Goalkeepers are advancing further from the constraints of their penalty area. It doesn’t always work out when they leave their 18 (yard)-rated home.
Liverpool’s legendary Clown Prince, Bruce Grobbelaar, was never a man frightened to patrol and parade around and beyond his designated area. In 2014 he said this about Simon Mignolet: “I’ve likened Mignolet to worse than Dracula because at least Dracula comes out of his coffin now and then.”
It wasn’t a very subtle take on the incumbent Anfield custodian at the time, but the inference was clear. Grobbelaar was a goalkeeper who owned his space, even if it occasionally turned into a shouting match with his teammates.
Bob Paisley knew a thing or two about winning league titles with the right man between the sticks. “Bruce is not interested in the easy option. Just ask the defenders who share that responsibility, how much they benefit from his style of goalkeeping. If the truth is told, even some of our really exceptional back four players have come to rely on Bruce to do part of their job for them.”*
Wind forward four decades and the landscape is different. The commanders of their area are now moving out and expanding their territory. Not only do goalkeepers leave the sanctuary of their boxes, but they spook fans by playing passes to their midfielders. This is not a hallucination. The intricacies of modern goalkeeping have been discussed elsewhere, but watching it performed in perfect motion is another thing entirely.
On Match of The Day 2, Shay Given was purring over the qualities of Ederson after Manchester City dismantled Manchester United with consummate ease. “I think he could play for City in midfield, and I don’t say that lightly, because he is that good. It takes players out of the game. I don’t think any team should press him. All he’s waiting for is someone to jump...”.
The former City and Newcastle ‘keeper went on to talk over a reel where the Brazilian pushed up to ping a ball that took six United players out of the game. “It’s like playing with eleven outfield players,” Given said. The thing is, not everyone can do it this supremely in a team with that synchronicity. There’s always a mug waiting with a goalkeeper’s name on it. Therein lies the risk.
Wind back almost six years and Ederson’s experience at Anfield was less effective in that iconic seven-goal thriller. His misplaced kick in the pursuit of mopping up danger broke to Mo Salah and the resultant chip dropped into an unguarded net to seal City’s first league defeat of the season. “Well read by Ederson, but not well cleared,” was Martin Tyler’s brief summation. That was about right. It was a good call that went wrong. So be it. Sometimes they mess up and fess up.
Last weekend saw several Premier League and European sentries leaving their posts. It doesn’t all come down to split second decision-making and then execution. When a forty-five-yarder floats away downstream with the ‘keeper stranded, critical voices automatically – and often unfairly –call out the number one. The social media feedback has been quite severe for James Trafford after Phil Billings spotted the 21-year-old off his line to grab the winner at Bournemouth.
As Vincent Kompany said: “There’s not much he can do about the second goal. You give the ball away like this, you take 90 per cent of the goalkeepers [in the division out of it].”
Everyone is at it. Trafford’s desperate claw was not enough. Yet The Burnley Express reported without context: “Caught well off his line for the second. Still managed to make some good saves.” A slight damning with faint praise for a team that is struggling in many more areas.
That was quite lame compared to the reaction of NottinghamForestNews on Matt Turner’s walkabout for Liverpool’s third goal at Anfield. Turner’s misguided tour was “frankly pathetic”. Most objective eyes would describe it as a misjudgement and a lack of communication between the American and Harry Toffolo. Shame about the bounce too.
During the World Cup, Turner gave Tim Ream “a heart attack” by dribbling near three English players before releasing the ball. The ‘keeper joked that he was channelling his “inner Jorge Campos”, but the reaction of his teammates didn’t appear to be one hundred per cent behind their man. Tyler Adams joked: “Scared me a couple times, man. I don't want to see him playing out of the back like that. I know he plays for Arsenal, but c'mon.”
The resistance is strong sometimes to forward thinking. Get back in the box tropes are never far away.
Take man of the moment, Andre Onana, who has had better luck staying on his line after the penalty save against FC Copenhagen. The 27-year-old pushes the envelope to the point where he is sometimes posted home.
The World Cup ended early for the Manchester United number one when a video emerged of Cameroon manager Rigobert Song asking for team tactics to be respected; “Onana puts on a show in training but takes too many risks during games”. Well, he did get lobbed in his first appearance at Old Trafford, but it's happened to the best of us.
Meanwhile, Darmstadt goalkeeper Marcel Schuhen was the victim of a Harry Kane lob bordering on 60 yards. It was ironic that the man at the other end of the pitch – Manuel Neuer – was one of the architects of such positioning.
Roaming goalkeepers are here to stay, even if they give their supporters a fright night.