With apologies to Stan Staunton ...

Posted by Don Vito Corleone on January 6, 2006, 04:33:07 PM

It's been nearly 16 years since Liverpool Football Club could claim to be champions of England, and I would imagine it's been 16 years since we've had
a number 1 who has had the absolute faith of those who pay his wages, the
supporters. His name was Bruce Grobbelaar, the Zimbabwean jungle man.

Bruce in his pomp was a fantastic, eccentric goalkeeper, who mixed the sublime with the ridiculous. His unorthodox style and character at times tested the patience/nerves of the match going faithful but there was no doubt he was worthy of playing in a championship winning Liverpool side. He was one of the first keepers carry out a second role, that of a sweeper-keeper, often racing yards from his area to clean up loose balls allowing the defence to play a higher line, though sometimes this did end with catastrophic results.

During the late eighties Merseyside could boast that they had the top two keepers in England, playing within a mile of each other, with arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at the time, Neville Southall, playing for Everton in a time before their transformation into snarling, twisted bitterness.

Unfortunately, since those heady days, Liverpool have never really "settled" on a number one who everyone was comfortable with, not for any sustained amount of time anyway.

In fact since Brucie has relinquished his number 1 spot, no fewer than 16 goalkeepers have "graced" the match day squad list, and since Bruce's old clean sheet record has just been broken, it seemed a fitting time to go through the back catalogue and look at all those who have tried and ultimately failed to replace Grobbelaar as the last Liverpool goalkeeper to win the league title.

David "Playstation" James
1991-1999

Signed from Watford for a then record fee of £1.5 million

Out of all the goalkeepers I've watched, probably the most naturally gifted of the lot was David James, but like quite a few of his team-mates of the mid-nineties (though for differing reasons) he never quite fulfilled his giant potential.

Standing at over 6'4 with the build of a 100 metres sprinter you would assume James to be an imposing figure; sadly this was rarely the case during his time at Liverpool, as the quiet but highly intelligent introvert seemed to be constantly battling with various "demons" (insecurity, lack of belief, insomnia and allegedly a bout of alcoholism), and for someone blessed with such gifts physically, one can only assume it was lack of mental strength that has restricted him to a fraction of success his natural ability warranted, and also earned him the unfortunate moniker "Calamity James".

Wrongly labeled as a "Spice Boy" in some quarters, his problems were more deep rooted than some of his team mates whose only problem was that they believed their own hype. Though you have to say "those" suits never did him any favours.

It's easy to forget that after replacing Bruce Grobbelaar, and surviving an attempt by Souness to swop him with Southampton for Tim Flowers, he racked up over 140+ consecutive appearances (a then premiership record only recently broken by Fat Frank) between 1994 to 1998, and for a period was being tipped as the next England goalkeeper for the next ten years before his much publicised fall from grace.

His form on the pitch was as complex as the man himself, he would visibly crumble for no reason at all such as the 2nd Newcastle 4-3 game, Coventry at home, Manchester United, Everton. Sometimes even when we would be dominating a game to an extent that any collapse would seem incomprehensible, he would have a rush of blood to the head and let the opposition back in.

I could only assume that he may have been experiencing what could be only described as "mild" panic attacks, possibly brought on by over analysing the game at hand TOO much. James was at his best when there was little thinking involved, when he relied purely on instinct to make great reflex saves.

Personally, I would have liked to see how James would have fared behind the cohesive defensive force that was Hyypia and Henchoz rather than the axis of feeble that was Ruddock, Babb and Kvarme, who let's face it, would make even the most resolute soul a bag of nerves.

James has himself admitted that since leaving Liverpool he has consulted numerous sports psychologists and also has embraced meditation in an attempt to train himself to remain calm and focused, but not to the point of near breakdown.

One of the best saves I've ever seen was in the Coca Cola Cup Final when Alan Thompson unleashed a left footed exocet into the top right hand corner. James one handed save, diving backwards and to his left will live long in the memory (almost as long as that powder puff punch in the FA Cup Final against the Salford City Buccaneers). It was one of those saves where you have to check the replay to make sure your eyes haven't played a cruel trick, and was in hindsight just as crucial as McManaman's performance on the day.

