The stereotypical opinion regarding goalkeepers is that they must have a dubious psychosis. To wish to play in this position then the requirement – above feline-like reflexes and a brilliant reading of the game – is to have at least 12 reptiles in your household, enjoy having your nipples scorched and often partake in self-flagellation for relaxation. To summarise, men who tend the net ( of the footballing variety, I’m not referring to some shady types who shark the world wide web.This is a kids show after all.) have to be crazier than a box of frogs.
Bert Trautmann who played on despite suffering a broken neck. Rene Higuita of Scorpion Kick fame, who in his less demanding moments enjoyed a spot of kidnapping. Jose Luis Chilavert for Paraguay who took most set-pieces for his country and had a stare that could freeze a volcano. Andy Goram, who endured the now infamous chant from Celtic fans ” There’s only two Andy Goram’s ” after news leaked that he was suffering from Schizophrenia. Our very own Mad Jens Lehmann, who enjoyed nothing more than to shout continuously for 90 minutes and wallowed in the fact his eccentricities made most opposing strikers give him a wide berth ( aside from Drogba ). How can we leave out Bruce Grobbelaar? The Zimbabwean who patented the ‘Jelly Legs’ technique when facing penalties, who then became synonymous with the darker side of the game when convicted of match-fixing and also having a suspect taste in face-fuzz…..
I could go on. The gist of it is that these men and countless others who have plied their trade between two posts have often been caught barking at the moon and attempting to bite their own ear. Is this endearing adage a thing of the past though?
The recent discovery that Wojicech Szczesny recently joined the growing band of nicotine-lovers at Arsenal has been the most off-kilter story surrounding goalies for some time. It would seem the GK’s union have had a meeting away from the watchful eyes of the media and have all concurred that men of their ilk will now conduct themselves in a beige manner. Very sensible but with less interest raised than a Jordan Henderson games night.
Thibaut Courtois, Gigi Buffon, Petr Cech. Three of the best goalkeepers of recent times. Three of the most tedious personalities since Phil Neville, Danny Murphy and Mark Lawrenson decided to start a Barbershop trio ( It was a quartet but Hansen threw a strop when he wasn’t allowed to wear Reebok Classics ). The only eyebrow-raiser between the three aforementioned keepers would be Cech’s natty headgear, which is a neat segueway.
Perhaps Goalies have lost an edge as it is a surety that these men receive far more protection than in the past. Stephen Hunt and an errant knee aside – Keepers receive the benefit of the doubt regarding most officiating decisions and it is becoming scarce to see these men barreling down a la Schmeichel Vs Wright to receive a wayward ball. Lloris and Neuer are a few who have mastered the art of claiming the ball early but it is an all too familiar sight to see a goaltender hang back and try to maximise the potential for saving a shot or alternatively, we see Mignolet, Fabianski, Szczesny, et al careering off their line with no hope of actually claiming the ball.
Modern day keepers have no need to lose the one instinct we share with our earlier cousins – survival. They need not put their head where others fear to dip a daintily booted toe. They don’t have it all their own way when contrasting against their earlier counterparts.The ball is redeveloped regularly and surely must now weigh less than half than the ball which graced the 1966 World Cup. Stories that originate from those halcyon days were that if the ball were to be used when it was raining ( being played in the UK, this was often ) then the ball became a leather cannonball that required a high pain threshold to thrust your forehead upon but for goalkeepers it made their job a far easier one.
So many variables have to be taken into account. In the past, the games were often played on a quagmire of a pitch which would have been a recurring nightmare for goalies. The technology in the new goalkeeping gloves is now so far advanced that if you donned these new space-age hand clothes – you could stay stuck to the sun ( my sources are wholly accurate ). So on the face of things, if you discount the ball being faster and far lighter, then the keepers from our era have a far easier job.
I’m not ready to pronounce the death of crazy goalkeepers though. Despite their job being radically safer than in the past ( and rightfully so ) it still has its dangers. We all remember running the gauntlet of lining up and being picked to play football by your peers. This brutal social exercise only escaped you if you were technically gifted, tougher than the rest, or if you owned the ball. For the rest of us, it was time to pray to whatever deities you believed in or sharpen your skills of bribery ( a pocket of Premier League sticker album doubles always did the trick ). An oft overlooked method of escaping with your dignity intact was to volunteer to go in goal. No one wanted to play in goal. This thankless task led you to be blamed for every single goal conceded and also left you prone to bouts of boredom and silly antics when the ball did come your way – which again almost always led to more goals conceded.
You were blamed for everything. You were the handy scapegoat. You jumped from the purgatory that is the ‘ Unpicked Zone‘ to the hell that is being branded a failure. The buck stops with the goalkeeper. Not much has changed since those childhood days.
Goalkeepers can make one handed stops that defy gravity and belief. They can shut out supposed world-class attacks single-handedly and adapt their own body repeatedly to stop the ball from pestering the net. They can do all this for 89 minutes but if they misread the flight of an ever-deceiving ball or if a divot of turf has the audacity to sit up, query its own existence and deviate the flight of said ball? Well, the back pages of newspapers beckons. Confidence – that all too rare commodity – is thus robbed from your gaffer and from yourself.
Why would any man choose this path? This is why I doubt whether the age of the ‘Crazy Goalkeeper’ is over. It never will be. They’re all missing a few sandwiches from the mental lunchbox. You DO have to be mad to work there.