In the summer of 2001 Juventus broke the world transfer record for a goalkeeper, acquiring the services of Parma's Gianluigi Buffon for a cool €53 million. The 23-year-old Buffon had just won the Serie A Goalkeeper-of-the-Year the previous year and would be replacing Edwin van der Sar in the Bianconeri goals. The record fee still stands to this day. The fact that this fee hasn't been bettered suggests teams tend to overlook the position: as long as Goalkeepers made a few saves in a game then knocked the ball as far from their goals as possible, then that was enough. However, over the last few months there has been renewed interest in this position as England Number One Joe Hart is unceremoniously dropped by his club, for what many pundits see as an inferior 'keeper with an overly risky style -- the British pride themselves on producing quality shot-stoppers, if not much else. At Rangers we've had this debate before.
Rangers have had a string of top-class goalkeepers between the sticks. Chris Woods arrived at the dawn of the Souness revolution with an impressive pedigree. The Englishman had won trophies (including the European Cup) during spells at Nottingham Forrest and Norwich, and had recently managed to edge out Peter Shilton as England Number One for whom he had been the perennial understudy. Woods was brave and agile, and at Rangers would set a British record by playing 1196 consecutive minutes of competitive football without conceding a goal from November 1986 to January 1987.
Concerned at the new UEFA ruling to limit foreign players, Walter Smith felt the need to replace Woods with another Goalkeeper, Andy Goram. Goram received early criticism for conceding "soft goals" but would go on to establish himself in the team, earning the moniker "The Goalie". The squat Englishman (by birth) was continually blighted by fitness issues, but no one cared as long as he kept the ball out of our net; which he did consistently and sometimes inexplicably, blocking balls with any part of his body that he had no right to block -- Perhaps his love of Cricket helped him to track the trajectory of balls coming towards him at pace more effectively?
Woods and Goram were perhaps the most impressive, but were not the only ones. Stefan Klos arrived in the late '90s having won the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund. In homage to Goram, the German received the nickname "Der Goalie" and would be a mainstay in the side over the next few years. Another brave and agile 'keeper, Klos would grow into a formidable shot-stopper, single-handedly keeping Rangers in games -- particularly at Tynecastle in 2000, after Rangers had Reyna and Numan sent off; Klos would keep the clean-sheet and ensure the 0-1 win. Most recently Allan McGregor could be considered one of our better 'keepers.
They would all become fan-favourites but tended to be an unseen presence, making saves when needed but quickly forgotten about for the majority of the match. And they were all "shot-stoppers"; they were not known for anything else other than keeping the ball out of the net. For most, that's all a 'keeper should be doing. But times are A-Changin'. Manuel Nauer and Hugo Lloris have made goalkeepers fashionable again with their so-called "sweeper-keeper" style, rushing off their goal-lines into no-man's land to clear dangerous through-balls.
However, "sweeper-keepers" are still seen as the last line of defense. There is a new-ish idea that 'keepers should be the first line of attack. Joe Hart is perhaps the first major British casualty of this new concept. Hart is undeniably a very good shot-stopper -- if perhaps a little overrated -- but lacks the ability to pass the ball accurately and tactically. Goalkeepers now have to fit into the tactical make-up of a side. This change has seen Real Madrid prefer Navas over Casillas; Barcelona play Valdes, Bravo and now Ter Stegen; and Bayern fork out €22 million for Neuer (still less than half of Buffon's transfer fee). Hart doesn't fit into Guardiola's philosophy and therefore has been replaced by Barcelona's Claudio Bravo.
This new concept sees the build-up as the most important thing, where the modern 'keeper needs to be able to pass out from the back into the first phase of the game and to get the ball to the attacking players -- not as quickly as possible, but in the best position and situation as possible. They have to be a possession-keeper. (Long balls are 50/50, and are quick to go forward but just as quick to come back.) A reflex shot-stopper is no longer enough; a wider set of skills is required in a 'keeper, and a greater versatility.
The 'old guard' -- from a time when 'keepers saved first and foremost -- are quick to criticise this new style. Bravo was slated on his debut, but Guardiola said he had "an amazing game": he attacked the ball, took high-balls and played risky, attacking passes. Guardiola accepts that this style is risky. Yes, Bravo made one mistake, but he was also the starting point for 2 goals -- and City should have scored several more in the Manchester Derby. He made one mistake, but made numerous good decisions that seem to be overlooked. Many see spectacular saves as the only good think a 'keeper can do, but the Goalkeeping paradox is: if a 'keeper needs to make a great save -- admittedly great to see as fans -- then something has already gone wrong.
As was said above, Rangers fans had this debate last season. Wes Foderingham -- admittedly not at the quality of those discussed above -- is in the mold of this new style of 'keeper: can pass out from the back, good with his feet and is the first line of attack in a modern possession-based game. Rangers fans were divided at first as to whether Foderingham was a "good goalkeeper". There has since been an acceptance that he is good at what he does: he just happens not to be a good shot-stopper in the way our Goalkeeping heroes of yesteryear were; he's a possession-based 'keeper.
The irony is Foderingham has actually had a good season. For all our defensive problems the blame hasn't really been leveled at his door. He has improved a lot: he seems to take balls in the air more aggressively and effectively, his risky passing hasn't resulted in any major mistakes and he has made some decent saves at times. Foderingham has gone under the radar thus far this season, and has grown into an effective and inconspicuous presence in the side.
Goalkeeping is still one of the most misunderstood positions in football. There have been new styles of Goalkeeping introduced over the years that deviate from that old defensive, shot-stopper type. From being the last line of defense, the modern 'keeper now has to be the first line of attack. Ultimately, there is no 'best' type of goalkeeper: a 'keeper merely needs to be what's best for the team. Leicester need a defensive, shot-stopper? Schmeichel is best. Tottenham need a sweeper-keeper to help defend against counter-attacks and provide an added press? Lloris is best. Manchester City need a possession-based 'keeper? Bravo is best. The question should not be 'is he a good 'keeper?', but instead 'does he fit the make-up of the team?'
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