Modern Goalkeepers – Where Is The Game Headed

On a personal level I’m always going to like goalkeepers who dare to be unique. Keepers that can have their own flair and style. When you look at some of the top goalkeepers in the world today there’s an argument to be made that they all play the position differently. In those differences though, there are clear similarities that identify them as modern goalkeepers. The reason why I think this article is relevant is because you need to find the specific skill sets that people are looking for in modern goalkeepers. Particularly, if you want a shot at going pro or just upgrading your level of play in general. 

At the same time in this article I’m going to talk about who may have more of an uphill battle to make it in modern goalkeeping. To put it bluntly it’s looking like size does matter these days. That’s a big issue because it’s one of those things that you really can’t do much about. You can look at the glass half empty or half full though. If you know size is going to be an issue for you, then you better acquire some of these other skills to make sure that you’re able to stand out, and potentially overcome some of the things that you’re lacking. Here are a couple of things that teams across the globe seem to be looking for in modern goalkeepers. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick up on these things, and add them to your game to progress in your career. 

In Modern Goalkeepers Size Does Matter

Yes, there are goalkeepers that are shorter that have made it in the pro ranks. In fact, the size requirement does seem to be less strict in some countries. Just naturally due to the fact that 6 foot guys are not born every day in some countries. For the ladies, obviously the bar is a little lower on the requirements side of things. Ladies do play on the same size goals though, and really if you’re not able to consistently reach the top bar you’re going to have a tough time playing. Coaches know that, and to be honest it shows in the selection process that they have when they’re building their teams. It’s really hard to get into the youth ranks of any club if you’re not over 6 feet these days as a guy.  

Are there ways that you can forgo this requirement? Of course, you just need to exhibit an incredible natural jumping talent. It has to be something that you just can’t ignore as a coach. What you can’t do is be short and just not consistently reach those high balls. It doesn’t work out. The reality is that people who are being born into the world seem to be much taller than previous generations. For most countries, at least one where top flight football is played it’s not hard to find 6 foot dudes. In fact, the size requirement is probably going to continue to climb in the years to come. 

Playing With Your Feet

I’m just putting this out there, because most people say that this is a major requirement for goalkeepers. Yet, every single week it seems that we see a goalkeeper with an error when it comes to playing the ball with their feet. What I would say when it comes to this, is that you don’t need to be a top dribbler to be a goalkeeper. What you do need to be is smart, and comfortable with the ball on your feet. When the defense could potentially pass the ball back to you head to spot preferably outside of the goal. I can’t stress this one enough, learn that it’s better to fight another day than to try and be Ederon, or Donaruma.

A lot of the things that we can say about goalkeepers being good on their feet can apply to defenders as well. As I mentioned before it’s not that you’re ever going to be asked to beat the stricker with some fancy footwork so that you can have a clear path to start the counter. What you are asked to do is to be smart with the ball. Literally, when it comes to playing the ball with your feet I would work on positioning within the box or out of it. Naturally you need to have at least decent control abilities, and if you can incorporate a long pass element to your game you’re good to go. Those simple elements are more than enough for modern goalkeepers. Things are unlikely to change in that department moving forward.  

You Can Be Surprisingly Basic

Goalkeeper Field Passing Football Ball Player

This may be more of a personal criticism that I have of the modern goalkeeper in top leagues. Don’t even get me started on MLS or any of the leagues in the Americas for that matter. You can be surprisingly basic, and more or less average at everything, but if you’ve got some size you can have a chance. This is by no means something that I’m promoting though. The sense though, that you can be basic gives in my mind plenty of people hope. What I always tell young keepers is do everything at least ok, from there if you have one skill that stands out you can embrace that and propel yourself to levels of play that maybe you would have no business in otherwise. 

There’s certainly a major positive to being basic. If you don’t have that maricle save ability, but you’re smart with the ball in your feet, and you consistently save shots that are considered must-haves there’s always going to be a coach willing to give you a shot. In their mind they know that they maybe can’t count on that type of keeper to put on the super hero cape when everything is coming down around them. What they’re looking for though is a keeper that doesn’t lose them games. That’s why you have Victor Valdes, Gerónimo Rulli at Villareal, who are basic keepers on great teams. In games you maybe don’t want to travel outside your comfort zone. That’s something managers can appreciate.   

