The Swedish women’s goalkeeper of the year for 2004, 2005 and 2009 recently paraded her skills at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in London, although her dream of winning a medal came to an end against France in the quarter-finals.
Lindahl spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the development of the goalkeeping craft in the women’s game, and gave her opinion on her male counterparts.
FIFA.com: You started your football career back in 1987. When did you decide to become a goalkeeper?
Hedvig Lindahl: I think it just came naturally. My mum says that I always had a lot of energy and was running and jumping around. I just liked to throw myself on the ground and do crazy stuff - which is pretty much what you do as a goalkeeper! We had two apple trees in our yard. Those two together made a really good goal. We never did get any apples from those trees! (laughs) I used to be an outfield player as well. As a kid I did everything. But I was one of those players who always came back to goalkeeping. I played with the boys from the age of four until I was about 12. In our team there were three of us who really wanted to play in goal, so there was already competition back then.
You’ve kept goal for the Swedish national team for quite a while now. Do you think goalkeeping in women’s football has changed in recent years?
Some goalkeepers have always performed very well, but I guess the biggest change is that there are more goalkeepers now at that level. For example, the lowest level in the league is much improved now. What I’ve found in my own experience is that if you really want to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world, it’s important to be in really good physical shape. You can’t be a really good goalkeeper without that kind of conditioning, both strength and cardio. More people aim to be the best, so they’re getting into better shape to help realise that aim.
The game has also developed, becoming faster and more tactical. Have your responsibilities changed as a result, in terms of your relationship with the defence for example?
The way in which I interpret the game has always changed and developed, so it’s a bit hard to generalise. When you’re young, the struggle is to learn the techniques. Later on, for me anyway, it was about learning tactics. When you take a wider view, instead of having just a narrow focus on what you yourself are doing, it allows you to see the whole picture and correct the people in front of you more. You can really be a leader and tell people where they should move. I’m really quiet sometimes, but at other times I talk a lot more - and sometimes I talk like crazy!
Right now, I feel I need to focus more on myself because the game is becoming much faster. When we play at these big tournaments, I’m in control of my area and I really need to focus on my own responsibilities. It’s only in crucial moments that I need to communicate and be really clear. You need to have really good knowledge, and know how to solve some difficult situations before they arise. In the past, the goalkeeper was just considered to be a goalkeeper, but now we’re more seen as being connected to the whole team. Our position can really affect the rest of the team and how they defend as a unit.
Should women be allowed to play in men's teams?
That’s an interesting question. When I was playing in Sweden at the beginning of my career, the standard was not as high as it is now, so I actually wondered if I should switch back to men’s football. After all, I had experience of playing with boys - ok, they were a bit younger (laughs) - but I also trained with men’s teams. For some reason it’s never been the right moment for me. One question that always popped into in my head was, ‘Are you are taking a spot from a man? And is that fair to the guys?’
We actually had a female goalkeeper playing for a division three team here in Sweden. I don’t know how many games she played, but it was a few. I really don’t think there’s a problem. Sure, the pace is higher and it’s physically tougher, but as a goalkeeper, that’s just what you need sometimes. There were times when I really had to train with a men’s team to work on those aspects of the game. It’s hard to prepare for the level of international football in your home women’s league.
Do you sometimes watch male goalkeepers to see how they react in certain situations?
Yes, definitely. I spent a lot of time looking at the goalkeepers at EURO 2012, like [Iker] Casillas and [Gianluigi] Buffon. I was also really interested in how [Manuel] Neuer handled the game, as he seems like an innovative guy. You can learn a lot by studying others. David de Gea obviously played at the Olympics and that was inspiring. I’d really like to sit down with one of these guys and go into the details of the game from a goalkeeper’s perspective. But I’m not sure they’d be interested (laughs). I just want to exchange knowledge. That would be really interesting.
Who do you regard as the best male goalkeeper?
I think Casillas is the best. I’ve always liked his style. He’s really athletic, and always pushing his body. He doesn’t just count on his height, as he’s not the tallest. He’s really explosive and his physique is superb.