Once Evans had departed, James was moved on by the then newly installed Gerard Houllier to Aston Villa. He then moved to West Ham before arriving at Manchester City were he finally seems to have settled and seems more comfortable with himself.

He still suffers the same faults today although not as regularly, not seeming to dwell on his mistakes as much as he used too. Fortunately he's retained the ability to make "those" type of saves, thwarting "Fat Frank" on more than one occasion last season. I hope he can get back in the England side, because I genuinely think he's a better keeper than Paul Robinson.

I would like to think James is still thought of fondly in L4 as he has never slagged the club off, and still speaks with genuine affection about the city and has always been welcomed back when he has returned with other clubs.

Michael "Postma's got nothing on me" Stensgaard
1994-1996

Little is known about the then allegedly highly rated Dane Stennsgaard, brought in from Norway to put pressure on David James, his career ending prematurely due to a shoulder injury inflicted in an attempt to put up an ironing board.

Stensgaard did briefly reappear a couple of years later at FC Copenhagen, before a quick trip to The Dell where he didn't kick a ball in anger for Southampton before returning to FC Copenhagen.

Jorgen "Did he really exist" Nielsen
1997-1999

Never made a first team appearance, but a steady understudy. Brought in as a
replacement for Stensgaard, who'd actually recommended him, he was here considerably longer than the iron board-surfing Dane but was ultimately equally anonymous. Made a couple of cameos on our pre-season tours of Norway where invariably either Fowler or Redknapp would hobble off with an injury that would keep them out for at least 3 months.

Tony "Bonus" Warner
1994-1999

Trainee. David James clone, same height, same build, very agile, they even looked similar.

Famously missed out on a bonus stipulated in his contract when Liverpool brought in Alec Chamberlain on loan for the Coca Cola Cup Final. Seemed to be around for ages before departing to Celtic on loan, even managing to play in an Old Firm game. He then transferred permanently to Millwall where he forged himself a decent reputation at a level more suited to him, before getting injured and losing his place, has since gone on to Cardiff and then Fulham (on loan) where predictably, he came on for the injured Mark Crossley and had an absolute blinder against us. Secured a permanent move to the Cottage last week.

Alec "Scab" Chamberlain
1995-1995

Brought in to cover David James for the Coca Cola Cup Final after Warner had deputised all season. Now at Watford, he played in League cup semi against Liverpool last season.

Still not welcome in the Warner household.

Steven "Grandad" Pears
1996

Brought in as emergency cover from 'Boro due to the injury to Stensgaard, never got off the bench, looked and probably was older than my Dad.

Brad Friedel
1998-2000

Signed from Columbus Crew for £1.5 million.

After a lengthy battle with the DFEE, a work permit was finally granted in
early 1998 for USA's number one goal tender, Brad Friedel to move from
Columbus Crew to Liverpool to replace the increasingly erratic David James.

Unfortunately it seemed, Brad, who was a monster of a man, arrived at just
the wrong time, just as the cracks were starting to show in the reign of
Roy Evans. He had a less than convincing start, and an absolute
nightmare against Manchester United at the Old Trafford. Gifting them an
early goal with a weak punch high into his own area, Brad was in and out of
the team in the blink of an eye and David James restored.

Brad suffered the same fate as David James and was swiftly out of the door when Gerard Houllier took sole control. With regulations governing work permits being particularly tight at the time, it made sense to look to replace him while he was still a saleable asset, considering the number of non-EU players we had, or were arriving (Song, Berger, Smicer, Henchoz).

A couple of years after he left, in an interesting insight to a Sunday paper, Friedel offered a frank insight of the state of the club under the last months of the Evans regime, and surprisingly and quite refreshingly, paid tribute to the man who sold him, for dragging a club "living off reputation" into a "modern, professional, outfit" or words to that effect. He also credits GH with turning his career round by making him look hard at himself as a professional after he'd been sold and realise what he'd need to do to succeed in the Premier League.

Brad has since proved himself to be an more than capable goalkeeper, enjoying a particularly excellent spell under ex-Liverpool manager Graeme Souness at Blackburn (whom he had worked with before in Turkey), and maybe in hindsight Gerard may have been a tad hasty in getting rid of the big American. A case of

Sander "Ice on the ball" Westerveld
1999-2001

Signed in the summer of 1999 from Vitesse Arnhem, Sander Westerveld followed his predecessor Raimond Van Der Gouw to the North West of England, to sign for Liverpool in a deal rumoured to be around the £4.5 million pound mark, a record for a goalkeeper in Britain.

