What makes the perfect goalkeeper?

“Being a goalkeeper is like being the guy in the military who makes the bombs. One mistake, and everyone gets blown up.”

A goalkeeper is the last line of defence, and also the first element of the attack. Good keepers keep their side in games, and with the increased scrutiny their every move gets, being regarded as a good goalkeeper in the modern game is nothing short of commendable. So what exactly are the attributes that an ideal goalkeeper must have? 

Game reading ability and speed

The two principle characteristics required in every ‘sweeper – keeper’. A good goalkeeper must be able to timely identify cracks in his defence line, keep an eye out for a runner in behind, be able to sense when the ball through is likely to be played and lastly, he then must also have the quickness to rush off his line and clear up the danger before an attacker latches on to a defence splitting pass and score. There are few who possess this ability to the level that Hugo Lloris and Ederson do, and it is a huge contributor to the reason Spurs and City have been so resolute defensively.

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Command over their box

The 18 yard box is the goalkeeper’s territory, and he must have full control over it. Every set piece taker aims to get the ball between the line of defence and the goalkeeper, so as to ensure no one is able to get to it comfortably. A commanding goalkeeper is able to organise his wall and his set piece defenders in a manner which enables him as much freedom to come out and collect as he possibly can get. As a defender in such a circumstance, there is no greater confidence booster than knowing that you simply defend what’s in your reach and that your keeper will take care of the rest. Joe Hart and Marc Andre Ter – Stegen are some of the most commanding goalkeepers I’ve watched in the recent past.

Agility

Everyone loves a high flying, gravity defying save. But it’s insanely hard to pull one off, as it requires a good perception of the ball’s trajectory, precise timing on the jump, and the agility to actually punch the ball away mid-air. Likewise, very often, keepers get wrong footed because of deflections, and are helpless as the ball trickles into the net from the opposite direction, barely 3 feet away from the point the keeper is grounded. In such scenarios, it becomes essential for the perfect goalkeeper to be quick and agile, to enable him to change his direction immediately and also make those replay worthy diving saves from long shots and the like. Guilermo Ochoa and David De Gea are arguably the best in the business when it comes to this trait.

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Positioning, anticipation and reflex actions

Many a times, a scrappy clearance or an unlucky ricochet leaves an attacker 1v1 with the keeper with just enough time to get in a half decent shot or a toe poke. In such a scenario, most keepers will concede the goal, and you cannot lay any blame on them whatsoever. However, the top ‘keepers will find a way to maintain their clean sheet. Manuel Neuer’s save off Theo Walcott’s header in the CL and a compilation of Gigi Buffon’s point blank range saves comes to mind.

A lot of teams, specially Manchester City this season, use the tactic of zipping in a low cross through the face of goal to provide an empty goal to tap into the for the player at the receiving end of the pass. Incidentally also the most rage inducing goal in FIFA. But there have been goalkeepers who have stopped these, most notably Iker Casillas and Hugo Lloris, and the key to their success is having inch perfect positioning ability and a flawless ability to anticipate whether the attacker will choose to slot it in near post, or go across the keeper to the far corner.

Distribution

One could argue that in Pep Guardiola’s book, this is the only point that an ideal goalie should have. He isn’t wrong though, as a goalkeeper who’s good with his feet can be an incredible asset to his side’s attacking play. When a goalkeeper plays sideways passes with his centre halves and DM, he invites a press from the opposing attackers, which leaves a hole in between the attack and the midfield, and / or the midfield and defence (As the midfield pushes up to fill the whole).

It is in this case that good vision and ability to complete a long pass comes into play. One good ball over the top can leave your attack with only the back line to beat. Likewise, a good early distribution from a collected corner can lead to same breath-taking counter attack goals. Ederson Moraes and Manuel Neuer are probably the most complete goalkeepers in this regard.

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Height

Thibaut Courtois and Fraser Forster probably have to watch their heads when they walk out onto the pitch from the tunnel, but their height makes them extremely hard to beat from crosses. Traditional attacking play involves getting the ball out wide, swinging it back in and heading on target. This can’t be carried out effectively if you have a man of the stature of 6’ 6” repelling anything that’s thrown his way. It also helps the keeper defend set pieces better.

Written by Ayush Verma.

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