Ball Security Is Super Underrated In Modern Goalkeepers

13.01.21. Manchester City v Brighton and Hove Albion, Premier League. Phil Foden of Manchester City and Adam Webster of Brighton. 13 Jan 2021 Pictured: 13.01.21. Manchester City v Brighton and Hove Albion, Premier League. Ederson Moraes of Manchester City catches the ball ahead of Adam Webster of Brighton. Photo credit: News Licensing / MEGA +1 888 505 6342 (Mega Agency TagID: MEGA726239_004.jpg) [Photo via Mega Agency]

There are very few goalkeepers even on the world stage that bring maximum ball security to the table as one of their main skills. It’s not that someone like Marc Andre Stergen is a habitual rebounder, and giver of second chances. However, he is one of the elite keepers who could definitely make more clean saves. With the amount of keepers that have gotten to the top of the profession without being great ball catchers it would seem that not many coaches are looking for this as an important skill set. From my perspective I think that brings up another issue that is usually not all that discussed. That is the fact that even top managers have a hard time judging goalkeepers.  

Pep Guardiola for example always wanted to make sure that his goalkeepers were good on their feet. That’s why he brought Claudio Bravo, and Willy Caballero on board to his Man City squad. Both of them, though, proved that they didn’t have what it takes to play at the top level. Even though both of them have played consistently for medium tier clubs for a lengthy career, ball security is one of the main issues that they faced. It ultimately ousted them from top level teams. As it should in my opinion. When you make clean catches you’re able to end the play right then and there. Even a great save can create a second chance opportunity. These are things that you want to limit. There’s really no way around that, and the best way to do that is to make clean catches. 

The Different Styles of Modern Goalkeepers

There are certainly different styles in modern goalkeeping. For example, goalkeepers like Neuer, and Donaruma have made a career out of playing further outside the box, and with their feet. I’ve always thought that this style isn’t necessarily sustainable. The recent issues that Donaruma has run into at PSG may very well confirm what many of us have been saying for years. Goalkeepers that are higher risk takers are always going to give up more bonehead goals, at least that’s usually how it goes. Their counter argument though is that playing so far off the line allowed them to stop chances from even generating. It’s not all about the saves that you make. 

Someone like Ter Stegen in my opinion is more athletic without necessarily being the risk taker that the previously named keepers. This type of keeper is usually the one that makes acrobatic saves, and wins amazing 1v1s. Then there is the all around solid keeper, with a tendency to play between the sticks. For me that was Casillas, today Jan Oblak and Thibaut Curtois are the examples of this. They are not necessarily the most athletic of the bunch, but they are usually the safest keepers out there. Part of this is the fact that they play it safe. That’s something that ultimately ends up being rewarding. As a young goalkeeper it’s a good idea to try and find a style that matches your physical and technical attributes and embrace that.  

Finding Ways To Adapt Your Game   

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If we’re honest about it there are always elements that you can add to your game to improve it. What I would recommend to younger keepers is to develop a style and try to run with that. Of course, it’s not a bad idea to try and learn from certain keepers. At the end of the day you have to adapt to what works for you. For example, if you’re a shorter keeper you need to have strong legs, and work a lot on your footwork to make sure that you’re taking enough steps to be able to get to those shots that are coming closer to the post. That doesn’t mean though that if you’re tall you can forgo these techniques. Plenty of goalkeepers that rely too much on their size ultimately fall by the wayside because they don’t work enough on the positioning part of the game.

I mentioned on the playing with your feet part that this is something that you need to be competent at. I would even argue that you can have a horrible catching technique, and make it further along in your career than you would if you’re terrible on your feet. Again it’s not about being twitchy and able to fool strikers that are coming in. What you want is a goalkeeper that is smart and is able to get himself out of harm’s way. That is something that coaches appreciate a whole lot. If you simplify things you’ll realize that overall you’re going to concede less goals. That’s what this is all about.    

Modern Goalkeepers Conclusion

The biggest issue that I see is that height is becoming increasingly a determining factor in a keeper’s ability to progress in the pro game. I understand why that’s the case, the reason though why I single this issue out is because that’s the one that you have no control over. From there, all of the aspects of modern goalkeeping are teachable. I don’t think that any of the things that are being done now are so far out of the box that the game is completely different today for goalkeepers than it was a couple of decades ago. Which is arguably weird to think about because we are dealing with a more physical and intense game than ever before. It’s not like if you dropped a good goalkeeper from another era into this one they wouldn’t be able to find a way to adapt.  

One of the reasons why we maybe haven’t seen a major evolution in modern goalkeeping is because the training methods or what you spend the most time on in training hasn’t changed. I would argue there needs to be more time spent on ball security, and there needs to be more time spent on crosses and high balls. Yet, in most cases the bulk of a training program that a professional goalkeeper follows tends to be lacking drills to work on these two key elements. At the same time, there are skills that you can work on on your own time. If you really want to make it big, two hours of training two days a week is not going to cut it.