Whilst on occasion excelling, having good games in both the FA and League Cup Finals, he never quite measured up to what we had been led to believe.

The Dutch number 2 came with quite a big reputation, a big kick and an even bigger mouth, the problem with Sander was that he was seemingly petrified of leaving his goal line if anything that even looked like a cross was to flash across the area, this despite him talking a big game about being brave and being a modern "sweeper" keeper. On the other hand his reflexes were razor sharp and his positioning also generally excellent.

One thing though that did grate with me was the amount of times he seemed to give up on a shot - twice in the UEFA cup final spring to mind instantly (the header and the free kick) - as it is one of the first things that goalkeeping coaches drill into kids, never give up. The theory is that if you keep trying, you'll get closer and closer every time, until eventually you'll regularly make saves you would have struggled with previously. For a professional to not be doing the basics, and look like he wasn't really bothered, is for me really bad form.

Sander never was shy to air his feelings when sometimes, really, he should
really have just kept quiet. His "ice on the ball" excuse after conceding to Christian Karembeu away at 'Boro is now the stuff of legend. It seems to be a preserve of the Dutch to moan in public.

That mistake was then followed a few months later by one similar at Bolton, and that proved to be the final nail in the coffin of his Liverpool career. Sander soon found himself surplus to requirements after Gerard swooped for both Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland on the same day and even had the ignominy of being behind Pegguy Arphexad in the pecking order, relegated to fourth choice.

He was soon shipped out to Real Sociedad, where his constant sniping and disagreements with Gerard about discussions they'd had in the summer of 2001 tarnished his image somewhat, which is a shame because he had left a hero after the treble cup wins, and still had friends at the club.

Even if he was treated unfairly and not given enough respect by the management, he should have been professional and kept the high ground and said whatever felt he had to in private. He came across as arrogant, which those who know him say he wasn't, he was just angry about in his opinion being lied to, and at being forced out.

Despite this, he confounded his critics and had an excellent first season in Spain, finishing 2nd with a Bjorn Tore Kvarme inspired Real Sociedad in La Liga, and felt so settled in San Sebastien he even bought a house on a local golf course.

In a cruel repeat of his Anfield experience, Sociedad then changed their coach for the second time in twelve months and Sander was duly dropped and shipped out to Mallorca on loan. He is now back in the Premiership, contesting the number one spot with Jamie Ashdown at Portsmouth, via a well received appearance for at Anfield for the Reds a celebrity XI in a Tsunami benefit game.

He is still yet to score from his own half.

Pegguy "Fatty" Arphexad
1999-2002

Signed from Leicester City on a free.

An absolute joke of a signing who was bought on the strength of a half decent game for Leicester at Anfield (which was probably the only scouting that Liverpool carried out). He was easily a stone overweight when we signed him and remained so over the 3 seasons we continued to pay his wages.

An insult to professional footballers, a mercenary in every sense, must have felt like he'd won the lottery when we came in for him, and certainly lived like he had whilst he was here.

I can only assume he was worth his considerable weight in gold in the dressing room because on it he was a disgrace.

Up there with Jaques Crevousier in terms of Gerard boo-boo's.

Jerzy "Divine Intervention" Dudek
2001-present

Signed from Feyenoord for £3.8 million

"Do you know what divine intervention is?" Jules Winfield (aka Samuel L
Jackson, Liverpool Fan)

Probably the closest I've ever come to witnessing such an act was not long after midnight on the 26th May in The Ataturk Stadium when from barely two yards out, with a more or less open goal, the most feared striker in Europe somehow managed to miss what would have surely been the winning goal of the 2005 European Cup Final.

To call it a miss though, would be an injustice.

The save itself defied probability, broke a few laws in physics, and for the deeply religious Dudek, possibly provided a certain sense of retribution for the affable Pole, and as history would show, would strike a deep and irrepairable blow to an already shell-shocked and mentally fragile Milan.

It wasn't the only time in the game they were thwarted in the game, and looking back, the save early in the second half from Shevchenko's free kick was probably of equal importance considering at the time we would have been looking at a 4-0 deficit.

