Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: QPR

QPR

Paddy Kenny

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Paddy Kenny, Radek Cerny, Brian Murphy

Overview: In the interests of full disclosure, I should confess a huge liking for Paddy Kenny that goes back several years. I’ve been a huge fan of his since seeing him in his early days at Sheffield United and little has happened in the intervening period – on the playing field at least – to dim my opinion of him as a top class keeper. He did very little wrong during the Blades’ previous stint in the top flight and any time I’ve seen him since, I’ve been impressed by his natural ability. I’m delighted he’s getting another chance in the top flight because I’ve always seen him as a Premier League-standard keeper and was genuinely perplexed by the reluctance of several clubs to take a chance on him. With Sheffield United having several near-misses when it comes to promotion, perhaps he felt a loyalty to stay with them over the years or maybe clubs thought his rather complicated personal life was too much of a risk to justify his purchase, but I think he is perfectly capable of performing well in the top flight. His reactions and surprising agility were good enough when he was a more rotund figure a few years ago and now that he’s more svelte, I think that regardless of the fate that befalls football’s soap opera club, he will remain a Premier League goalkeeper for the rest of playing career.

In reserve, the Rs have the service of Radek Cerny. Kenny’s arrival at Loftus Road ended the Czech’s reign as first choice, but provided he’s not too unhappy with spending so much time on the bench towards the end of his career, he’s decent option to have from the bench. In one sense he’s an experienced Premier League keeper having spent a few seasons at Tottenham, but in reality, he was largely confined to the subs’ bench and didn’t see a lot of playing time during his stint there. That said, he went on to play regularly for QPR afterwards and although you wouldn’t want to rely on him for large parts of the season, he’s more than capable of filling in for a few games if required.

The signing of Brian Murphy adds some depth to the goalkeeping ranks. For many years, Murphy has been one of the most consistent performers in the League of Ireland and has been recognised as such with a series of awards. He’s got excellent reflexes and agility and his ability has brought him to the fringes of the Ireland team. He has already had stints in English football, so adaptation won’t be a problem. He’s unlikely to get much in the way of first team action, but his performances at Ipswich last season suggested if given the chance he should be more than capable of stepping in and possibly leapfrogging Cerny in the pecking order. In the short term at least, it’s not likely to change to much at the Rs, but he’s a useful signing – especially for free.

Worst case scenario: Problems may arise is for whatever reason Kenny isn’t fully focused on his football. He has immense natural talent, but if there are things going on int he background, he’s as likely as anyone to see a dip in performances. If he were to have a bad spell, it could be enough to cost QPR their expensively acquired Premier League status.

What will probably happen: Kenny will perform well and if QPR struggle, it will probably have more to do with their outfielder staff or – in the opinion of Neil Warnock – a conspiracy between the FA, the CIA and referees to keep Neil Warnock sides down.

Why the lack of goalkeepers in Premier League management?

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?

Related Links
– 5 Goalkeeping Managers Trying To Buck The Trend

Famous Goalkeepers

All In The Mind? 5 Famous Goalkeepers

Goalkeepers are painted as a breed apart. The spectrum ranges from the comical ‘one glove short of a pair’ banter to more alarming insinuations about mental stability. The associations with mild lunacy aren’t helped with the nature of the job. Surely anyone with a capacity for logical thought would opt for a job less in the literal and metaphorical line of fire. The responsibility, the isolation, the criticism – why not play in the hole and avoid the lot?

The nature of the job magnifies the element of the erratic. The 10 outfield players have broadly structured jobs that require creativity within the role (short of dropping your shorts to reveal a pair of Superman underpants, most behaviour looks reasonably logical), but the goalkeeper has potentially a much more varied array of duties to perform in the course of a match. Very often they’re not especially good at these duties and what was intended as a shrewd tactical move ends up looking like the result of a full moon.

During my university days, the notion of the ‘crazy goalie’ came up in a psychology class. By way of explaining personality types, our professor told us about several famous people who had played in goals prior to establishing much more successful careers elsewhere. He was certain there was a connection between the characteristics of the goalkeeper and the tools required for a successful career. He suggested there was a part of the goalkeeper’s psyche that wants his team-mates to fail as it gives them the opportunity to impress and this innate drive was a factor in making them the men they were to become in later life.

