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9 - The Goalkeeper

I am not the best qualified person to give you advice on goalkeeping. Still, it is a position which has always interested me. I don't know whether it is because the glamour that surrounds the goalie, his cool composure, courage, responsibility, the terrible importance of even one mistake, his view of the gain or his different outfit. Quite frankly, I just don't know what attracts me about playing in this difficult position. Perhaps it's due to the fact that I have come to respect the goalkeeper during my efforts to score a thousand goals. Whenever I am given the chance, I like to play goalkeeper and I enjoy taking my turn in goal when training. I have even played goalkeeper officially four times. The first time was in a match against the Commercial Futebol Clube in Santos on 4th November 1959. I also played goalie for the first few minutes of game against Gremio Porto - Alegrense in the Brazilia Cup Final in Sao Paulo on 19th January 1964. The third time was for about a quarter of an hour in Joao Pessoa in a friendly match in 1969 and the fourth, in Baltimore, U.S.A., on June 19th, 1973, was against the Baltimore Bays. But what really enables me to say, something about goalkeeping are the many great goalies I have seen in action during my years of playing. I wouldn't like to give you a list of names in case I forgot a few, which would be very unfair.

In my opinion the goalkeeper has three main functions in a team: (1) to defend the goal; (2) reinstate the attack; (3) to help organize the position of the defending players. The function of No. 1 is obvious. The goalkeeper is the last man who can stop a goal, so he is the last one who should make a mistake! If a goalkeeper makes a mistake it is always considered unforgivable. The fighting spirit of a team depends on the security of its own goal. So the goalkeeper has to keep cool even when he does fail. This means that must have a great personality and be able to infect team-mates with his own confidence, even when he misses an apparently easy save. When a goalkeeper does miss one of these shots, I always like to tell the other players and the spectators that those apparently easy shots are often the most difficult to save. The goalkeeper has to stand in the middle of his goal keeping an eye on both sides of the area. The areas that frighten him are those directly inside the posts. In front of him there are often as many as ten or twelve players - attackers and defenders!

The goalkeeper has to be aware of other factors well: the generally irregular surface of the pitch in the box and penalty area; the direction and force of wind; the poor floodlighting of many pitches during evening matches; the position of the sun on certain pitches at certain times of day; the emotional tension due to the importance of not making a mistake; a sudden shower; turning quickly on wet or muddy ground; etc. Think about all these points and then answer the question: is goalkeeping easy? How often has a goalkeeper been unjustly blamed for the defeat of his team? It is not easy to be a goalkeeper! Perhaps the only goal for which he cannot be blamed at all is one scored from a penalty kick. Everyone knows that his chances of saving that are minimal. If the opposing team manages to score, the goalie is no good. If he saves the ball, he becomes a hero.

 

The goalkeeper's position is so complicated that the grass won't grow on the ground on which he has trodden, as a Brazilian humorist once said. The goalkeeper has to be in constant contact with the ball during specialized and arduous training to develop his agility, reflexes and reactions. To become a goalkeeper you should learn all the angles of the goal and of the shots, the formation of defensive walls, the varying styles of the opposing forwards and of your own defenders. You should be constantly aware of the distance of the ball from your goal, the part of your goal which is being threatened, the trajectory of the ball, the maneuvers of your opponents, etc., etc. A great deal of physical training is essential, with dozens of exercises to get your stomach muscles, arms, legs, etc. in top condition. You should know about the laws of equilibrium and the exact position of the inside and outside of the posts, net and crossbar and of the many ways of using your hands to hold, punch and throw the ball, etc., etc. }

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The goal-keeper has to work harder than any other player in the team. He must never allow himself to get out of condition. And, before blaming him, you should know that it is easier to save a powerful kick than a weaker, better placed shot at goal. From afar it might appear to you that the goalkeeper has made a bad mistake, but it may well have been caused by one of those points which I have listed above making a save impossible. Defending his goal well, the goalkeeper's main function depends on a long period of learning, hard training and a lot of experience. A young goal-keeper won't become successful overnight. It takes years to master all the finer points of goalkeeping.

The goalkeeper's second function - to reinstate the attack - is also very important. It isn't enough just to defend the goal. You have to get the ball back into the game, making sure you get it to one of your companions who is in a good position, thereby getting your team back on the attack. As you know, you can only attack if your team has the ball. There is not much point in just kicking the ball indiscriminately out of the goal, because it could easily find an opponent and then back it would come! Your goal kick must be aimed at a team-mate and the same goes for your volley, half volley or throw, so your team can keep in possession of the ball. In reinstating the attack the goalkeeper needs the assistance of the other members of his team, who should feint or quickly run into a free space so they can safely receive the ball.

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To learn how to do this successfully, the goalie should follow certain principles. For example, you should never put the ball back into play in the area, with your hands or feet, unless your team-mate is completely unmarked and ready to receive it; don't pass the ball out to the same side from which it came, but out to the other side (which is called the 'dead' side) into more space, because there are less players there; never throw the ball to a team-mate who is well marked, but to a player who can control the ball and get it away from your area, or even better, get it to a team-mate who doesn't need to stop the ball and control it before getting it away. When you are taking a goal kick, don't forget to place the foot of your support leg behind the line of the ball to make it rise. Use the outside of the top of your foot when kicking on the volley or half-volley, which helps you direct the ball better.

When throwing the ball, the goalkeeper can send it low or rolling along the ground, or he can throw from above the shoulder like a serve in tennis, or he can do a 'baseball' throw. In all of these throws you must keep the ball well balanced in the palm of your hand, clasping it firmly with your fingers spread. You can hold the ball more securely by using the other hand until the very moment of throwing. You should practice all the different ways of throwing, so eventually you will be able to know automatically how hard you have to throw the ball in order for it to reach the exact desired spot. You will also discover which style of throwing suits you best and suits the circumstances you are in.

Do not hesitate when you come out of the goal to intercept a crossed ball or an opponent who is coming at the goal. You have to make up your mind quickly and there is no time to change it. Once you come out of the goal, go the whole way and your own conviction will help you. An attacker has a kind of dread of a goalkeeper coming at him determinedly. In my opinion, though, there is one exception - that is when there is still a defender between the goal and the oncoming attacker with the ball. Stay back, or you might get in the defender's way. Guard the goal, narrowing the angle which will depend on the direction in which the attacker and defender are running.

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Another technique which I have seen perfected by some great goalkeepers is waiting for the split second in which the attacker in the box has to look at the ball before shooting. At this moment, the goalkeeper rushes forward and blocks the shot with his hands or body. Brazilian goalkeepers would make less mistakes if they studied and practiced the right ways and times to come out of their goals.

The third function of the goalkeeper - to help organize the position of the defending players - is also of great importance. As he is facing the whole pitch, the goalkeeper can see how the play is likely to develop. He can help his team-mates by alerting and correcting them and generally giving a running commentary on the positions and intentions of their opponents. A good goalie is the one who can encourage his team-mates to be ready to mark any opponent or intercept an unexpected pass or shot.

I hope that my advice will be of some use to all of you who have already started playing in this difficult, thankless, but thrilling position, I could have scored many more goals during my years of playing football if it hadn't been for those determined, calculating, brave men - the goalkeepers - who, one day, might be you!

 

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