There is still a long way to go when it comes to properly analysing goalkeepers in the mainstream media, though better attempts have recently been made.
Recent appearances by Kasper Schmeichel and Carly Telford on Sky Sports have suggested that mainstream broadcasters are finally coming round to the necessity of proper shot-stopping representation on punditry panels.
Kasper Schmeichel’s appearance on Monday Night Football’s coverage of the relegation six-pointer between Leicester and Everton on May 1st was a goalkeeping masterclass. It epitomised the value that professional, experienced insight can bring to properly informing narratives around goalkeeping.
The show also featured a segment on Goalkeeper xG’s 1v1 statistics, ranking the top 1v1 stoppers between 2018 and 2022 over all 78 goalkeepers who had played in the top flight in that period. Dr John Harrison’s empirical analysis added another complementary layer to the expertise that Schmeichel Jr. was already bringing to the show.
After that same match, Leicester boss Dean Smith spoke of how he was ‘from the Roy Keane school’ on goalkeeping, and reaffirmed his belief that a goalkeeper was, ultimately, there to save shots. He was responding to a question on goalkeeper Daniel Iversen’s performance. In only his eighth Premier League appearance of all time, the Danish goalkeeper had pulled off a number of strong saves in a big fixture.
The most notable was an athletic tip over the bar in response to a piledriver from Alex Iwobi just inside the box. Alas, the performance seemed to simply satisfy minimum expectations. Iversen was just doing his job.
Misunderstandings around the true value of a goalkeeper are rife both internally and externally of the professional game. The 2022 World Cup - for all its brilliance between the sticks - sadly shone a light on the failings of punditry when the conversation turned to those intrepid number ones.
It happened in full technicolour at peak time viewing on a Saturday night. Argentinian defenders laid over their goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in jubilation after the Aston Villa man saved 1v1 from Australia's Garang Kuol with virtually the last kick of the game in the Round of 16. Finally, a goalkeeper was a modern hero in normal time.
Then it was back to full-time marvelling at Messi, which went into total overdrive even by normal broadcasting standards.
Martinez had done something rather spectacular in the group stage, too, when he demonstrated great trajectory and temerity to catch a whipped free kick from Alexis Vega in the win over Mexico. The flight path of the ball and 'keeper in unison was pure poetry in motion. But, it was an “easy” save according to commentary duo Sam Matterface and Lee Dixon. Nothing to see here.
The Guardian, meanwhile, toyed with the idea of damning it with faint praise: “Martinez flies to his right to make a fairly majestic – and camera-friendly – two-handed catch.”
Sadly, this narrative wasn’t killed off by the increasing level of performance as the tournament went on.
Goalkeepers at the elite level aren’t the only casualties of this tendency to reduce us to a mere part of the ensemble, at best. Or, at worst, hung out to dry as villains. The recent FA Trophy final between Halifax Town and Gateshead proved that this go-to mechanism of pointing fingers at the goalkeeper pervades all levels of the game.
From a Gateshead perspective, the winning goal came in unfortunate circumstances. A risky, short pass back couldn’t quite reach Gateshead goalkeeper James Montgomery, who - despite a short sprint to reach the ball - couldn’t clear properly just outside his six yard box. The ball rebounded off Jamie John Cooke’s shins, and nestled into the back of the net.
The live commentary team on BT Sport described the goal as a ‘dreadful mistake’ by Montgomery, going on to say it was an ‘awful moment for James Montgomery in goal’ who took ‘too long to clear his lines’ and ‘now has egg all over his shirt’.
Take a look at the moment yourself below. Perhaps we goalkeepers were just watching a different game.
Aaron Ramsdale was Montgomery’s most notable defender in the aftermath of the clip being posted to Twitter. Bluntly, he advised the pundits to go and get their coaching badges. It isn’t necessarily that technical qualifications are needed, but Ramsdale has a point.
A generally more informed punditry populace, who understands the demands of the goalkeeper position, would likely reduce these kinds of overarchingly negative narratives imposed upon any potentially questionable goalkeeping moment.
Some have latched on, to an extent. Of course, it isn’t reasonable to expect every pundit or commentator to go and gain coaching qualifications. They are journalists whose role is to describe and comment on the action they see. Nonetheless, there is already a type of person who fits the mould that Ramsdale alludes to: goalkeepers themselves.
Ex-England and Chelsea Women goalkeeper Carly Telford has become a more regular face on our screens in recent times. On May 8th, Sky Sports once again published a clip of analysis that Telford had undertaken in the studio following Chelsea Women’s 7-0 demolition of Everton in the WSL, live in front of the television cameras.
Like Schmeichel’s appearance, the caption that was used was of a ‘goalkeeping masterclass’. Quite; Telford brought an informed expertise to the debate, and provided true analytical value founded in years of experience at the very top level. She understood that moment, because she’d faced several like it herself.
The comments spoke for themselves.
Of course, there are different roles in football broadcasting. Jeff Stelling doesn’t, and doesn’t claim, to have any professional playing experience, for example. Rather, he is the glue that binds the Soccer Saturday panel together. He doesn’t try to impose any technical opinions, but guides the conversation and asks questions of those who are, on paper, more ‘qualified’ to discuss the game.
We now see specialist referee pundits in both live broadcasts and subsequent programming. Howard Webb recently led the conversation during the Monday Night Football broadcast of Liverpool’s 3-0 away win against Leicester. Groundbreaking insight into the referee’s mind during significant VAR calls were made transparent. Fans felt closer to the action; football felt more informed.
There’s no reason why we can’t do the same with goalkeepers to raise the level of conversation. There are positive signs, and efforts seem to be slowly being increased, but we have a long way to go.
Perhaps, in Ramsdale's words, blaming the goalkeeper will always just be the easy way out.