It wasn’t a view I particularly agreed with. Certainly as long as the team won, I was delighted if I had nothing to do. But knowing the abilities of my team-mates and the realities of football, I was confident that over the course of a match, I’d have plenty of chances to do my thing. When called upon, I would do my best to save my team and until then I would wait.

In my opinion, there are character traits that a goalkeeper needs, but eccentricity is not necessarily one of them. Thick skin from an early age would be the most important. The idea of a 9 year old being especially aware of mental fortitude is amusing, but on a subconscious level, the young goalkeeper needs to have the ability to put mistakes behind him and come back stronger. Errors will happen and criticism will flow, but blocking it out and coming back for more is crucial skill to learn for the goalkeeper. Mental strength is clearly something which will benefit a person throughout life and as far as I’m concerned that is probably the only link between goalkeepers and eminent people.

Am I right? I’m not so sure, but here are 5 famous men who played in goals. If you can see parallels between them, then I like to hear your theories below.

Pope JP II
1. Pope John Paul II
Born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Poland, the boy who would go on to become the much loved Pope John Paul II was a lover of the beautiful game. He supported his local side, Cracovia and the fact that they haven’t won Ekstraklasa since 1949 suggests why he spent so much time talking to the man above. Reports say he minded nets for both his school and university teams, but there’s little suggestion that Europe’s giants were knocking down the door for his services. Had they known the type of connections he would go on to make in later life, they may have thought differently. A professional career wasn’t looking likely, but Germany’s invasion of his country and the on-set of World War II ended even his amateur participation in the game. His interest in calcio continued into his papacy and during Italia 90 he gave the Jack Charlton led Irish team an audience in Vatican City.

Pavarotti
2. Luciano Pavarotti
Those of us familiar with Pavarotti’s physique in later life will see the obvious attraction in sticking the Italian tenor in goals, but there was a time when it was his svelte figure and agility that made it the idea appealing. In keeping with the majority of his male compatriots, Pavarotti was a very keen football fan to the extent where a professional career was very much on the cards. He was with his home town club, Modena at a time when they were enjoying a rare period of relative success. At the time, a football career was well paid, but not to the extent of more modern times. After a few gentle words from his mother, Pavarotti decided to hang up the gloves and opted for the stability of a career as a teacher. His familiarity with getting to shots heading for the top corner may have gone the way of his slim waistline, but his love for football didn’t vanish and along with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, he was a regular performer at World Cups. When he died in 2007, Juventus sent a representative to his funeral whilst Italy and Juve goalkeeper, Gig Buffon paid tribute by solemnly declaring “Italy has lost a Number One.”

Iglesias
3. Julio Iglesias
To one generation he’s a multi-million selling crooner and to another, he’s best known as Enrique Iglesias’ dad. Inspiring every cruise ship singer in history wasn’t originally the plan for Julio and as a young adult he was considered a good enough keeper to be on the books of Real Madrid. And this was a Real Madrid who had only ended their early domination of the European Cup a couple of years earlier and were still dictating affairs in La Liga. In 1963 he hadn’t yet made a first team appearance when a horrific car crash put an end to his dreams of making it as a professional footballer. He suffered severe spinal injuries that have required treatment throughout his life. Similar rehabilitation is said to be required for anyone who has heard ‘Gwendolyne’.

Albert Camus
4. Albert Camus
“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”* Thankfully Albert Camus isn’t around to witness events in the modern game or else existentialism may be more based on extortionate wage demands and hooking up with the latest batch of aspiring glamour models. That lifestyle may however fit in neatly with his Ideas on the Absurd. As a teenager, Camus played for Racing Universitaire d’Alger and they must have been pretty useful because clearly he had little to do and plenty of time to think. The future Nobel prize winner had aspirations of playing out-field, but in a bold move, the coach saw his small frame and decided between the sticks was the place for him. A professional career wasn’t really on the cards, but a dose of tuberculous at the age of 17 laid him low for a long period and curtailed his athletic ambitions. The camaraderie of the team game is often said to have appealed greatly to Camus and in many ways influenced his brand of philosophy.

