In the past, being a goalkeeper was simply a question of shot-stopping and retrieving the ball. The requirements didn’t go much further than height, ability to catch, and willingness to put your body on the line for the team. It was, in many ways, the one position on the team where being good at ‘football’ mattered little. A goalkeeper wasn’t expected to do much other than prevent the opposition from scoring, and their role in the team was very much limited to just that.
However, just as the game itself is no longer what it once was, neither are the expectations of its players. While simply being a good shot-stopper was once the bulk of the criteria for goalkeepers, the modern goalkeeper needs to have that and much more in his locker in order to fit in to the modern style of play; fast-paced, high intensity, attacking football. Below are some of the main qualities that are essential for a modern goalkeeper to contribute effectively to their team:
1. Effective Distribution:
We’re all familiar with the saying “defence is the first form of attack.” A strong and sturdy defence gives any team a chance of winning, no matter who the opponents are. However, while they may rarely get the goals themselves, the modern goalkeeper is a crucial part to any teams counter-attacking play. The modern goalkeeper needs to have the vision to pick out a long range pass, and, more importantly, the quality to pull it off. Quick distributions from corners and free-kicks, when the opposition are in recovery, offer key counter-attacking opportunities. While in the past a goalkeeper may have just hit the ball long and hoped for the best, the modern keeper needs to be able to collect the ball, read the pitch, pick a player, and distribute effectively all in the space of a few split seconds. Examples of where goalkeepers have done this well are Alisson vs. Burnley last season (which lead to a goal for Shaqiri) or Claudio Bravo’s recent performance in the Community Shield, whose long-range, precision passing was a constant thorn in Liverpool’s side and gave City endless opportunities to counter-attack.
2. Calmness on the ball:
The tactics and strategies employed by top teams in the modern age, for the most part, have at least one thing in common: spreading players out wide to open up spaces in the opposition in central positions. However, this means more than just getting the wingers to stand on the sideline and wait for the ball. Teams nowadays tend to press highly, condensing in defence and spreading up and out in attack, with the full backs becoming wingers and centre-half almost becoming full-backs. This thus creates a large gap at the back, which must be filled by the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper, when his team is in possession of the ball, slots in at the base of his team. Because of this, the modern goalkeeper must be calm on the ball. In the past, a goalkeeper who could play with the ball at his feet was a rarity and, in many ways, unnecessary. However, in order to allow their team to get high and wide and to attack effectively, the modern goalkeeper needs to be there at the base of the defence, ready to get involved in the build up play from the back, and remaining calm as opposing players inevitably charge them down. Ederson from Manchester City is a prime example of this, who is frequently involved in City’s build up play from the back and always looks comfortable and confident on the ball.
While no keeper is expected to be Usain Bolt, due to the fact that teams nowadays tend to play higher up the pitch, the goalkeeper needs to be quick off his line in order to break down any counter-attacks from the opponent. Whether this is to pick up over-the-top balls, or to dive at the feet of a player who broke through the defence, the modern goalkeeper needs to be quick and agile, able to read the game and to sniff out any danger before it proves costly. A slow keeper will give the attacker more time to pick his spot, while also having a subconsciously negative effect on their defence, who will hold back from going too far forward in fear of being caught out knowing that the goalkeeper will offer little cover, thus causing the whole structure of the team to change. Again, Ederson is a great example of this kind of keeper, who always seems to be there to sniff out any danger in and around his box. As well as that, Manuel Nueur and his ‘sweeper keeper’ title earned at the 2014 World Cup also shows how effective a goalkeeper who has not only the ability to read the game, but also the pace to act quickly, can be.
Of course, it goes without saying that the modern goalkeeper also has to be, first and foremost, a good goalkeeper. Shot-stopping, catching, commanding of their area, and being vocal on the pitch are the fundamentals of goalkeeping. However, for a keeper looking to take it to the next level and to excel at the top teams in the modern game, they need to have more in their locker than just that. A goalkeeper who can distribute effectively, play with the ball at their feet, and is quick off his line improves their team both defensively and in terms of attack. The modern goalkeeper is not only a goal-stopper, but is also a goal-creator for his team, and for any young goalkeeper hoping to take their game to the next level, these are the areas you should look at improving.
About the Author
Lee Molloy is a twenty-year-old literature student and writer from Dublin, Ireland. Having spent years posting his pieces on his Instagram, he finally decided to start a blog where he can share his writing with the world. His biggest inspirations in writing are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus, and Charles Baudelaire.