You have no right to judge me.
Yeah, that’s right. Me. That bloke on his own between those two sticks over there. You know, the one with a different kit and comprehensively alternative set of skills to those you adopted during your playing career.
We’re poles apart, me and you. You’re all feet and running. I’m all hands and diving. You’re aerobic. I’m more anaerobic. You’ve even been afforded the luxury of joining a categorised group of “outfield” players. I’m… Well, I’m just a goalkeeper, right? In fact, you could argue we play an entirely different sport altogether…
All the goalkeeping experts on itv tonight are an absolute joke, Lee Dixon’s mate in the pub said he should of went with other hand ???
— Scott Carson (@SCarsonOfficial) June 28, 2018
Ever since the awkward analysis of Jordan Pickford’s performance in England’s Group G defeat to Belgium on Thursday night, and the ensuing consternation from goalkeepers all over the world begging for some fair comment on Twitter, I’ve had a niggling urge to scribble a few thoughts down. As an ex-goalkeeper who has a decent enough grasp of the game to pass comment, I always do.
For at what stage did it become commonplace for goalkeepers to be scrutinised by fellow professionals never to have strapped on a pair of gloves before? A quick online search for “football pundits” provides me with an initial list of well-established names in the game, both retired and still playing, and not one of them was nor is a goalkeeper. The BBC and ITV have a combined 34 pundits on board for this summer’s World Cup. Not one of them was nor is a goalkeeper.
This isn’t to say they’re not experts, of course. Some are superb at dissecting football’s intricacies, certainly more so than I could for positions I’ve never adopted.
Need a case for the defence? Gary Neville can deliver that better than anyone. Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard and Paul Scholes will tell you everything you need to know about being a top-flight midfielder. Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Ian Wright have it covered up top. Sky Sports and BT Sport even employ ex-referees to examine key decisions. But goalkeepers? Nothing. A bizarre dearth of goalkeeper analysis exists in an era of saturation football analysis.
The BBC and ITV have a combined 34 pundits on board for this summer’s World Cup. Not one of them was nor is a goalkeeper
“He shouldn’t have been beaten at his near post there,” says one. “He flaps at crosses, this lad,” barks another. “It’s a nice height for a keeper”, “He’s gone with his wrong hand”, “That’s a save for the cameras”, “I’m not a goalkeeping coach, but…”. The list of awkward clichés are rolled out game after game, week after week. Zero substance. Failure of understanding. Poor, lazy punditry.
A bit weird
The aftermath to England’s loss had the ITV panel circling on Jordan Pickford’s seemingly concerning display. In conceding Adnan Januzaj’s second-half strike, Neville described Pickford’s “whole dive thing” as “all a bit strange” and “just a bit weird”. Later, on BBC’s highlights coverage, Shearer claimed Pickford “had a few things to do tonight and didn’t really do them with much confidence,” while Jermaine Jenas suggested Pickford’s inclusion left him “unsettled”. Neither offered up a detailed explanation as to why.
In fairness to each pundit mentioned above, they all regularly reiterate their respective lack of qualifications to offer balanced goalkeeping insight. What continues to baffle me is the reluctance from broadcasters to then rectify that with someone who can.
While the goalkeepers’ union (yes, there is an element of enjoyment in the hardship so we can remain holding that torch) would love to champion a resurgence in the position, it’s no secret goalkeeping in England has experienced a regression in recent years. A glance at the Premier League’s final day fixtures showed just five homegrown stoppers starting from the 20 teams competing. Of that 25 per cent statistic, none of those belonged to clubs in the top six. Of those promoted this season, two of the three started with keepers from foreign shores.
Maybe there are no heroes at present. While Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope provide hope for the future (although the latter two are now 25 and 26 respectively), Joe Hart didn’t command a starting spot on loan at West Ham, a dip in form for Southampton’s Fraser Forster saw him dropped for the first time in 76 league outings and Karl Darlow was replaced as Rafa Benitez favoured Martin Dubravka for the final 12 games of Newcastle’s campaign.
That, however, still doesn’t justify a lack of recognition for a position which ultimately requires a demand for decision-making greater than anywhere else on the pitch. And, if you delve a little deeper into the grassroots of our game, the problem is exacerbated. It’s no wonder children aren’t scrambling to be England’s next No1 given the mainstream lack of knowledge or appreciation for the position.
Wish people would stop going on about how tall a keeper is
It’s how fucking good he is only that counts
— Neville Southall ??????? (@NevilleSouthall) June 28, 2018
So let’s look at it closer. Let’s highlight goalkeeping like we highlight every other player. Let’s have kids aspiring to thwart the next Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi rather than purely wanting to emulate them.
Just like the goal that should have been scored, the pass that should have been executed and the tackle that should have been committed, goalkeeping is about fine margins. It’s about time we started giving them the expert analysis they deserve.