International football presents a different challenge for an England GK


Roy Hodgson’s England goalkeeping selections for the summer have provoked much debate. No-one can quibble with Joe Hart but there was far less consensus when it game to bringing Rob Green and John Ruddy (and now Jack Butland) to Euro 2012. Many people lament the continued absences of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson, whilst others made a case for Scott Carson who is out of sight and presumably out of mind in Turkey.

The first thing to say is club football and international football are totally different. International football is a lot slower. It’s a different mindset. I got called up to an England B team back in 1996. David Seaman was out injured and then Tim Flowers went down with an injury so I got bumped to the A squad. Nigel Martyn was the first choice and I sat on the bench for the game against Chile at Wembley.

Nigel summed up the differences between the club and country game perfectly. He told me “in international football, you’re generally going to be resigned to taking goal-kicks and picking the ball out of the net.” That’s because the game is a lot slower. In club games, the play is at a much higher tempo and you’re going to have maybe 14 or 15 saves to make. In international football, you’re normally only going to have to make three or four saves.

The teams are trying to work the ball into positions where they’re only a few yards out, so when the shots do come in, you’ve got much less of a chance of keeping them out. At that level, you’ve got to be prepared to do little else but take goal-kicks and pick the ball out of the net. Those requirements don’t suit every goalkeeper. It’s takes much more mental toughness and concentration. To play a long season at club level where you’re making a much higher volume of saves, it’s more suited to the younger and more physical goalkeeper.

From my own experiences, I’m fully aware of the psychological differences between being first choice and second choice both for club and country. At World Cup 2006, I was largely 2nd choice at West Ham, but I was thrown into the limelight for the national team. I knew exactly what was required, so it was no problem to step in and change mental approach.

It’s something England will need. Everyone will hope Joe Hart stays fit and healthy, but if he doesn’t you need to have a certain type of player around. Rob Green is the right man for the job. I’ve always liked him as a goalkeeper. He obviously had a disappointing World Cup in 2010 by his standards. It really knocked his confidence, but he’s going to Poland and Ukraine as a number 2. It’s a completely different mindset when you know you’re the back-up. You know you’ll play the odd game at most and you’re prepared for it. He’s experienced enough to know what international football involves, so it’s worth having him around. He can play that role as well as anybody.

I thought is was a good idea bringing John Ruddy along to give him a taste of senior tournament football. It’s not now going to happen thanks to his broken finger, but it was the right thing to do. Hopefully Jack Butland won’t need to see any playing time and he take build up his experience to play a bigger role in future.

Happy Birthday Dino Zoff

Italian goalkeeping legend, Dino Zoff turns 70 today. England fans may remember him most from one remarkable night in Wembley when he pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep the scores level before one Fabio Capello scored the visitor’s winner near the end.

He played over 100 games for both Mantova and Napoli, but it was at Juventus where he flourished. Ironically, Juve had rejected him on the grounds of a lack of height in his early teens, but a growth spurt saw him get his chance as a professional, a career than eventually saw him return to the club. He stayed with the Old Lady for 11 years, winning six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias and one UEFA Cup.

His international career was bookended by two remarkable triumphs. It seems almost unthinkable these days, but he made his Italian debut at the quarter-final stage of Euro 68, a tournament they went on to win. In 1982, at the age of 40, he was captain as Italy emerged from a period of turmoil to claim the World Cup for the third time, his performances earning rave reviews in the process. Between 1972 and 1974, he also found time to set an international football record of going 1142 minutes without conceding a goal.

He wasn’t a goalkeeping pioneer in the same ilk of Lev Yashin. He didn’t break new ground with a new style or philosophy. What he was more simple – he raised the bar. He improved the standards all round, showed what a top class goalkeeper could do and gave us a taste of what was to come. It’s a standard that goalkeepers the world over have be aspiring towards ever since, sometimes with success, sometimes less so.

Happy birthday Dino. And many more too.

Here’s a mega-mix of some of his best saves.

Euro 2012 – A look at the England, Rep. Ireland, N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales GKs

Shay Given

The Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is nearing a conclusion. For the majority it will end abruptly, for a few it will give them something to do next summer and others have a few weeks of fingernail biting to go yet. It’s a good time to look at the goalkeepers of Ireland and Britain.

I wish I could come up with a catchier title, but essentially what I’m asking you to do is rank the goalkeepers of England, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. There may be disagreement about who should and shouldn’t be in the squad, but for the purposes of this debate we’re going with the goalkeepers widely regarded as first choice for their countries.

