The special ones
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“My colleagues spend most of their time with their backs turned towards me. I don’t believe it’s because I’m unpopular.” Those words by USA’s 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ goalkeeper Brad Friedel may have been uttered in jest, but they nevertheless point towards the distinct role football’s shot-stoppers take up within the team. Quite simply, goalkeepers are different.

It wasn’t always that way, however. When the rules prohibiting outfield players from handling the ball were first introduced by The Football Association in 1863, the position of goalkeeper was allocated to a team member haphazardly, and even by the start of the 20th century, goalkeepers were not differentiated from other players in terms of appearance or the way they played the game.

However, subsequent rule changes such as the introduction of dead-ball situations, the offside law, and the prevention of goalkeepers handling the ball outside their own penalty areas gradually turned the role into a specialist position requiring a different skill set to outfield players. Meanwhile, more recent changes, such as the 'back pass' and 'six-second release' rules, have greatly increased the speed of the game and the need for tactical awareness, as well as obliging goalkeepers to develop the skill of controlling the ball with their feet.

Modern goalkeepers are expected to take an active part in the attacking play and assume the role previously occupied by a libero in defensive play, while the specific nature of the position also requires coaching of psychological aspects to enable keepers to cope with the intense pressure of the position. In short, goalkeeping has graduated from being an ill-favoured position given over to those players considered less talented to a coveted role practised only by those blessed with specialist technique and leadership.

Saving plan
Reflecting the special status of the position within the game, FIFA’s Education & Technical Development Department recently launched a new goalkeeping programme directed primarily at goalkeeping coaches working at national level. Bringing together the technical, physical, psychological and tactical aspects of goalkeeping, the programme aims to boost the standard of goalkeeping instruction worldwide and encourage the use of dedicated coaches.

Following a successful pilot phase in the first half of 2011, the programme is now being taken around the world, with seminars recently being held in Malaysia, Ecuador, FYR Macedonia and Iceland. At these regional events, goalkeepers who have played the game at the very highest level, such as Slovakia’s Alex Vencel and the Republic of Ireland’s Pat Bonner, join other top-level coaches in passing on their expertise to participants and introducing them to world-class training methods.

Keepers need to be managers on the field and they need to be taught that from a young age.
Alex Vencel

FIFA instructor Vencel is well placed to provide goalkeeping tuition, following a lengthy career as a professional goalkeeper which saw him represent Czechoslovakia twice before going on to make 19 appearances for Slovakia between 1994 and 1998. The 44-year-old also made more than 500 appearances in club football, making his debut for home-town club Slovan Bratislava in 1988 before moving to France in 1994, where he helped Strasbourg win the French league cup in 1997.

“I’m very happy that I can participate and help develop this programme for FIFA,” says the towering Slovak. “In the past, there was nothing for goalkeepers. The problem is that we don’t have enough coaches and nobody knows how to train them properly. They just get sent off alone to do their own thing at training – that is not the way to produce good goalkeepers. It’s a very specialised position and the goalkeeper has a very important role in modern football.”

Leading from the back  
As well as participating in the seminars and coaching courses around the world, Vencel has worked together with FIFA’s Education & Technical Development Department to put together a training kit consisting of a comprehensive manual accompanied by three DVDs on technical preparation, physical preparation and exercises for young goalkeepers.

Targeted at a broad audience of both amateur and professional footballers as well as coaches and instructors, the manual provides a wealth of ideas on how to improve training programmes and make them more interesting, as well as giving practical goalkeeping tips and highlighting the importance of individually targeted work.

For Vencel, the most important aspect of goalkeeping nowadays is that you not only need to be a talented shot-stopper and acrobat, but also a leader who will command the troops on the field. “One of the most important things is organisational skills, which in turn obviously help their decision making and ability to read the game. Keepers need to be managers on the field and they need to be taught that from a young age. A goalkeeper coach must work on what the keeper says to his players on the field, because at times, keepers tend to just shout without communicating a message. Especially for younger keepers, it’s about learning when to talk and when you have to keep your mouth shut.”

Women’s version  
When it comes to women’s football, goalkeeping has often been cited as a relatively underdeveloped area of the game. Although the recent report on the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ by FIFA’s Technical Study Group pointed out considerable improvements since the 2007 edition, it also noted continuing shortcomings and called for better coaching of women goalkeepers from youth level onwards, arguing that it was “paramount that associations invest in good goalkeeping coaches for their female goalkeepers, starting with the youth teams”.

In keeping with this philosophy, FIFA has produced a separate goalkeeping manual for female goalkeepers, along with specific DVDs. As with the men’s version, the women’s manual has been created with the help of experienced goalies, including current Germany stopper and skipper Nadine Angerer.

Living proof of the benefits that can be realised through one-to-one sessions with a dedicated goalkeeping coach, Angerer started working with such a specialist just before the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2007™ and went on to star in a successful campaign that saw Germany win the title without Angerer conceding a single goal.

“He does a fantastic job,” says the 33-year-old keeper of her trainer. “It’s not just a question of catching balls. You have to have the right technique, know how to approach a ball properly, move efficiently and exude calmness and authority rather than running about wildly.”

Speaking to FIFA World during a visit to FIFA’s Zurich headquarters to finalise the contents of the women’s goalkeeping manual, Angerer described the importance of the project.

“Even before contributing to the instruction manual, I was already aware that I wanted to get involved in goalkeeping coaching, and my participation this week has reinforced this wish,” she said.

“The criticism levelled at women goalkeepers in the past was justified, but I believe that every country has a good goalkeeper. The main problem is that goalkeepers are not given the proper training or that the proper structures are not in place. Some football associations do not even have a goalkeeping coach, so how can their goalkeepers be expected to develop? Having had the good fortune to work with my own coach, who has transferred his philosophy onto me, I now hope I can also make a difference and help make the next generation of goalkeepers better players.”