The Case For More Goalkeepers Becoming Managers

By Faye Hackwell

News • Jan 29, 2024

The Case For More Goalkeepers Becoming Managers

How can experience playing as a goalkeeper influence a manager’s understanding of the game?

With more time spent watching the action and a unique insight into the formation playing in front of them, goalkeepers are arguably well placed to become successful managers when they retire.

The likes of Dino Zoff, Nigel Adkins, Nuno Espirito Santo, Julen Lopetegui and the late Raymond Goethals have all achieved success in the dug-out after a goalkeeping career, while others prefer to continue a close relationship with the position by becoming goalkeeping coaches like Bob Wilson, moving into the boardroom like Edwin Van Der Sar, utilising their knowledge as media pundits like Peter Schmeichel or pursuing other careers outside of football. 

One goalkeeper-turned-manager hoping for success this season is Bromley’s Andy Woodman, who began his playing career at Crystal Palace and went on to play for Northampton Town, Brentford, Southend United and Colchester United.

A potential future role in football management was always at the back of his mind during his playing days, but a decade and a half as a goalkeeping coach preceded the realisation of that ambition.

Woodman said: “I always felt I had the personality, the people skills and the knowledge to be a manager, but it was whether the opportunity arose, and whether it was the right opportunity, because you’ve got to make sure it’s the right move at the right time of your life.”

His first taste of being part of a management team came in 2006 when he was a player-coach at Rushden and Diamonds, who were in a relegation battle in League Two at the time.

An Achilles injury forced his retirement from playing, aged 34, and he became assistant manager to Barry Hunter at the club, before joining Alan Pardew’s coaching team as goalkeeping coach at West Ham United.

“I jumped from Rushden and Diamonds straight to the Premiership with West Ham.

“It was a big jump up the ladder in terms of the size of the club and the size of the project, so that’s where I learned my trade as a goalie coach, but I always felt I was a little bit more than that.

“My role went beyond being a goalkeeper coach, probably more in line with an assistant manager.”

Woodman moved with Pardew to Charlton and then Newcastle.

He also coached alongside the likes of Sam Allardyce, Arsene Wenger and Phil Parkinson – all of whom he gained knowledge and insights from along the way.

“You see how they do it and you learn why they do what they do.

“Then you have that question in your head of ‘how would you do it if it was you?’ and what traits of theirs you've learned and what your own traits as a manager would be.”

The right opportunity to step into his first manager position arose for Woodman in March 2021, when he took over National League side Bromley and led them to FA Trophy glory at Wembley the following year.

Adjusting to being part of a much smaller club than the Premier League sides he’d been coaching at, with significantly reduced resources, was a learning curve.

“It was a massive change. You haven’t got the budget, you’re constantly on the phone, you haven’t got a team of scouts around you or a team of analysts.

“You're basically on the shop floor doing everything.

“I went from being at the top of the tree right back down to the bottom, but I think it's been great grounding for me to be honest and great learning for me.”

The understanding of the game he gained through his playing experience as a Football League goalkeeper contributes to the way Woodman sets up his teams as a manager – and he believes goalkeepers have an advantage in the dug-out over their former outfield counterparts, due to the time spent in their unique vantage point on the pitch.

“It’s a question that’s asked a lot – ‘why are there not more goalkeepers as managers?’ – and it fascinates me.

“It's almost like people think we haven't played football for all of this time and we just stood there!

“I actually think we’re better equipped for management because we see all of the game in front of us.

“I like a team that’s energetic, that’s got loads of energy on the pitch and can play free-flowing football. 

“That said, I also know how to set up a team up to be solid defensively, so, if you get the right players and the right set-up, you leave no stone unturned.”

And Woodman has certainly got a lot right in his three years at Bromley.

Following the FA Trophy silverware, he led his side to the National League play-off semi-finals last season and they are firmly in contention for another shot at promotion to League Two this season – leading the chasing pack behind breakaway table-toppers Chesterfield.

“The ambition is to get the club out of this league and that hasn’t changed from day one.

“We’re doing way more and way better than anyone ever anticipated for the budget we’ve got and the size of club we are.”

He also feels his own experience as a goalkeeper helps him to understand those playing in the position in his teams.

“It’s a unique position and I see all these managers and pundits who are quick not to praise the goalkeeper, saying ‘it was an easy save’ or ‘that was a good height for the goalie’ and it undervalues what a goalie does.

“It shows a complete lack of knowledge.

“I understand the pitfalls, I understand the problems and I understand that, being a goalie, a lot of it comes down to confidence.”

Successfully instilling that confidence in a goalkeeper, Woodman believes, is largely influenced by having the right goalkeeping coach in place to work with them.

At Bromley, he has handed that responsibility to Brannon Daly, who he once coached as a goalkeeper at Arsenal and then supported through his own coaching journey.