It also wasn't the first time Jerzy had a significant say in a cup final, winning Man of the Match in the 2003 Worthington Cup Final against Manchester United, despite being constantly reminded by 35000 odd PLC customers that he had gifted them 3 points at Anfield earlier in the season. He had again proved to be a match winning goalkeeper, even if this wasn't on a consistent basis.

As most of you probably know I'm a massive fan of Jerzy, and even without the Champions League Final heroics I'd have been sad to see him leave. Strangely, I'd now happy to see him go, with head held high, reputation intact and 'Legend' status assured in Liverpool folklore.

For me, and I would hope also for Dudek, it's provided a degree of closure, especially considering some of the criticism leveled at the Polish stopper in the past, some of it justified, some of it totally unwarranted.

Jerzy arrived at Liverpool, on the same day as Chris Kirkland, with a superb reputation having won FIFA World Keeper of the Year at Feyenoord, and for the first year of his career it seemed absolutely justified. Every game he seemed to be making match influencing saves. The best in my opinion was against Ipswich away when we won handsomely, Jerzy diving low to his right to improbably keep out a Marcus Stewart drive from 12 yards. There was also a fantastic performance away to Derby that season with a penalty stop and an incredible double save.

Funnily enough, the cracks began to show for both Houllier and Jerzy at the same game, 'Boro away in 2002/3, when Jerzy came for and fumbled a cross and Gareth Southgate squeezed the ball home to inflict our first league defeat of the season in early November. At the time we were comfortably top of the league and looking solid.

Liverpool FC and Jerzy would never be able to say that again, and we were to win only 2 out of our next 15 games.

In those three months he became a shadow of his former self, gifting goals left right and centre, and as with Friedel and James before him, he also committed the cardinal sin of gifting one to Manchester United. All the confidence that the fans had in him seemingly evaporated and it would take almost two and a half years for it to be restored fully.

I also think that since Joe Corrigan left the club in 2004 on the appointment of Rafa, Jerzy has picked himself up a lot quicker after a poor performance than previously.

Despite initially vowing to stay and fight for his place, it now looks as if the big pole in our goal may be on the way out. With a World Cup looming next summer, he needs first team football and is unlikely to shift Reina.

At 32, he's still in his peak years as a goalkeeper and I sincerely hope he finds a top continental club that values him and indulges him. If they do, and Jerzy can perform consistently, they'll be getting one of Europe's top keepers.

Chris Kirkland
2001-present

Brought in from Coventry for a reputed £6 million (although how much of
this was paid due to appearance related factors isnt clear), as the heir
apparent to the Liverpool and England No.1 spot (see, its a curse). It
never quite worked out for the boyhood Liverpool fan.

Despite playing more than 40+ games for the Tricky Reds, it's very hard to judge the big albino as he was in and out more than an nervous, deaf, epileptic doing the hokey-cokey. Poor form and a list of injuries that Barry Sheen would envy stopped Chris from getting a prolonged run in the side.

Standing at 6'5, he was never as imposing as he should have been, and didn't look like a "natural" goalkeeper. It seems now we will never know whether or not injuries robbed him of a chance to cement a number one spot, but that in itself is reason enough to look elsewhere.

Technically, despite being brave (although not instinctively so) and having good hands, he was too slow, struggled with anything low past his shins (Sheffield United and Everton prime examples), didn't use his size to his advantage and he took an absolute age to get rid of the ball from a back pass.

Seemingly 4th choice at Anfield, he had little choice but to go out on loan, and decided on West Brom. His form there has been decent, managing to get a couple of "camera saves" in for the "Kirkland for England" brigade.

With more shots to face, hopefully he can increase his poor shots/goals ratio as he will be constantly busy and maybe earn LFC a few more pennies come next year's transfer window.

Patrice Luzi
2002-2005

Free tranfser from Monaco in the summer of 2002.

Has a 100% record for Liverpool: 1 game, 0 goals conceded, his only appearence being a 13 minute cameo v Chelsea when Jerzy limped off. In that time he flapped horribly at a cross allowing Mutu a free header which hit the bar and then made a great save to protect the three points for the Reds. Another poor Houllier purchase, only slightly more professional than Pegguy, allegedly of course, now plying his trade in the Belgian second division, which is about his level.

