Systems - the Goalie

Posted by royhendo on January 5, 2013, 09:00:58 AM

The Goalie

"No Pasaran" reads the Pepe Reina waver we see so often on The Kop. It means "They shall not pass". It's a lovely little paradox that, isn't it? At Liverpool nowadays, keepers *shall* pass.

The message is clear. Pepe is the man with the golden gloves - the complete goalkeeper. We've known it for years. But he's suffered from stuttering form of late, hasn't he? Or has he?

This article will look at the goalkeeper position, and at our understanding of the role. Because it may well be that Pepe's form hasn't been the issue here, and the debate about Xabi Valero's role might be a bit of a Red Herring. Players sometimes struggle to adapt to new systems - and goalkeepers are no exception.

My favourite ever goalkeeper is depicted in my avatar (well, it's me dressed as him really) - Hamish McAlpine. He was one of a few goalies who, during the 70s and 80s, confounded accepted wisdom on the subject of his position - Ray Clemence was another one who was perhaps the finest goalkeeper of his generation. These players didn't just stop shots. They were an 11th outfield player. Hamish scored his team's penalty kicks, and was often found in the opposition half, having scampered out to clear a through ball, and chosen to dribble rather than clear. Grobelaar was another. And when the ball was played in behind, Hamish was swift and decisive. As Michael Marra's ballad said, "Out comes Hamish and the ball's in Invergowrie Bay".

The traditional lore of the goalkeeper is, of course, peppered with tales of mavericks in the position, and with cliches as to how these men are laws unto themselves, at least at the highest level. And in the UK at least, goalkeepers tend to be described that way in the press - as players distinct from the team's setup. Formations are described as 4-4-2, or 4-3-3, or 4-5-1. 10 players, and a man apart. Interesting, then, to hear that in select continental coaching traditions, formations are described more holistically.

In our discussions on the game, our very own Zeb uncovered an article quoting Frans Hoek, a former goalkeeping coach for Ajax, Barca and Holland. He had worked at Barcelona under both Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal, and in describing Robson's system, he said, "He played in a 1:4:4:2". That in itself says a lot.

The key point he makes in the article is that there are different types of goalkeepers, and different types of systems, and that goalkeepers of one type don't necessarily suit systems other than the ones they learned their trade within. To illustrate this, he describes his time at Barca. Two managers, two different approaches to the game, and two significantly different systems. How were the goalkeepers affected?

Vitor Baia had been Robson's keeper. Hoek said, "At that moment Vitor was, in my opinion, one of the best goalkeepers in the world and he functioned well within Robson 1:4:4:2 system.”. Hoek cited his confirence, size, and strength as his strengths. But on Van Gaal taking over and implementing a different system, he said, "Baía changed from a big, strong, confident goalkeeper to the exact opposite. Afterwards I realized he was placed in a concept in which he did not feel the least bit confident. He now had a lot of space in front of him in which he played a role and was forced to become part of the build up. These were not his strongest assets."

Sound familiar? Pepe has never struggled with the ball at his feet. Indeed, he grew up within the Barca setup Hoek describes. However, he had grown accustomed to a different setup - one in which his team sat relatively deep, and hit on the counter. Yes, his distribution was excellent, but it was his uncanny ability to launch the quick counter with a long laser guided pass or throw to the sprinting team-mate's feet that we talked about. It wasn't a fuller playmaking role.

So how did Barca fix the problem? They bought a keeper who was used to playing in that kind of system - Ruud Hesp. As Hoek said, "This turned out to be a great choice.”

To illustrate the opposite effect, he cites the case of Edwin Van Der Sar. Hoek said, "He was the best Dutch goalie when he went from Ajax to Juventus, but was not able to perform at the same level at Juventus as he did at Ajax. [It was] (l)ogical as he did not get tested on his stronger assets, but rather on his weaker assets. Van der Sar does not belong in a team defending close to the penalty area. Is that Van der Sar’s fault? Of course not. It is a mistake of the people who hired him.”

Hoek concluded that goalkeepers can be described in terms of a spectrum between two extremes. Ideally of course, your keeper is 'complete' - an amalgam of the strengths of both - and top keepers are at that level (that's the level within Pepe's grasp, of course, given time to adapt).


The "R-Type" goalie

At one extreme, the "R-Type" - the "reaction goalie" or "line goalie".

Characteristics:
Strong, quick reactions, muscular, charismatic.

Strengths:
Shot stopping

Weaknesses:
1 v 1s (thunder out of goal aggressively, throw themselves at striker's feet); communicating with defence (leads, shouts, coaches, but blames after the event, better at coaching during set plays to standard routines); crosses; reading game and sweeping through balls; kicking (long and indiscriminate); dealing with back passes.