I’ve spoken countless times in the past about how I think concentration is the difference between a good goalkeeper and a great goalkeeper. There’s often little to choose between top keepers in terms of agility and athleticism so – in my opinion – the ability to stay focussed for long periods and use your ability with minimum drama when called upon is a seriously under-rated quality amongst sections of the football community. With that in mind, I would rate Shay Given as the pick of the keepers playing for the British and Irish nations. I make no secret of my Irishness, but i would like to think this is not a decision based on patriotic bias.

Given has been immense for Ireland down through the years and his recent performance in Moscow against Russia was typical of the type of gritty backs to the wall display he has assisted in for the national team. His concentration is superb and the paltry number of memorable errors he has to his name reflect this consistency. His agility and reactions are top class and although many people cite his lack of command of aerial situations – and that’s a fair point – once his defenders know the story – as Ireland’s do – it shouldn’t and hasn’t proved costly.

Joe Hart is more agile and commanding than Given, but his concentration needs to improve. There have been times when his wandering mind has cost goals and other occasions when he got away with it. Eventually I believe he’ll be acknowledged as the best keeper of the 5 nations, but this Achilles heel is the one chink in the armour for the moment. It will improve and finally England may have found their long term number 1.

Third and fourth on my list are Wayne Hennessy and Allan McGregor respectively. Both are immensely talented goalkeepers, but the Wales number 1 gets the nod over Scotland’s first choice. The reason is down to mistakes. Hennessy used to make a lot of them, but has worked consistently hard to improve. He has won his place back at Wolves and although there will be further errors in the future, the frequency is becoming less and less and his natural ability will become the first thing associated with him. McGregor is more experienced and that makes his mistakes all the more disappointing. The Rangers keeper is a brilliant shot-stopper, good in one on one situations and reliable with his hands, but once in a while he has the potential to let his guard drop and succumb to a howler. I’ve argued that although every goalie is allowed to make mistakes, it happens to him too often for him to be considered amongst the world’s very best.

Alan Blayney brings up the rear, but it’s not intended as a sign of lack of admiration. I saw a good bit of him during the Carling Nations Cup and he thoroughly impressed me. His shot-stopping and reflexes were outstanding, but I feel that in general he’s a little sloppy. He struggled to make the grade in England earlier in his career, but ironically he’s probably operating at a higher level now that he’s settled at Linfield. It’s no shame to be listed behind some of the names on this list which speaks volumes for the quality of goalkeeper currently at the disposal of the nations.

Who do you think is the best goalkeeper of the British and Irish nations?

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Liverpool


Pepe Reina

1st Team Squad Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina, Brad Jones, Doni

Overview: Possibly more than signing Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Stuart Downing or Jordan Henderson, the one piece of transfer business capable of firing Liverpool back into the Premier League’s elite was hanging on to Pepe Reina. As unpalatable as it may have been to supporters, there was substance to the rumours linking him with Man Utd. Fergie and goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele are known fans and combined with Reina’s notoriously competitive ambition, the prospect of winning trophies up the East Lancashire Road must have been tempting. The upturn under Kenny Dalglish in the second half of the season convinced to stay, but the progress will need to continue for it to be a long-term arrangement. Last season wasn’t perfect for Reina, but he made some crucial saves in tight games that earned points and in turn saved the Reds from even greater struggles. Maintaining his services was vital for Liverpool because he’s virtually irreplaceable. Even in a hypothetical transfer market in which meeting the asking price was the only barrier to signing a player, there are only a handful of goalkeepers comparable in terms of ability and in the more realistic world of overblown transfer prices and personal preferences, they likely to be beyond the budgets and negotiating skills of even New England Sports Ventures. Reina is irreplaceable and Liverpool would be well advised to ensure he doesn’t need replacing until such a time when his Premier League career comes to its natural conclusion.

With Brad Jones likely to seek first team football elsewhere, Liverpool have brought in Doni from Roma as cover. The former Brazilian number 1 is a talented and experienced keeper, but his motivation has to be questioned. Does he has the misguided self-belief to think he can relegate Reina to the subs bench? If so, good as it will keep everyone on their toes or – more likely – is he coming for a hefty paycheque in the knowledge he won’t have to work especially hard for it? In recent seasons, he’s had several injuries which have severely curtailed his playing time and he may have one eye on feathering his nest before the days of him earning big money come to and end. If he’s motivated and focused, he’s an excellent option to have in reserve, but if he loses heart or interest, his contribution to the squad will be less constructive. He’s capable, but there’s a leap of faith required to conclude he’s sufficiently motivated.