Paul Harrison
2003-2005

Academy Graduate.

A product of the Kirkby Academy, Paul has a reputation for lightning reflexes and great agility as well as excellent feet for a keeper. He was unfortunately held back by his lack of height, and was released at the end of last season after appearing on the bench for the first team when injuries arose to other keepers.

A massive Liverpool fan who's father and uncle tragically died at Hillsborough, he fulfilled a life long ambition of playing at Anfield in the Tsunami benefit game. On his release he had a trial with Chester before winning a short term contract at Wolves.

Paul Jones
2004

Jonah arrived at Liverpool from Southampton on loan as cover as both Dudek
and Kirkland were out injured. The fact he was a boyhood Red and had turned down a permanent transfer to fulfill his dream of playing in front of the Kop meant he was instantly warmed to. He played twice during his loan and acquitted himself well.

The big Welshman left after his loan spell to join Wolves from Southampton on a permanent deal, and it was at Molineux where he made arguably his biggest contribution to the Liverpool cause by saving an Alan Shearer penalty which would have given Newcastle the advantage in the race for a CL spot in Houllier's final season.

Scott Carson
2005-present

Brought in from Leeds for £750,000 after turning down Chelsea, the England under 21 keeper had an interesting introduction to Champions League football with the small matter of a game against Italian giants Juventus. He made an excellent save from Del Piero, although he could have done better with Cannavaro's goal in the second half which gave the Serie A front runners a lifeline for the second leg. He also made four Premier League appearences in his debut season

This season he has appeared in a couple of CL qualifiers, the League Cup defeat to Crystal Palace, and the 5-3 classic v Luton.

Jose "Pepe" Reina
2005-present

Liverpool's now record breaking keeper arrived (consecutive clean sheets and minutes without conceding a goal) for a record breaking fee, rumoured to be well over £7 million, from last season's Spanish surprise package and conquerors of both the Bitters and the Salford City Buccaneers, Villareal.

Eyebrows were raised slightly at the price that Don Rafa was prepared to pay for the young Spanish international, considering our reportedly limited summer budget. The cover we already had in the position (Dudek, Kirkland and Carson) and other areas of the team being deemed by many to be in more urgent need of reinforcement suggested such a buy was unlikely and maybe a little rash. Such thoughts have since been emphatically dispelled, despite having a shaky start to his Liverpool career away to Birmingham.

Built like a brick outhouse, and with the nous to use it, the rival to Iker Casillas is one of those rare keepers who seems to relish the physical challenge and who doesnt mind coming through 3 or 4 players to make the ball his own, even if they are his own players (John Riise could testify, having been clattered pre-season).

Although he often elects to punch the ball 90% of the time as opposed to catching it (at the instruction of Rafa), he clears his lines time after time. Whilst this may take some getting used to for fans brought up on keepers catching crosses, his success rate is a definite bonus. His temperament also seems sound, for example refusing to rise to David Weir's wind up tactics in the latest humiliation for the Goodison faithful.

I would also imagine his "style" of goalkeeping is a vital facet of Rafa's tactics. Pepe is often seen stalking near the edge of his area, in the role of a sweeper keeper, enabling the rest of the defence to hold a higher line, compressing play, and allowing the team as a whole to close down the opposition all over the park. His distribution is also accurate and often quick enough to launch a counter attack, with either a throw or a measured boot.

A lot of the work carried out by Reina will probably go unnoticed, as he is a proactive player, cutting out/avoiding dangerous situations before they
evolve, therefore negating the need for the "camera save" so common the employ of keepers concerned with their image.

In Spain he also has a reputation as the king of the penno stoppers, shutting out an impressive 7 of 9 taken against him last season, although one he did concede a few years ago was significant not just for himself but for his new employers, failing to keep out a Gary Mac spot kick in the 1-0 win at Anfield against Barcelona during the UEFA Cup semi final in 2001.

He was bombed out of Barca soon after, paying the price for enduring what is now known in Spain as a "Woodgate" against Real Madrid, and moved to the quieter climes of Villareal where he excelled.

