The rise of the Premier League goalkeeper

Before Tottenham’s last home game against Watford, the first player out on the pitch was Watford goalkeeper and former Spurs shot-stopper Heurelho Gomes.

Gomez received, by in large, a warm welcome from the White Hart Lane faithful and started his warm-up in front of the South Stand, Park Line side, where the away fans sit.

Gradually both teams came out and began their warm-up. Half-way through Watford’s goalkeeper’s warm-up, Gomez wandered over to the East Stand and began to posing for photographs with various Spurs fans who were pitch side.

It was a defiant move, the kind that journalists and commentators would forcefully produce as evidence of his lack of concentration before the game had he performed poorly, yet Gomez produced save after save varying from text-book technique to unorthodox flaps to deny Tottenham.

Eventually Spurs found the back of the net, with 26 shots on target returning one goal.

 

Gomez is but one of many stand-out goalkeepers this season, as the trend emerging over the past few seasons of talented goalkeepers in the Premier League. The general increase in quality is striking when you consider the 2009/2010 season compared to the last two.

An aging David James was at Portsmouth while his competitor was Jamie Ashdown. The club then signed Antti Niemi out of retirement as a back-up keeper and to work with the Goalkeeping coaches, but he left the club after eight months without making an appearance.

At West Ham, Rob Green and Peter Kurucz contested the number one spot, Arsenal had Manuel Almunia, Sunderland Craig Gordon, Stoke had Thomas Sørensen and Steve Simonsen, Manchester United won the title with one of Tomasz Kuszczak or Ben Foster in goal for almost half their games.

The league was peppered with decent goalkeepers at the time, but very few above that. The basic expectations was simply consistency and communication. As clubs focused on clinical finishers or solid centre-halves a top-class goalkeeper was not seen as a priority.

Perhaps this is routed in English development of the game. Jonathon Wilson’s ‘The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper’ describes early English football as a game where goalkeepers didn’t exist.

The usual formation of that period was two defenders and nine forwards. As football progressed it soon became obvious deep defenders had a particular role, formations and roles became more applied.

The first proper goalkeepers were developed in schoolyards as teams secured one goal leads and were determined to keep them (Tony Pulis has never been prouder to be British).

Now, the prism which goalkeepers are seen through has changed. Since 2013, Everton, Spurs, Manchester City, Manchester United, West Ham, Swansea have all changed their goalkeeping coach.

David De Gea previously said new United keeper Coach Frans Hoek is one of the best he’s ever seen, Manuel Pellegrini credited Xabier Mancisidor for Hart’s recent form after Hart was originally dropped by Pellegrini in his first few months.

 

Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Stoke and Southampton all changed goalkeeper and now contain international standard shot stoppers, while much of Leicester’s success has been down to the form of Kasper Schmeichel in goal.

Only Everton, Aston Villa and Liverpool have been analysed for goalkeeper wows this season while much of Norwich’s lack of form has synchronised with John Ruddy’s injury.

The net result of an improved standard of goalkeeper is an improved standard of English goalkeeper. Since David Seaman, English number ones have enjoyed little competition.

The jersey was passed from Seaman to David James to Paul Robinson to Joe Hart. ‘Competition’ came in the form of Ian Walker, Robert Green, Chris Kirkland, Scott Carson and Ben Foster who collectively made a grade total of 23 appearances.

Currently two of the top five clean sheet holders are English goalkeepers, Joe Hart and Jack Butland, while Fraser Forster’s record is equally impressive with six clean sheets from six appearances.

With the increasing standard of goalkeeper, teams can also expect more from them. The obvious example is Manuel Neuer’s sweeping ability with Bayern Munich. Gomez’s opposite number that day was Hugo Lloris, who has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league over the best two seasons.

A former striker, Spurs look to build moves starting with Loris and utilise his footballing ability. David De Gea’s ability to read a game has seen him become a vital organiser for Manchester United’s back four.

As confidence continues to build in goalkeepers, one can only dream of the innovations coming and what will be expected of goalkeepers next. Modern approaches allow Lloris create attacking opportunities, De Gea organise defensive cover and Gomez pose for photographs before a game.

What goalkeepers will be expected to do in the next five years remains to be seen.

The Author

Maurice Brosnan

Freelance journalist, many sports. Master of all trades, jack of none. Podcaster with The 16th Man. Writer for Pundit Arena, contribute to Connacht Tribune.

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