Edel Bete earns praise as the rock for Chennayin FC

The efforts and concentration shown by the Chennayin FC goalkeeper has been recognised as one of the strengths of the side, by former India custodian Henry Menezes.

Chennayin FC have been served well with the cushion of a competent goalkeeper.   -  ISL/Sportzpics

Goalkeepers are a hated lot, cursed by football fans for coming in the way of goals, something they enjoy the most. Eight men, fit and flexible, gained chances to stand under the crossbar when ISL 2015 kicked off at various venues. Two are left to finish their Indian Super League (ISL) participation, Chennaiyin FC’s Edel Bete and FC Goa’s Laxmikant Kattimani, as the respective sides face off on Sunday night.

Former India custodian, Henry Menezes, uses a strong word to describe them. “Goalkeepers are the commanders on the ground, the entire field is in their view and their performance gives confidence to the defenders standing in front,” notes the ex-international, an expert commentator on television, former team manager (Mahindra United, Mumbai FC) and current administrator (CEO, Western India Football Association) at the Cooperage.

Menezes wonders about the reason for silence from him in matchplay. “Bete’s eyes, if you notice, are glazed. It shows a high level of concentration, yet he is quiet, is not seen shouting instructions the way we are familiar to seeing elsewhere. His footwork and positioning is so good that you will not see thrilling saves. Bete does not need to come up with acrobatic dive.”

Chennayin FC the exception

Foreign coaches choose Indian goalkeepers. Menezes explains that it is a strategic decision. “Choosing an Indian in goal gives the coach six foreigners to play up front. They prefer it that way,” says the ex-international. Chennaiyin FC is the exception, preferring the gentle giant from Cameroon, Bete, guarding the goal. “Chennaiyin coach Marco Materazzi chose Bete because his priority is to strengthen the defence, even though it means a foreign player less in remaining 10 positions.”

Karanjit Singh and Pawan Kumar are two other custodians in Materazzi’s team, yet the Italian World Cupper kept faith in Bete, classy enough to have made appearances for French club Paris Saint Germain (PSG). “Chennaiyin reached the final with such a defensive mindset. It is a credit to the entire side. The backline, manned by defenders and goalkeeper, seem to be doing the job,” Menezes said. Delhi Dynamos chose Antonio Doblas in goal, a reflection of coach Roberto Carlos' line of thinking.

For the imposing Chennaiyin FC custodian, opposition is not restricted to the rival team, but an entire Nehru stadium buzzing with fans rooting for the home team. Noise can be intimidating, even for Bete standing in his second consecutive IPL final (he kept for Atletico de Kolkata last season). Former India goalkeeping coach Brahmanand Shankwalkar feels football turns into a mental game when a stadium full of fans at Fatorda roar for every FCG attack “Bete has to deal with it by steadying his mind, otherwise mistakes will creep in.”

He is of the view that the biggest threat for Chennaiyin will come from FC Goa counter-attacks. “Goa attack on the move and defences can be shaken up. Faced with an angular shot like Jofre struck against Delhi Dynamos, no goalkeeper in the world can stop it,” observed the former AIFF Player of the Year. “Bete has shown maturity in match situations and can make life difficult for the opponent if he can be consistent.” He saved two penalty kicks in the league and can repeat the feat if needed when stakes are higher. ATK realised the difficulty in putting the ball past the Cameroon ‘keeper in the second leg semi-final.

The class of Laxmikant Kattimani, the FC Goa 'keeper, was also recognised, via praise from Brahmanand, himself an inspiration for goalkeepers across India. “He has shown a cool head on young shoulders and is learning all the time.” The Vasco SC youngster established himself in Dempo SC and kept goal for India at the 2011 Olympic Qualifiers. Brazilian Elintos Andrade and Indian Luis Barretto are other custodians on the home team.