The question of who is the best goalkeeper in the world is one that has been asked many an occasion throughout 2012. Many names can throw their hat into the ring. The likes of Buffon, Casillas, Neuer, Lloris and even our very own Joe Hart can all claim the throne on their day.
However there is a case to argue that Barcelona stopper Victor Valdes is by far the best. In terms of what you would call classical goalkeeping attributes he is perhaps behind the likes of Casillas and Neuer in particular but when it comes to the other facets of his game there are few who can rival him.
This brings me onto the topic of how goalkeeping has evolved over the years; and how it is finally being recognised worldwide as far more than just the last line of defence but also as the first form of attack. Barcelona are the team who have truly brought this vision into light in the last few years. If you follow this timeline back you can see where it evolved from. Josep Guardiola was the man who truly instilled the idea of playing the ball out from the goalkeepers. By ‘splitting’ the centre halves out wide allowing Busquets to create a central option and the full backs down the line it makes the closing down of a short goal-kick almost impossible without compromising yourselves defensively.
Guardiola was brought through at the dawn of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona era and his intricate way of utilizing the goalkeeper clearly left a mark on a young Pep. Crafted from the total football played by Holland with Cruyff pulling the attacking strings goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed played effectively as a sweeper; with the defence splitting to give him better options. The ‘split’ is essential for this more effective way of goalkeeper re-entry to be a success. Nobody wants to play the ball to a centre half who has his back to the opposition and the rest of the pitch. The split allows them the opportunity to look up and grab a full scope of the pitch; if danger comes calling the ball can always be returned to the goalkeeper.
The Magical Magyars are first credited with developing this system. Gyula Grosics as comfortable with ball at his feet as in hand was the first port of call for the Hungarian side’s fluid style of play.
Yet in the UK this still seems an absolutely foreign and ridiculous notion; until now. When I was a hopeful young goalkeeper the Crystal Palace coaches who taught me many of my earliest core skills started with a golden rule ‘never play the ball across your goal’.
Until I turned 17 that rule remained engrained in me and I would sooner give the ball to a man under pressure then switch the ball across my area. Now I realise that this is not the case worldwide. In South America, Spain and especially Holland getting the ball out into play at the feet of a team-mate is held in higher regard then being able to go area-to-area with Kasper Schmeichel style kicking.
The chances game is still played across England but thankfully that is now changing. Thanks to the re-emergence of this superior style of goal-kicks via Barcelona and Spain the dynamic between the keeper and centre backs is starting to change in English youth football. The idea of ‘splitting’ is becoming more widely appreciated and the long goal kick out wide will soon become the baby brother of practice.
As pitches improve across the UK academy system that philosophy can continue to evolve and become engrained in the culture of goalkeeping in this country. When that comes into effect and we start producing our very own Victor Valdes, Kenneth Vermeer and Michel Vorm’s it will be one huge step toward a better standard of play across English football.
The best form of defence is attack; and that starts with the goalkeepers finally adapting to the best option; almost 60 years since Grosics and the Magyars first brought it to the world stage.
Do you want English goalkeepers and defenders to have a better footballing understanding?