*Far be it from me to accuse FIFA of anything underhanded – that’s what Panorama is for – but this quote appears slightly differently in various places around the internet. Football’s governing body are happy to suggest Camus owes football a debt of gratitude, but elsewhere he’s quoted as feeling more indebted to Racing Universitaire d’Alger in particular. Either way, he liked the game and was no stranger to the life of the goalkeeper.

Conan Doyle
5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Had Arthur Conan Doyle been born in a different era, Sherlock Holmes may have spent a little less time solving the getting to the bottom of the Hound of the Baskervilles and devoted his efforts to the Mystery of the Swerving Jabulani. The Scot was a keen sportsman. He was a regular on the golf course, an accomplished cricketer who once claimed the wicket of legendary beard-wearer, WG Grace and even found time to spend some time in goals for Portsmouth Association Football Club. The club – who have no connection with the current Portsmouth FC (although we’re not sure who’d be more embarrassed by the association over a century later) – eventually collapsed in 1894 and Conan Doyle went on to concentrate on his swing – both of the golf variety and the cricket variety. It’s a shame he’s not around these days as it would seem only Holmes and Watson could unravel the mystery of why England can’t produce a reliable keeper.

The Beginning Of A Wonderful Glove Affair

Goals

Cold. Lonely and extremely vulnerable to attack with rocks. The scandalously skimpy shorts that were the so-called fashion of the time explained the piercing chill and the habit of twenty 8 year boys have of single-mindedly pursuing one football with scant regard for the duties which accompany their assigned position was the reason for the complete isolation, but the vulnerability to the attack with rocks only became apparent with the arrival of a group of kids with an empty schedule and a plentiful supply of stones.

With my less than imposing three foot, ten and three quarter inch frame, I was loath to ignore my father’s sage and later to be proved hopelessly inaccurate advice “never leave the goal-line”, but as the frequency of accurate throws increased, some opportune patrolling of the penalty area was required. The skillfully acquired distance meant the rocks rained down with less accuracy, but the relief I felt was short-lived as the ruffians, realising my station was unlikely to be altered due to the ball’s resolute refusal to break free from the midfield melee, resorted to a weapon regularly used by baying crowds against opposition goalkeeper – the medium of off-key drone of abusive song. “Number nine is a swine. Number nine is a swine” and so on and so forth – there was no chorus or crescendo – musically it was basic. What it lacked in variety it made up for in relentless negative reinforcement. After a few minutes of wandering around my goalmouth, even the most hardened of 8 year old minds would be on the verge of crumbling and accepting that the words of these total strangers must have some element of truth to them. “Oh how they have spied deep down into the soul of this number 9 and identified the swine-like qualities within.”

The whole number 9 shirt adds a peculiar angle to events. I’m not sure how FIFA would have viewed it, but I was wearing on outfield jersey despite starting the game in goals and only moving to avoid the downpour of stones. Thankfully Sepp Blatter hadn’t swung by that day for a spot-check on the legitimacy of matches in the North Dublin Under 9 league. The number 9 stretched the diction and rhyming scheme of the hoodlums to the limit, but equally could have been a lot worse. Given the prominence of the word ‘poo’ in a schoolboy’s vocabulary, I was simply ecstatic it wasn’t the number 2 emblazoned across my back. Or even worse, number 4. In those days of innocence, I may not have known exactly what a ‘whore’ was, but I certainly wouldn’t have taken kindly to being labelled one.

It was all because the team manager was always late. Always. The passage of time urges me to exaggerate that ‘without exception’ he rocked up late to matches, but in reality he must have achieved punctuality on at least a couple of occasions. With a couple of dozen children waiting impatiently, his Toyota Corolla would fling itself around the corner of the car park and nestle in an empty space near the tin hut imaginatively labeled the dressing rooms. Before the engine was switched off, the boot seemed to be open. Without the need for further instruction or even the smallest gesture, the most dutiful members of the team would skivishly rush to remove the impossibly heavy bag of jerseys and the onion sack of footballs whilst the manager carried on with his more important business – a lot like the Queen if she had a beer-belly, an untidy beard and a penchant for child labour.

