Statistical anomaly or glass ceiling?
Despite the requirements of their playing career, it’s would appear that many people in positions of power within football clubs don’t think goalkeepers are a safe pair of hands when it comes to managing football teams. What began as a whimsical attempt to recollect goalkeepers who’ve made a big impression in the managerial ranks has transformed into a rather disturbing tale of closed doors and potential prejudice.
The short story is there are very few former goalkeepers now going on to become top flight managers. Across Europe, defenders and midfielders abound in the hotseat of some of the continent’s biggest clubs whilst there’s also a decent smattering of strikers to represent the poachers. Typically, in a squad of 25, there will be 3 or 4 goalkeepers included amongst them. That equates to roughly 12 to 16 per cent of playing staff. In Europe’s five biggest leagues (the top flights of England, France, Spain, Italy and Germany), former goalkeepers occupy just two of the possible 98 managerial positions. Telling you that represents a mere 2% doesn’t make the statistics any less stark. Admittedly that is a crude calculation as certain managers were of an undetermined playing position, but the bare numbers paint a less than encouraging picture for anyone current goalkeepers aspiring to become managers in their post-playing days.
Understandably perhaps, former goalkeepers are the only choice to become goalkeeping coaches, but even allowing for the natural progression from playing to coaching, it seems like purveyors of the position are vastly underrepresented in full scale management. Even when you make allowances for the tendency of custodians to become teachers of the trade, that is a pitiful representation. Of course playing outfield may give future managers a good understanding of the requirements to make a team operate smoothly, but equally that’s not to say the same skills cannot be acquired by a goalkeeper.
Intelligence or the perception that outfield players are more accustomed to ‘deeper thinking’ about the game cannot be sanctioned as a reasonable explanation. In his work as a pundit, Shaka Hislop has shown an erudite understanding of the game beyond the role of the goalkeeper and regularly displays perceptiveness that exceeds the aptitude of most ‘thoughtful’ midfield generals. Likewise, via his column in the Observer, David James has been shown to be far more astute than the sketch of the bumbling moron painted by the tabloid press would have you believe.
But why is there such a reluctance to give goalies the top job? One problem may be the perception of mental instability that comes form the position. There’s no way of sugar-coating it. When a goalkeeper makes the decision to run out of his penalty area in an attempt to clear the ball and makes a mistake – it looks mental – like they’ve momentarily lost their minds. A defender or midfielder can attempt to execute a similarly misjudged passage of play, but in the context of outfield play, it can go largely unnoticed or at most be explained away without questioning the players grasp of reality. Such moments are so outside of what is expected from a goalkeeper that it often gets attributed to a temporary and almost comic ‘madness’. It may only happen on a subconscious level, but the connection made between goalkeepers and eccentricity may play a significant role in the reluctance towards owners trusting former goalies with their valuable assets.
The perception of the ‘mad goalie’ clearly hasn’t helped, but scratch the surface and what you’re more than likely to find is individuality being incorrectly labeled as mild insanity. By the very nature of the job, a goalkeeper is always going to stand out as unique, but maybe too many club chairman are confusing unique with unhinged. I’ve written about the key psychological requirements of being a goalkeeper in the past and one of key attributes is a thick-shin. You’re so vulnerable to individual criticism, it would be impossible to line out on the pitch without the ability to block it out. Once a thick-skin has been developed, a strong sense of self probably won’t be far behind and it’s at this point the goalkeeper has the potential to stand out as a ‘character’ – someone on the team, but different from the norm.
At times it’s difficult not to have a chuckle at the behaviour of some goalkeepers, but it’s when this goes too far and becomes a minor prejudice towards former professionals in search of work that is a real issue. If a club aren’t performing to the satisfaction of the board, ironically, it’ll rarely be a goalkeeper who gets the call to save them.
As ever, your thoughts on the subject are very much welcome. What do you think about the situation?
– 5 Goalkeeping Managers Trying To Buck The Trend