Scouting Reina must have been one of the easier tasks undertaken during the Rafa regime, as Pepe has worked regularly with Liverpool's very own Jose "Ocho" Ochotorena, who combines his Melwood duties with those of the goalkeeping coach for the Spanish national side.

The only weakness that he might suffer from that I can see is his kicking from a back pass under pressure; he tends to sidefoot when maybe electing to put his foot through the ball and letting his team mates manage the second ball would be the safer option.

Ultimately though, clean sheets speak volumes, and Reina and the current back four have plenty. It's been a promising start.

Conclusion

I've spent more time than I care to remember talking, discussing and debating how we seem to get excellent or potentially excellent goalkeepers and within two years reduce them to near jibbering wrecks.

A popular argument is that is was the training methods of our ex-goalkeeping coach Joe Corrigan. This stands up to certain degree of scrutiny, if only because of the consistency in the pattern of what seemed to happen which would, in a nutshell, see a promising goalkeeper progressively get worse, despite often having bright starts to their Liverpool careers. However to counterbalance this, I'm reliably informed that the reason Chris turned down a move to Celtic and chose West Brom was the fact that Corrigan was there and he rated his coaching.

Benitez's favoured coach Jose Ochotorena has his own "unique" methods of training (which Kirkland has criticised since his move to West Brom). Instead of belting balls at keepers all day in isolation, Ocho works on passages of play with the defence and keeper, the thinking being that a keeper isn't going to get 50+ shots against them in a month, let alone a match. He prefers to coach match play variations over and over to increase understanding and cohesiveness between the back five.

Personally, I think the upsurge in "dodgy" keepers has more to do with the general attitude that is widespread in England today among the "big" clubs. Manchester United, ourselves and even Arsenal have all struggled recently to find a steady and consistent custodian. The three clubs mentioned all have something in common - they have had at least two goalkeepers of similar quality competing for one spot.

I believe that unlike other positions on the pitch where a mistake is not always critical, it is totally counter productive to rotate or have direct competition for the goalkeeper's jersey.

It is generally accepted by most football coaches that 80-90% of goalkeeping is in the head, with the most important factor being the confidence to make decisions. I firmly believe that for a goalkeeper to be successful in the long run, he needs to be able to feel he CAN make mistakes without his position being threatened in the medium term.

A goalkeeper can not have any doubt when making decisions in any given situation, for a milliseconds hesitation could be the difference between success and failure, yet if a goalkeeper knows that any mistake can cost him his place, how can there not be an element of doubt or indecision?

This in turn filters out to the rest of the team. A nervous keeper equals a nervous defence; it is essential that the back 5 (counting the goalkeeper as the first defender) work in harmony. Decisions needs to be made in the blink of an eye and with a totally clear and focused mind, and there should be a clear understanding within a club as to who is number one and who is the cover.

For example, Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman, the two prominent goalkeepers of the nineties never had any real threat to their position as number one at their respective clubs. They were allowed to make mistakes and grow into their position, especially the Great Dane who was shocking at times in his first year in England. Seaman was bought from QPR for a record fee to take over from an ageing John Lukic becoming the immediate first choice. Even going back to us in the mid eighties to early nineties, Brucie never had any threat to his position until he too was getting long in the tooth and retired to Southampton.

Our new incumbent Jose "Pepe" Reina has also fallen victim to the dreaded
rotation whilst at Barca. It was only when Reina was released by Barca that he found the security of a guaranteed first team place at Villareal and thus flourished. Even Barca seem to have realised that consistency is the key in selection of the man between the posts, the current La Liga champions having looked far stronger at the back since Rijkaard decided to stick with local boy Vitor Valdes week in week out, bringing stability to the defence and improvement to the results.

At Valencia Rafa had a clear number one in Canizares, Palop being his understudy. They had the best defensive record in La Liga for 3 years in a row, this is despite also managing to outscore all other teams apart from the offensive minded Los Galacticos of Madrid in 2003-2004 season when Valencia won La Liga and the UEFA cup in Benitez's last season in Spain.

It appears likely that with Dudek and Kirkland on the way out either in January or the summer, Rafa's idea for now and the future is to have Reina as clear number one at Anfield, and Carson as an adequete backup. Hopefully this can be the strong foundation for the success we've lacked for the last 15 years.

Hala Jose Riena!

© Tony Montana 2006

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