As an amateur goalkeeper, it’s always frustrating when people don’t appreciate just how hard the role really is.
It’s completely different to playing outfield; you can’t make a sloppy pass to the other team, quietly retreat into your shell or take a poor first touch, as any of these will almost always lead to a goal.
Us goalkeepers are mentally rather than the physically exhausted after a game. It’s 90 minutes of pure focus, with no chance to switch off because a team can break in three seconds and be bearing down on you on the counter.
As a result, I always find it difficult when the usual gang of pundits on whichever channel is broadcasting a televised game begin to criticise the goalkeepers because, usually, none of them were ever one.
The BBC’s usual suspects, or Sky’s Soccer Saturday squad all feature outfield players of questionable qualities in their own positions, let alone in goal.
Future in punditry
Therefore, it was a breath of fresh air when Petr Cech made his punditry debut on the BBC as Leicester City played Chelsea in the quarter-final of the FA Cup.
The Arsenal goalkeeper, 35, stepped up from the pitch to the studio to essentially put his foot in the door for a future in punditry before hanging up is gloves in the next 12 or so months.
Despite not having to be called upon for the highest quality of insight, there was a flash of what having a ‘keeper does to the rest of the panel, especially when reviewing someone between the sticks.
Leicester’s equaliser came from their fourth attempt in two seconds. Two blocks from defenders followed by Willy Caballero’s parried save fell into the path of Jamie Vardy, whose attempt crept through the hands of the Chelsea ‘keeper to draw the Foxes level.
As soon as the goal went in, Danny Murphy, co-commentating alongside Guy Mowbray on the night, was quick to suggest Caballero’s “disappointment” in himself, as the ball he initially saved bounced back into the path of Vardy via his knee.
In the post-match analysis, however, Cech was quick to defend the actions of the goalkeeper, putting the blame simply on bad luck rather than an error that cost the team a goal.
The Czech pointed out the bodies in front of the ‘keeper during the three strikes prior to the goal and also the time he has to even get to the ball in the first place, which has to be commended.
‘Bullard’s inability to make the ball stick to his hands or move his body quickly across the ground cruelly exposed an outfield player’s ineptitude in the position’
Outfield players-turned-pundits harshly criticising goalkeepers is however nothing new.
In the Daily Mail, Mark Schwarzer, ex-goalie for Chelsea, Fulham and Middlesbrough, believes that pundits will not argue about the qualities of a ‘keeper like they would an outfield player, and would rather just leave an opinion on the table and everyone jumps on the bandwagon.
“Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet has been this season’s whipping boy,” says the Australian. “He has made mistakes just as I did numerous times during my 22-year career. But a lot of the time he is unfairly criticised.
“A lot of pundits want a response and the publicity. It is ironic that if a goalkeeper does not attempt to reach a shot, he is almost let off. The view will be: ‘He had no chance’. Yet if he does well to get a decent hand on it, they will say he should have saved it! That cannot be right and underlines a lack of expertise on the position.”
What underlines their lack of knowledge on the position even more is what happens when we see an outfield player actually pull on the gloves.
Soccer AM’s weekly segment You Know The Drill, featuring Jimmy Bullard, sends the midfielder up and down the country to take on teams in drills and challenges devised by a team’s coaches.
Two seasons ago, Burnley boss Sean Dyche decided to mix up the challenge by putting Bullard alongside Tom Heaton to go through some goalkeeping drills rather than the usual turn-and-score circuits that are staged.
As a result, Bullard’s inability to make the ball stick to his hands or move his body quickly across the ground cruelly exposed an outfield player’s ineptitude in the position.
To top it off, the drills didn’t include anything to do with organisation or decision-making, the two things that make a truly great goalkeeper stand out from the rest.
Bullard even admits in the video: “It’s so much harder than it looks.”
This is why introducing more former goalkeepers as pundits will redress the balance when it comes to criticism.
If the berating were to continue, it could have the long-term effect of dissuading younger generations to become goalkeepers in the future.