Amieiro, La Roja’s goalkeeping guru

“You’re going to get hooked,” Spain’s national women’s team coach Ignacio Quereda warned Manuel Amieiro when he invited him to join his set-up in 2007.

Amieiro, who had only ever worked in the men’s game, took up the offer and has since found that Quereda was spot on with his prediction. Having worked with the likes of Iker Casillas, Cesar and Diego Lopez in the youth ranks at Real Madrid, he is now devoting all his energies to developing the skills of the three keepers who will represent La Roja on their FIFA Women’s World Cup™ debut at Canada 2015.

Amieiro is a pioneer in goalkeeper coaching in Spain. Explaining how he created a niche for himself, he said: “There was no method or criteria before, but it was my position as a player and after I got my coaching badge I took courses and started to specialise.”

Recalling his early days with the women’s team eight years ago, he added: “The first day was a bit of a shock because I’d gone from the elite to these unknown girls who’d never had their own goalkeeping coach before. They’ve been so committed to it though, and I’m very happy and satisfied.”

Now 61, the ex-custodian went on to say: “Goalkeeping is the weakest area in women’s football and the position where the slowest progress has been made over the years.

“There are various reasons for that. There was no specific coaching before and the wrong kind of player was always chosen to go do the job. In the past it was the biggest player or the least skilful with her feet who went in goal. No thought was given to the position or the skills it required.”

Much has changed since Amieiro first came into contact with the women’s game, however: “The girls that go in goal now do so because they want to, and their physical skills and abilities are taken into account when it comes to selecting them. Standards have improved as a result, though there’s still a lot of ground to be made up on other positions. It’s going to take us time.”

As the seasoned coach went on to say, goalkeeping is one of the most complex and demanding jobs on the pitch. “Getting the mental approach right is the hardest part. You have to convince them that they’re capable of doing what you tell them to. The mental side of things is key to being a good keeper. If you make a decision late, your body’s going to react late. You need to strike a balance between mental reflexes and the physical response.”

Spain’s top three The man who nurtured the young Casillas to greatness is now working with another Spanish No1 in Ainhoa Tirapu. “She deserves praise because she trains on her own a lot of the time and her dedication to her job has taken her a long way," he said.

"She’s able to take a step back and be self-critical, which has helped her to grow. She’s a cool head on the pitch, she’s experienced and she makes her team-mates feel calm too. She’s professional in what she does, she really looks after herself, and her biggest attribute is her tremendous consistency.”

Amieiro, who cites Germany’s Nadine Angerer, USA custodian Hope Solo and Ingrid Hjelmseth of Norway as the benchmarks of women’s goalkeeping, is no less impressed with Lola Gallardo, who will be Spain’s second-choice custodian in Canada: “She’s got this amazing self-belief on the pitch, she’s as confident as someone who's been playing in the position for ten years.”

Heaping further praise on the Atletico Feminas shotstopper, the veteran coach added: “She might a bit on the fragile side, but her positioning is excellent and she knows how to fill the goal. She’s got a lot of ability, she’s very intuitive and she’s a good decision maker.”

Sandra Panos is the third Spain keeper to be making the trip to Canada, and like her two colleagues, she has impressed Amieiro with her talent: “Sandra’s got a lot of potential and ability. She’s better able to control her emotions now, and the more experience she gets, the better able she is to handle situations. On a technical level, she’s a very capable keeper.”

As Quereda predicted, Amieiro has found the task of working with Spain’s leading women’s keepers to be an irresistible one. “It’s their ability to push themselves and their consistency in showing their potential," he said listing the reasons why:

"People sort of take it for granted that boys know how to play and that girls don’t, so they always have to prove what they’re capable of. It’s been an incentive for me to see how they’ve been achieving the goals we’ve set for them, how they work hard day after day and show their desire to grow and learn. I have every respect for people who try to excel themselves every day.”

That is very much the philosophy Spain will adopt on their trip to Canada, where they face Costa Rica, Brazil and Korea Republic in the group phase. “We have to take a lot of little steps,” said Amieiro of the challenges that lie ahead. “Progress will be slow but solid and if we do trip up, then the frustration we feel and the backward step we have to take will be smaller too.”