We were at the age when although you’re aware the world doesn’t revolve around you and people continue to live their lives independent of your involvement, you’re still a pretty central player in the entire universe and your needs should be close to the top of all priority lists. The manager may have been self-employed and working himself to the bone; he could have been in the middle of some personal crisis along the lines of marriage breakdown; or he could have been spreading himself too thin in trying to conduct affairs with several women, but at the time, the team came first. His lateness directly impacted on our chances of success. When he finally did turn up for midweek training sessions, we wanted to interrogate him ceaselessly about his movements. “Don’t you realise who we’re playing at the weekend? We’ve got Village FC. They’re top of the league and I have to say our headless mass chasing of the ball needs much improvement if it’s to match up to their headless mass chasing of the ball.” Looking back on it now, the poor guy was an unpaid volunteer and didn’t need that level of nagging. Nagging at home is probably what drove him to all those fictitious affairs to begin with.

After some process of elimination work involving the lock and a large set of keys, the heavy metal creaked slowly open and cast a faint light into the darkened chambers. It was accompanied by a collective sigh of relief as if we were a group of reverse hostages. Rather than waiting years for the glimpse of daylight, we were on the other side, eagerly anticipating the moment when we’d be able to sit on the cold, lumps of wood that passed for seats in the dim light you’d associate with an underground bunker. It meant that there would be a game of football and more importantly, it meant that we wouldn’t have to get changed outside and risk the insults of non-existent bullies who may be passing by. The parents of some of the children on the team identified the familiar fluster of the manager and in the unspoken world of adults that children are generally oblivious to, silently did him a favour and went about the business of hanging up the nets at either end of the pitch. In his strange mix of hectic energy and gruffness, the manager announced the team and one by one the chosen eleven made for the bag of jerseys located in the middle of the dusty floor. Being named first, I made for the bag, trying desperately to find the green livery which marked me out as different to the others. After merely seconds of vain effort, the manager would interrupt and impatiently inquire as to what I was doing. “Looking for the goalie’s jersey,” I would stutter, taken aback by his tone. “Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t matter. Grab any of them,” he replied curtly as I failed to grasp the logic of his illogical argument.

It was from these inauspicious beginnings that a love affair began. The occasional sidestepping of missiles launched by the local ne’er do wells and their accompanying confrontational choral efforts was a small price to pay for the inexplicable rush of contentment that came from making an excellent save. To this day I can’t remember exactly why I ended up in goals. A pair of raggedly old gloves and no great desire to run was enough to have me a whole pair of raggedly old gloves clear of my nearest rival for the position. The running wasn’t a major issue. I tried it before in an short-lived outfield stint. Even at that stage, the notion of running for the sake of leisure didn’t appeal. An effort of such magnitude had to be in the name of something truly worthwhile – the ice-cream van, witnessing a helicopter pass overhead, seeing a dog with only three legs – all the mind-blowing phenomena of that ilk. Before my talents were uncovered – and by talents I do in fact mean the pair of gloves – I was tried out as a striker.

The polite way of describing my exploits would be to say I was in the mould of the burly, technically neanderthal, striker typical to British football. I wasn’t the quickest. Or the most skillful, but lay a ball on a plate for me six yards out and I’d generally get it on target and on more than one occasion, even beat the goalkeeper. My speed was never likely to sufficiently worry a defence, so my game relied on brains and clever positioning. Not conventional trickery either. My ploy was to explain to my marker the finer points of the game. A prime example was the little known rule that said it was illegal for the defender to be within 10 yards of the D when it was occupied by me. This was generally good for creating a least one gilt-edged chance per game and depending on how just much the poor buffoon had been denied during the birthing process, maybe even two or three. As successful as the tactic was, it wasn’t one that screamed ‘natural born poacher’ and it wasn’t long before my efforts were concentrated closer to our team’s goalposts.

My memories of my first forays into this game within a game were of athletic saves where I defied the laws of traditional physics to hurl myself Gordon Banks versus Pele style across the full width of the chasm that is the full size goal to deny my opponents a certain goal. In reality, I was probably leaning on the goalpost until play eventually wound it’s way close enough to my goal for me to take interest. At which point a lame shot would either trickle towards the centre of the goal at a pace I could easily manage or trickle towards the either corner of the goal and suddenly become an unstoppable bullet of interstellar velocity. It should be with pride that I reveal even in these early stages my contribution to the team went beyond regularly picking the ball out of the net. Sadly that had more to do with the hastily mounted nets and long chases after balls that counted as legitimate goals. In spite of these gloomy recollections, there were some wins, so logic would suggest I had a degree of success. More indicative than actual triumph may have been the fact I was willing to persevere in the position at a time in my life when perhaps childish tantrums and giving up are most acceptable.

