No more a one-dimensional job - the changing role of goalkeepers

From a simple one-dimensional job of guarding the goal, the goalkeeper - like most positions in football - has adopted a multi-faceted approach to the game.

File picture of Manuel Neuer.   -  REUTERS

Remember Manuel Neuer lurking around in the middle of the park, trying to contribute to Germany’s attack in its 2018 World Cup do-or-die group stage match against South Korea?

By playing the role of a free-roaming midfielder, he left his goal completely unguarded - that ultimately ended up haunting the 2014 champion as it got knocked out from the group stage. The crucial point of highlight here is not the result, but the audacity shown by Germany’s No.1.

A decade ago, such an act would invite talks of impertinence, but the role of a goalkeeper has changed over time.

From a simple one-dimensional job of guarding the goal, the goalkeeper -- like most positions in football -- has adopted a multi-faceted approach to the game.

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Henry Menezes, a former goalkeeper for the Indian national team, tells Sportstar, “The most basic rules have changed. Earlier, in our time, goalkeepers could pick the ball from a direct pass by a team-mate. It was a safe option but often led to time wasting. Goalkeepers today need to be alert and good with their feet. The vision of the goalkeeper today isn’t just about protecting the goal but analysing the entire ground and seeing how he can help in building attacks.”

Kim Young-gwon slots the ball past Manuel Neuer to score against Germany during 2018 World Cup.   -  Getty Images


No more an isolated figure

Managers of the modern game are always tinkering with their formations to find a balance where every player can make optimum use of his skill set.

The 3-5-2 formation, quite prevalent today, employs a three-man defence with fullbacks pushed higher up the field. Such a setup requires the goalkeeper to not only man the space in and around the box but to be alert and anticipate, coming out to meet the ball if there are passes played over the high-pressing defenders.

Often seen as a sign of defensive weakness by traditionalists, the role of a ‘sweeper keeper’ may invite debate but it certainly cannot be ignored in the modern game.

Manchester City’s Ederson’s astute sense of distribution and tendency to sniff out attacks by acting as a sweeper has ensured more effective transition from defence to attack.

The risk factor

Former captain and goalkeeper of the Indian national team Bhaskar Ganguly feels the change in goalkeeping style has brought with it an increasing risk of conceding silly goals.

“This is always 50-50. For me, the primary focus of goalkeepers should always be to save the ball and not worry about the team’s attack. It has 10 players to do that. It is a plus point if a goalkeeper can contribute offensively but measuring the risk is important because goalkeepers are remembered for the saves they make,” he says. “Change is bound to happen, and it will keep on happening in future. But moving away from the basics has its disadvantages. The occasional anticipation is justified but defenders should be aware about maintaining balance between pushing up the field and staying back and not be complacent about the threat from long balls, which will leave the keeper exposed.”

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European rigidity versus South American boldness

Despite the likes of Lev Yashin of Russia and Gyula Grosics of Hungary’s “golden team” of the 50s, South American goalkeepers have always been more adventurous compared to their European counterparts. The demarcations between European and South American keepers, however, have eroded with time.

Menezes is relishing the opportunity to follow the game’s best shot stoppers in action in the upcoming European Championship and the Copa America. “Allison [Becker] is a brilliant goalkeeper. He is like a wall and, with his personality, is hard to beat. He is an organisational genius,” he says.

Ganguly, meanwhile, has his eyes on Neuer and Ederson. “All keepers playing at that level are already top level, but I am looking forward to watching Neuer and Ederson in the upcoming tournaments.”

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