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How Would You Fare?

Written By Justin on Friday, December 16, 2011 | 6:43:00 PM

Which goalkeeper hasn't imagined it?

The team you support offers you a trial. You impress in training, but of course there's no seeing past the first team goalkeeper, be he Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes, Manuel Neuer, or, er, Leandro Chichizola (look, I'm a River Plate fan, okay?).

Now, let's imagine that on the morning of the derby, a very complicated series of events leads to the first team, reserve, and even youth goalkeepers being unavailable. Calls are made, special clearance is granted, and next thing you know, you're being kitted out to play. In an actual league game.

How is that going to go for you? Well, there's the dream, and there's the reality.

In the dream, we make save after save, pluck crosses from the air, maybe even set up a goal on the counter with a stylish side volley. It's still football, right? At whatever level, it's still a ball and a goal and twenty-two players. There are, perhaps, one or two complications.

The first, for me, is the speed of play. Goalkeeping is generally a reactive position; we watch the play develop and unfold before us, and react when we're brought into it. a keeper new to the top flight might find it all happening a bit fast. Oh sure, we watch games on TV and sometimes find them drab, staid affairs. But stand in goal in that same game, and chances are you'll find all the runs, the passing, the combination play, especially near your goal, happening at an astounding rate. The problems this might cause are many, but mostly positional. Balls over the top would be especially challenging. Not only is there a good chance you may struggle to anticipate the pass in the first place, but you'll also be dealing with faster players chasing after it. struggle at all with the first one and you can expect many, many more.

Next is the physical element. How will you cope at the first corner or set piece when you're crowded out by the likes of George Elokobi or Micah Richards? you don't have to be as big and strong as they are, but you'd better be strong enough to bounce back up if one of them runs you over.

Just push him out of the way.


Even if you aren't the biggest or strongest, surely your shot-stopping ability will keep the day from being a total catastrophe? It may well. But professional players strike a ball very differently to the rest of the world. They hit it with pace, with spin, with swerve. Footballs are lighter than ever and when pros put their foot through it, scary things can happen. If you aren't used to a steady diet of shots swerving viciously towards you, you again will be in for a long ninety minutes. Look what this shot does to Jussi Jaaskeleinen - and he's played over 400 games at this level.



Despite all these challenges, there is one thing you're going to have on your side: adrenalin. Adrenalin like you've never felt before, at least not on a football pitch. However strong you are, however quick your reflexes and explosive your leap, you're going to be a little bit stronger, quicker, and more explosive on the day. Your parasympathetic nervous system will go into overdrive, flooding your limbs with adrenalin. Assuming your defense plays out of their skin, you just may survive it. Probably not, but maybe.

But probably not.

8 comments:

Newley said...

Great post. I love it. One thing that would also seem daunting would be the kicking -- specifically back passes under pressure. Imagine a speedy EPL striker bearing down on you as you try to play a long ball out first-time. Yes, the pitches are smooth and the ball is high-quality. But the pressure from the strikers would be nerve-wracking, I imagine!

Justin said...

Good point newley, I should have included it. And thanks for the idea!

JOHN said...

Well, I certainly know what you´re talking about. When I was 15 and started playing fairly well at school level, the next step was obviously trying out for the academy of my local team (and I´m talking about a 4th division team, albeit in a football mad country as Argentina). I got in ahead of 2 other goalies, but when the practices started, 4 or 5 goals against per practice was fairly common for me. Today I play in an amateur league, but I always remember that, as good as I may think I am (well, I gotta have some confidence, don´t you think?) it´s always a matter of knowing where it is that I´m playing. Still, what I wouldn´t give for just one match at the goal of a Premier League team...

Justin said...

Good points, John. I think we all certainly should have confidence and be proud of our ability at whatever level we play at. There would be no shame in not necessarily surviving a Premier League game.

Momchil said...

Oh lord, how would I fare. Well, I'm 16, so I'm not dreaming about playing on the top level, yet but something similar happened to me and I'd just like to share what happened. A couple'a months ago, the city I live in (Sofia) hosted a high school football tournament. Some 60 schools participated, it was quite representative - a brand new pitch, quality balls, free gloves, BIG crowds. Something I can't get used to. Usually it's just the odd schoolmate watching the game on the sideline, but this time there were probably some 4-5 thousand people, something completely beyond me.
Well, somehow my team managed to reach the semi-finals. Amazing, really! I was the substitute keeper - I had played in two matches, both qualifications, nothing special. But when the day of the semi-final rolled in, our first goalie was spiking a 39C fever. Flash forward 2 hours later and I'm standing between the posts, waiting for the kickoff. Crap, crap, crap. An attack is forming up on the right, and the side-back is chasing butterflies by the corner. A shot in the top left corner, a brilliant dive and the ball is out. Not bad, I say almost out loud. Corner kick. A high cross, falling right in front of me. I jump along with everybody, fist the ball to the side and retreat to the goal. Someone tries a long shot which soars some 15m away from goal. I place the ball for the goal kick and... That's all I remember really. I know it's a bit anticlimatic, but it turns out I got a HARD elbow to the head when I jumped for the cross. Didn't feel it. Adrenaline is a powerful drug they say. Oh well. That's my experience, hopefully it wasn't too sporadic to read. We did win the game, 2:1, with a defender substituting me.

Josh Turner said...

Man, I remember playing a pickup game on the fields at UCLA, and there was some guy out there who was in some pro system, although I never knew the details. I was playing adult, good level rec league at the time, and was consistently considered one of the best keepers in our league. But I remember seeing the difference that day. I was what seemed like hours behind every shot the guy took. It was like a different ball, different physics, different sport. Lesson learned.

Justin said...

Two excellent stories! Thanks Josh and Momchil.

Geoff Snapes said...

Superb post - really interesting and enjoyable read.
Going slightly off point, Konkura and Goalkeepingskills have launched a new series of challenges aimed at goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaches. If you want to take the free challenges or get involved go to http://www.konkura.com/challenges/channel.aspx?channel=goalkeepingskills

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