much the ways of the modern goalkeeper. Obviously de Gea and other keepers such as Hart are young, and should improve with age, but it is a skill that they should learn quickly.
So why has the art of goalkeeping changed? Is it just a fashion, or is it the dominance of short, skilful players that are more likely to shoot from just outside the box, than float a ball in? I would make a strong case for the latter, as goalkeeping coaches probably think that crossing the ball is starting to fade out of football.
In the closing stages of a game, and the ball is launched into the box, you start to panic because you automatically think that your keeper wont be able to hold on to it, especially if there is a real physical presence in the box, thats how I feel with de Gea anyway. In those stages, there isn’t a better feeling than seeing your keeper grab hold of the ball and bring it into his chest. One thing is for sure though, the ability to judge a cross, whether to come out for it or to stay on your line, is an important one.