Testament to the growing fondness I was developing for the role came in my first notable brush with the authority of the referee. I had gathered the ball after a harmless opposition attack petered out with a tame shot towards the middle of my goal [rather than one of those dastardly tame shots to one of the corners]. I collected it, looked up and at this point should have booted the ball aimlessly towards the centre circle. This was a tactic that troubled me as waiting their stood a colossus of an opposition player – an eight year old but with the imposing size of a boy easily eight and three-quarters years of age. All day he had gobbled up my clearances with the relish schoolkids normally reserve for Wagon Wheels. I needed another option. I looked around. To the left and to the right stood my team-mates exhibiting all the movement of particularly idle Subbeteo figurines. “Why aren’t they moving?” I furiously thought to myself. “Have I done my maths homework? I’ve school tomorrow” followed immediately after, admittedly with less fury. “I wonder will I see Jenny tomorrow. I don’t like her. She’s a girl. I don’t like her lovely curly hair,” I continued internally before my picturing of those golden locks were rudely interrupted by the blast of a whistle. “Indirect free-kick,” said my black-clad nemesis. “Why?” I protested. “Steps. Holding on to the ball too long. Time-wasting,” he listed quite correctly. Unbeknownst to me I had conducted this daydream mid-game with the ball in my grasp. For roughly thirty seconds, I had stood basically motionless cradling the ball. To the onlooking crowd it must have looked like an eight year having a nervous breakdown a la Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Firstly confusion as to why I was taking so long. Then a degree of sympathy as quicker-witted parents suspect some spontaneous pant-wetting, before finally concern for me and more importantly the children in the generally vicinity of me who will be first in the firing line should I whip a handgun out of my sock. I wasn’t and I point to my fine record of never having gone on a mid-game shooting spree as evidence that it was never on the cards. For the record, the opponents were awarded one of those free-kicks so near to the goal as to be essentially useless. My outfield team-mates assembled a wall with all the solidity of something constructed by the builder John Cleese regularly used for Fawlty Towers and I flung myself in the way of the ball to make the save, but concede a corner. I got to my feet greeted by a chorus of cheers and applause. They probably scored from the corner.

Still though, the feeling of defying the odds felt good. And the cheering – that was nice too. It wasn’t long before I had my first taste of facing a penalty. Our team were taking a sound pummeling from a team who didn’t seem to have the weekend’s maths homework to the forefront of their minds. I think we were losing by four or five goals when the referee awarded a penalty. Packie Bonner had recently earned an honorary Irish sainthood with his save against Romania in Italia 90 and I was determined to emulate his achievement – although with the notable exceptions of the baying crowd, any semblance of tension and a place in a World Cup quarter-final at stake. I stood in the middle of the goal and played mind-games that amounted to wobbling from side to step as if trying to keep my balance on a ferry in moderately choppy waters. It had no obvious effect on the penalty-taker as he ran up to the ball. He seemed to strike the ball cleanly and nano-seconds later I threw myself to my left in a spectacular dive. I use the word dive, but ‘collapse’ is probably more accurate. I hit the ground and a couple of seconds later I felt the ball connect with my trailing legs which at this point could only be described as still being in the middle of the goal. The rebound rolled out to the disappointed penalty-taker who now had what amounted to a penalty, only five yards out and with no goalkeeper to outwit. I lay helplessly on the ground with that rarely experienced emotion of satisfaction and total fear. Even upright I occupied only a small proportion of the surface area of the goal, so with me on the ground the task in front of the striker was akin to having to ride a bike through under the vast expanse of a motorway flyover. At the moment when I expected the net to ripple and my heroics to be in vain, he scuffed his shot and dragged it wide. A huge cheer went up from our small brand of supporters. Each of my team-mates came up to offer congratulations on my feat any impartial observer would have acknowledged relied heavily good fortune.

We lost eight-nil, but the bug had well and truly bitten. And I got my maths homework done.