In part one of a four-part ‘mini-series’, Connor examines the role of the modern day goalkeeper and how it fits into Daniel Farke’s brave new world.
It’s fair to say the days of the traditional goalkeeper are over.
Gone are the days of the worst technical players on a school field being shoved in between makeshift ‘jumpers for goalposts’. Now, a completely unique breed of goalkeepers is being manufactured in footballing factories across the globe.
One can only wonder with curiosity what regressive and traditional managers like Tony Pulis would make of it all.
Now, goalkeepers are being extracted from the embers of central midfield as managers like Pep Guardiola look to revolutionise the game. Norwich’s loanee Angus Gunn began his career as a central midfielder before being tried and tested in between the sticks.
The rise of the technical, ball-playing goalkeeper
In the enriched football cultures found in Spain, Germany, Portugal and Italy the goalkeeper has been steadily increasing his influence when his team are on the ball. Conventionally, a goalkeeper’s prime duty is prevention of the ball into his goal yet under Daniel Farke, the number one at Norwich will be evidently different.
Development of goalkeepers and footballers in general is so successful in these aforementioned countries due to the technical and tactical education they are given. Ederson, the £35m goalkeeper who has just completed a move to Manchester City, trained with Benfica’s outfield players in technical drills. And Daniel Farke is a coach who expects his goalkeepers being technically savvy.
You only have to conduct a small google into the history of how Farke wants his goalkeeper to play. Despite his flirtation with the senior team last campaign, Hendrik Bonmann was Farke’s ‘keeper of choice. In his 4-1-4-1, Bonmann was required as an integral member of the shaping of the team in respect of ball retention.
Bonmann was seen as the prime catalyst of the offensive sequence. The first trigger point of offence.
He offered angles for Christoph Zimmermann and his partner in crime, Patrick Mainka. And this is something Farke will seek to rapidly emulate as he lays down his foundations in NR1. These foundations allowed Borussia Dortmund II to be defensively solid, as the defenders are more proactive and mentally switched on.
The shaping of the squad becomes reliant on the defensive midfielder filling the gap as the centre backs split to receive the ball at a better, wider and more risk free angle than receiving centrally and, of course, the goalkeeper’s distribution has a major part to play in that process.
On and off the ball, the goalkeeper will be radically different
As Norwich slowly morph into a side which has German values running through it, the emphasis on the goalkeeper with and without the ball changes.
It’s all about the eleventh man theory. The majority of football clubs will want a resolute and physical goalkeeper who demands his penalty area and can pump the ball to a target man (you only have to travel to the neighbouring county of Suffolk to witness this) but a minority of football teams are looking increasingly at outnumbering the opposition with the ever growing rise of the sweeper keeper.
The sweeper keeper has an evidently greater impact on the possession side to the game, and the famous examples of ‘keepers in this mould can be found to have a German heritage; see Manuel Neuer and Marc Ter Stergen. But how can a goalkeeper be used in as a more expressive and offensive player than act simply as the last line of defence?
“In my teams, the goal keeper is the first attacker and the centre forward is the first defender”. This quote by Johann Cruyff describes perfectly the impact of a sweeper keeper; they are the first player to start an offensive phase and the last to prevent a goal scoring opportunity. 80 per cent of a football match is the transitional and possessional play, the attempted penetration of defensive zones and this more technical role could be pivotal to Norwich’s success in maximising this period of play.
Fundamentally, this phase of play is the spine of the game. Attacking and defending moves are created on the basis of how successful your ball retention is. Simply, if you are in possession of the ball, then you cannot concede.
When the opposition deploy a higher press to win the ball back, the impact of a sweeper keeper is undeniable. The role of the sweeper keeper in this scenario is to outnumber the attacking players within the press and pass your way out of trouble. This initial overload is crucial for the progression of the pattern of play.
Among other qualities, a sweeper keeper must have awareness, positional intelligence, speed, and good technical abilities, He must be able to read the game almost like an outfield player and intercept balls before opposition forwards can latch on to them. It’s safe to say Gunn has these qualities in his genes from his father who was seemingly ahead of the time in terms of elements of his playing style.
Angus will need to be switched on. Technically his quality is undeniable and if Guardiola, a man who has reinvented the position of goalkeeper, rates him, then who are we to argue?
I dispute the risk element attached to sweeper keepers, because football is an ultimately risky game where stakes are high and mistakes likely. It’s about confidence but also the acceptance that Gunn will occasionally give the ball away yet positionally will hold a pivotal position in City’s structure moving forward.
To conclude, the sweeper keeper is a tactic installed by teams who require total control. Like any tactic it is completely neutral and is dependent on personnel, coach and team. The risk element and the inability to execute the role successfully could lead to Norwich’s demise, but get this to work like a well-oiled piece of machinery and it could stand them in good stead come the rising of the Championship curtain.
Part two, which examines defenders and ball playing centre-backs, will be up early next week.