Examples cited:
Hoek cites Gordon Banks, Dino Zoff, Oliver Kahn and Vitor Baia. We could easily think of a few more.

[He actually cites Ray Clemence in this list - to me that demonstrates a lack of insight into Clemence on his part. One thing that might be interesting to discuss here is that maybe Clemence wasn't necessarily that profile of keeper possibly saw Shilton picked in preference to him by the national team. ]


The "A-Type" goalie

At the other extreme, the "A-Type" - the "anticipating goalie".

Characteristics:
Less aggressive, more athletic, tending to be less muscular, less charismatic.

Strengths:
Thinking and participating during team's possession, using their feet (more variety and accuracy in long passing, and play making), 1 v 1 situations (don't commit, let them make first move), patience, positioning, interceptions, sweeping up through balls, not taking unnecessary risks, reading the game, vision, coaching team to prevent situations from developing, building respect and empathy to communicate with players so they'll listen, guts.

Weaknesses:
Not as good at shot stopping,

Examples:
Hoek cites Van Der Saar and Barthez. We could easily think of a few more.


Qualities independent of 'type'

Crosses (and presumably commanding your pelanty box) are cited as a separate issue, presumably because keepers in both schools can master (or be garbage on) this aspect of their game.


The Liverpudlian tradition

Since the days of The Flying Pig, things have maybe been a little different at Liverpool than at other clubs in domestic football on this front. Shanks famously moved him forward, and the choice of keeper since was (and ought still to be) informed by that knowledge. Liverpool had flexible sides that could both sit tight to their own box and counter when needed, and make the play in their default mode. The keepers after were more complete than maybe Hoek gives credit for in that respect... albeit in the days before the back pass rule, the four second rule, and so forth, there was more scope to field with the gloves than there is now. The playmaking requirement and ability to distribute with the feet is maybe heightened in the modern day game across the board as a result.

This is in acute focus at the moment. There's talk of Liverpool cutting costs on the wage bill, and of replacing Reina with another, cheaper option. That, to me, comes with inherent risk in light of what's discussed above. Reina, well - he has everything. If we let him adapt, we could get another good few years of world class service from him as he grows and grows into the role. Rodgers seems to know the issue - his chat about choosing Worm at Swansea tells you everything you need to know on the topic. But do the scouts? Do the coaches? 

Hoek cites Michels as having faced this quandary in the early 70s, saying, "Michels did not have a good understanding of [goalkeeping techniques]. However, he did know which goalkeeper would work best within his system of play. To the surprise of many Michels opted for goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed instead of Van Beveren, Doesburg or Schrijvers who were perceived as the ‘real’ goalkeepers. However their qualities did not correlate with the system of play and Michels needed and opted for an A-type goalkeeper instead of a R-type.”

Alongside Michels? Our very own Stanfo - someone who maybe knows more about goalkeeping than Michels did, with the greatest of respect to big Rinus. Over to him.

As the dad of a keeper, I analyse every goal my lad concedes and virtually every goal I see on the tv and sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say it was either a good goal or a situation you could have no impact on.

Coaches, managers and scouts judge keepers on the overall impact they have on a teams performance. There are lots of different types of keepers and it is how these keepers fit into a teams style that determines a best fit. Very, very rarely is a keeper a complete package, a shot stopper, someone who dominates an area, an organiser or a great distributor, but for me recently Spanish keepers come closest to ticking all the boxes and at times Cassillas, Reina and Valdes have all come pretty close to perfection for short periods.

Other people certainly in this country see the Hart's, Butland's or Ruddy's as the way forward, big shot stoppers who are limited with their feet, but pull off the spectacular headline grabber and while I appreciate their ability, I much prefer someone who can sweep behind a high defense and start the attacks through playing as an extra defender. It is very hard to teach a big shot stopper to be a footballer, believe me I have spent nearly 10 years watching kids come into academies who can shot stop, but who are hopeless with their feet and soon get found out and binned.

Rodgers has, of course dismissed the links with Butland, and some are disappointed to hear it. But they shouldn't be, if you think about it.

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So - questions.

Q. What are the 'different types of keepers' Stanfo talks about between Hoek's two extremes?

Q. Are Hoek's two categories too simplistic?

Q. Did our own keepers over the years slot into the A-Type category as a rule? Or were they more the complete package?

Please wax lyrical. Remember Rafa and his comment on Lahm's last minute winner v Turkey in Euro 2008? How Rustu's technique didn't help, and how, had he been schooled in the Argentinian tradition, he wouldn't have grounded his knee...

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