Introducing the first in what I hope will be a long and insightful series, this is a feature I’m calling ‘State Of The Union’ – providing it doesn’t infringe on copyright. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be asking goalkeepers across all levels and abilities about the pressures, challenges and general observations they have on the life of a goalkeeper.
First up is a goalkeeper I’ve raved about in the not too distant past; one who I think is genuinely destined to end up in a top league playing for a top club (impressive video evidence here). In recent months, several Premier League, Bundesliga and Serie A clubs have been following his progress, so he’s a man you may be hearing a lot more about in future.
Name: Johannes Hopf
Club: Hammarby IF (Superettan)
There’s the general impression goalkeepers are a different breed to others. In life do you feel like you’re part of the mainstream or a little different?
Goalkeepers are often a little different. As I see it, goalkeepers are the ones most determined to win and who really really hate to lose. The ones I’ve met in my career have been either totally mad or the nicest and calmest people ever. I absolutely consider myself a goalkeeper in mind too and I mix between the totally mad and the nice, calm guy. I wouldn’t see it as being very different.
Do you think the outfield players you’ve played with down through the years fully understand what you go through as a goalkeeper?
No, no one that has not played a game as goalkeeper knows or understands.
Do managers and coaching staff you’ve worked with fully understand it?
Luckily enough we have goalkeeper coaches but often in video analysis before games the head coach will comment on the opposing keeper and say that he is weak at crosses and then show some corners or crosses that no keeper in the world should ever try to attack.
With the responsibility that comes from being a goalkeeper, do you suffer from nerves before or during games?
I am a very calm guy and I usually don’t get that nervous before games but when I do I try to convert the nervousness into focus during pre match warmup. During games you’re usually too busy controlling your team so you don’t have time to worry over what might happen. It’s when you start to over think situations you make mistakes.
Does your mind wander?
No, I really try not to let my mind wander. It’s up to you as a goalkeeper to control your team so you’re always busy screaming at and talking to your team mates. If they’re too far away, then it’s up to you to keep your body warm and your mind cool. It’s a hard job being a keeper and you are often totally exhausted after a game, even if you haven’t been running as much as your team mates you have to be 100% focused every single second of the game.
Are there times when you’d prefer to be the one banging in the goals?
I started playing football at center back and enjoyed scoring goals but what I really miss now as a goalkeeper is the physical game, to make a perfect sliding tackle in wet weather. You can never compare the life of a striker with the life of a goalkeeper. A striker can do nine horrible misses and score once and become the hero and the keeper can do nine super saves and do one mistake and become the scapegoat for a long time. But hey, we all know that is reality, life between the posts isn’t always fair!
How do you feel the fans treat you?
I love my fans and I know that they love me. They are very supportive and thankful towards me and I get a lot of comments like “what would we do without you” and “you are our only hope”. I’m very lucky, because I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone.
What to you think of the way the media treat goalkeepers?
It is quite clear that the members of the media are no experts at goalkeeping. This summer one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers’ leading expert wrote an article on how keepers shouldn’t “take a chance” at attacking crosses or breakaways but instead stay on the goalline and just wait and hope to be hit. We do love our ice hockey and handball in this country but that article was a real joke. They pay absolutely no attention to the keepers who command their box and avoid the drama by stamping out chances before they arise, but if you stay on the line and make one decent save you’ll automatically get at least 3/5 stars.
What’s the one save of ours that sticks in our memory?
I´ve got a couple of important saves and some not so important but great looking that sticks. The most important ones must be from the two penalty shootouts in the swedish cup quarter and semi-finals last year. A save that has stuck is a top corner reflex save in muddy conditions last fall where I managed to fly and deflect a hard volley shot just over the top right hand corner. Another one that stuck is a top left corner save in the swedish cup final where I didn’t see much due to the green mist of dozens of flares, I managed to fly and get a hand up to deflect the ball on the crossbar and out.
Is there one mistake that still haunts you?
No, I haven´t had any great “Green-mistakes” in my career so far that will haunt me forever. If you make mistakes, and you will do, being a great goalkeeper is all about forgetting, forgiving yourself and moving on. There’s always a ball coming in your direction!
If everything goes to plan, where will you be in 5 years?
In 5 years time I plan to be an established goalkeeper in Britain. I can see myself in clubs like Everton, Stoke, Newcastle or Tottenham. They’re all great clubs and I really think I could offer them something. It might seem big-headed and I need some luck to get there, but I know I’ve got the potential and I know that I got the will to make it happen and I will give it my all to make it so.
What is the one piece of essential advice you’d give to a fellow goalkeeper?
Always train harder than everyone else, identify your weak spots physically, technically and psychologically and try to remove them. And most importantly, keep humble and never let a mistake take you down.
This is intended to be the first of many explorations into the mind of the goalkeeper. If you’re a goalkeeper at any level and you’d like to answer some questions along the lines of the above. Email me or contact me on twitter (@MinistryOfGlove)