Worst case scenario: Such has been Reina’s consistency over the years, it’s hard to imagine a sudden and dramatic downturn in form. He may make a couple of mistakes over the course of a season, but he’ll earn his side far more than he’ll give away. The fear is a long-term injury that would keep him sidelined for a couple of months. In that case Liverpool will be relying heavily on Doni and that’s not guaranteed to be a success.

Most likely outcome: Reina will perform to a high level – with the infrequent blips – and aside from the occasional outing in the cup competitions, Doni will see little game time.

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Fulham


Mark Schwarzer

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer, David Stockdale, Csaba Somogyi

Overview: Mark Schwarzer has been great for the Cottagers since arriving from Middlesbrough, but last season there were a few signs of the aging process taking its toll. Long before that horrible night at home to Liverpool he was making silly errors we don’t expect to see from Schwarzer. His judgment when coming for crosses was suspect and his hands looked more and more jittery. The one thing I would qualify that by saying is very often he got away with it. Fulham didn’t tend to concede too many as a result of his slip-ups but we can probably put that down to large chunks of luck rather than anything else. With the Australian closing in on his forties, the Cottagers have identified the need for a long-term successor. David Stockdale is the man and following a run of games stepping in for Schwarzer while he was playing for Australia at the Asian Cup, he looks every bit like he could step into the Aussie’s boots when the time does come. He’s been linked with a season long loan elsewhere (Leeds is the destination often mentioned) and playing regulalry in an expectant environment would surely do his development little harm.

It’s a wise move in the longer term, but in the immediate future it potentially leaves Fulham with rather a shallow goalkeeping division. If Stockdale does spend the season on loan, that will elevate Csaba Somogyi to position of 2nd choice. The Hungarian could turn out to be perfectly capable, but as yet we don’t know. He caught the eye of Jol whilst he was manager of Ajax, but if making the step from the lower middle of the Hungarian top flight to the Eredivisie is difficult, then making it in the Premier League is going to be even tougher.

Worst case scenario: The major fear for Fulham fans would be that the blips that effected Schwarzer last season become more and more frequent. I would imagine that any loan deal for Stockdale would include a recall clause. but to invoke it would be humiliating for Schwarzer. Even if his form isn’t great, Fulham are still likely to persist with him, but hopefully it’s a decision that won’t cost them too many points.

Most likely outcome: Schwarzer bounces back from a disappointing end to last season and performs well under Jol. There are a few errors along the way, but he does the job well before stepping aside at the end of the season for Stockdale to take the first choice spot.

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Everton


Tim Howard

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Jan Mucha

Overview: Everton head into the new season with the worst looking goalkeeping division in the league. Thankfully for fans of the Toffees, that’s mainly due to the questionable aesthetics of their latest goalie kit as opposed to any major question marks about the goalkeeping talent at their disposal. It’s a familiar story with Tim Howard being the undisputed number 1 at Goodison Park. We know what to expect with Tim. He belongs to the upper end of mid-level goalkeepers who are perfectly good, but just short of being considered amongst the world’s elite. There’ll likely be a few silly errors during the season, but more often than not you’ll see a reliable keeper with astonishing reflexes and good athleticism. He does make some mistakes but overall he’s a big plus for Everton. Behind him in the pecking order is Jan Mucha. The Slovakian keeper had a decent World Cup and I was a little surprised not to see him contend more with Howard for the starting place. His second season may offer more opportunity, but it will be difficult to shift the affable American on a long-term basis. Eight years of not quite making the grade at Goodison have come to an end for Iain Turner as he has been released by the club. it leaves their goalkeeping ranks looking thin. Everton have a number of promising young goalkeepers in their reserve and academy squads, but none of whom you’d as yet want to be relying in for an extended period of time.

Worst case scenario: Tim Howard has always seemed to have something like brittle confidence. His mistakes seem to come in patches, perhaps after his head has dropped initially. Even if he does slip up, Everton look to have quality cover with Mucha. You’d think they should be fine to get through the season with, but a couple of injuries would necessitate an emergency loan deal.

Most likely outcome: Howard will provide his usual mix of the sublime and occasionally ridiculous. He’ll most likely cost the Toffees a few points during the course of the season, but he’ll still show a net gain for Everton. Mucha may get the odd outing, but Moyes is likely to side with the more tried and trusted option for the vast majority of the season.