“He's in my style of coaching, but he's evolved with his own style and his own personality. 

“He works with me closely but I let him do his job – I don’t get involved in any of his coaching sessions, I trust what he does. 

“I've known him many years now and he's a really important factor for me.

“As a manager, you’ve got to make sure that you trust your goalie coach is doing the right work with them and saying the right things.”

Woodman doesn’t shy away from breaking new ground as a manager and he will soon have an additional member joining his coaching team, whose appointment is being made in a somewhat unconventional way.

Bromley’s new Performance Support Tactician is being recruited through a partnership project between the club, Xbox and Football Manager and they will be a gaming aficionado with proven pedigree at playing Football Manager – rather than bringing on-the-pitch experience to the table.

Their input into Woodman’s tactical decision-making will be followed through a documentary and the opportunity has received widespread interest and publicity.

“When I got offered the opportunity of this project, I made it clear from day one that if we're going to do it, we’ll do it properly.

“They are going to be part of my team and it’s an exciting time.”

While some goalkeepers will choose to follow Woodman’s well-trodden pathway into goalkeeping coaching, he has words of encouragement for anyone in the position considering stepping up into a management role.

“I’d say to any goalkeeper, ‘don’t let being a goalkeeper hold you back’ because there are some very successful goalkeepers who’ve managed, like Dino Zoff and Nuno Espirito Santo.”

Playing under a former goalkeeper proved to be a positive experience for non-league goalkeeper Jordan Carey, who was at Margate in the National League South when Nikki Bull was in charge.

Bull, who currently manages Guildford City, had previously been a goalkeeper for clubs including Aldershot Town and Wycombe Wanderers, and Carey felt they shared a mutual understanding about the expectations and set-up of the position.

“It was the little things, like goal prevention tactics and my starting position being a lot deeper when the ground was wet to anticipate a faster skid on the ball when it bounced - little things like that, that he understood,” Carey said.

“Playing under managers who have never played the position can be quite a funny one.

“You often hear shouts from the sidelines like ‘get higher’, ‘change your starting position, you need to be more here’ and they just don’t always understand the reasoning behind your starting position. 

“There are so many fine details as to where we stand and why.

“A lot of the time you hear shouts like ‘he should be saving that, that’s at his near post’ and they don’t understand the way that the ball can move when it’s been struck hard and it sort of wobbles towards you, or why you’re not catching balls that you’re punching.

“There are so many small details that they simply don’t understand because they’ve never played the position and don’t see the ball in the same manner that we do.”

Carey, who started his career at Brentford before playing in Kent for teams including Cray Valley PM, Ashford United and, currently, Larkfield and New Hythe, believes the goalkeeper can be a “very disposable position” in the non-league game, leaving them vulnerable when changes are being made at clubs.

“If things aren’t going well, if we’re conceding too many goals, it’s typically looked on as a goalkeeping error.

“So, when managers come into a club, they typically like to implement their style of play to the team and if the goalkeeper doesn’t fit that, then they’ll be replaced - it’s as simple as that.

“I do feel the relationship between the goalkeeper and the goalkeeping coach is more important than the first team manager.

“Obviously it’s important to have a good relationship with the manager as well, but because the goalkeeping coach spends so much time with the goalkeeper, they get to know them not only as a player, but as a person as well.

“They’ll be able to pick up very easily when a goalkeeper is dipping in form or coming into form, or going through something off the pitch, and will help the manager pick his goalkeeper based on those examples.”

James Whittingham was released by Accrington Stanley’s academy as a 16-year old goalkeeper before going on to play semi-professionally in non-league and, six years ago, moved into goalkeeping coaching.

The managers he played under had all held outfield positions as players and he felt they didn’t always understand the complexities of the goalkeeper’s position in certain situations.

Whittingham recalls: “I’ve had managers in the past say I should have saved something that’s taken a massive deflection or they say ‘you should have stayed up’.

“I played under an assistant manager who was a goalkeeper and can remember him and the manager having a bit of a heated argument after a game, where the manager said I could have done better and the assistant manager stuck up for me and said ‘if you see something from a goalkeeper’s position, you might not see it until it's gone through someone’s legs from four yards out’. 

“That was a breath of fresh air because you had that bit of support.”

So will we see more Zoffs, Goethals and Lopeteguis emerge when the next generation of goalkeepers retire? 

Is the lure of a prominent position in the dug-out enough to tempt them away from the more familiar territory of goalkeeper coaching?

Certainly their experience and knowledge, not just of their own position but also of formations, tactics and the wider game, gained from their time spent in goal is likely to be welcomed by the goalkeepers who follow Whittingham and Carey into the game in future years.

Shop featured products
Related Editorials
Read All Posts

Copyright 2022 Goalkeeper. All Rights Reserved.