5 Goalkeeping Football Managers

After asking ‘why is there such a lack of goalkeepers in management?’, here’s a list of five goalkeepers trying to buck the trend:

1. Michel Preud’homme
Regardless of what position he played, Preud’homme deserves to be considered one of Europe’s top young managerial talents. The winner of the Yashin Award for being the best goalkeeper at the 1994 World Cup and UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year in the same year, didn’t make the most impressive of starts to his managerial career, but it was in second spell in charge of Standard Liege that things began to fall into place. He guided les Rouches to the Belgian 1st Division title in 2008, but possibly more impressive was guiding Gent to the Belgian Cup in 2010 and second in the league, playing some stylish football along the way. It was enough to earn him the job at Dutch champions, FC Twente and although only a few months into the job, he has his side right in the hunt to defend their title.

2. Bruce Arena
The lack of strength in the CONCACAF federation has always meant that FIFA’s rankings have painted a favourable picture of the USA, but it was under the guidance of Bruce Arena that they became a team worthy of such lofty top 10 rankings. Statistically the most successful manager in the history of the US National Team, Arena played in goal for Ivy league school, Cornell University and claimed a single cap for the USA in 1973. After a disappointing World Cup in 2006, he took over the New York Red Bulls before joining taking up his current position with LA Galaxy. After guiding the Galaxy to back to back MLS playoffs, his team have fallen short at the crucial moment, but such is Arena’s ability, it looks like a matter of when rather than if he adds to his two MLS league titles. Thanks largely to the influx of American owners in the Premier League, he’s regularly links to jobs in England and would be a very interesting appointment for anyone willing to take the risk.

3. Ricardo La Volpe
Possibly better known to European football fans for his amusing straight-talking interviews, Ricardo La Volpe has nonetheless earned many plaudits for his management ability in the Mexican Primera League. The Argentine won a World Cup winners medal when substitute goalkeeper for the famous 1978 victory, but not long after he left his homeland to play in Mexico. He remained there after hanging up his gloves and has spent the majority of the last three decades in various positions around the country. He led the national side to the 2006 World Cup and his team turned heads with some stylish play prior to narrowly being edged out by Argentina in the Last 16. He’s now in charge of Costa Rica and will have his sights firmly set on qualifying them for their first World Cup since the aforementioned 2006 event.

4. Philippe Montanier
As a goalkeeper, Montanier was a journeyman goalkeeper, bouncing around Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 for some of the 80s and all of the 90s. After bringing his playing days to a close, he had a brief foray into football administration as a director at Cannes. It was short-lived however and Montanier began serving something of an apprenticeship as assistant to Robert Nouzaret. Having teamed up with his former boss at Toulouse, he followed him to Bastia and the Ivory Coast national team before striking out on him own as manager of then Championnat National (the third and semi-pro tier of French football) outfit Boulonge. He guided them to a promotion to Ligue 2 and after more improvement, finally got them to the promised land of Ligue 1. It was a brief stay as they suffered an immediate relegation, but at that stage Montanier had moved on to manage Valenciennes. At present his management ability is being put to the test as they’re in the midst of a relegation battle, but given the size and budget of the club, survival would be considered a feather in his cap.

5. Walter Zenga
Wrapping up his career in the USA clearly gave Zenga a taste for travel as his first steps in management racked up the air-miles. First port of call was Bucharest where he managed Nacional Bucharest before taking the high pressure job a short distance down the road at Steaua. Winning a league title wasn’t enough to save his job in Romania and not long after he surfaced in Serbia as Red Star Belgrade. Zenga enhanced his reputation as hot managerial property by winning the league and he came to the attention of ambitious Turkish side, Gaziantepspor. His time there was brief and two quickfire stints with Al Ain in the UAE and Dinamo Bucharest followed before he got his chance with Silician side, Catania. His job was to save the team from relegation, a feat he achieved and was duly awarded a contract extension. He earned a good deal of praise in employing clever tactics whilst in charge of Catania and a comfortable mid-table finish saw a raw period of stability in Zenga’s managerial career. It didn’t last long however as Zenga took the controversial decision to leave Catania for local rivals, Palermo. His stint didn’t last long and after a disappointing start to the season, he fell foul of colourful club chairman, Maurizio Zamparini. Zenga is now trying to rebuild his reputation in the Middle East as manager of Al-Nasr.

Related links
Why is there such a lack of goalkeepers in management?