The vital ingredient to keep them at the top of their game?
You’re not going to win anything with kids, apparently, and you’ll get nowhere near a league title without a good goalkeeper. Yet sometimes it’s not always enough to have the very best between the posts, sometimes the necessary competition for outfield players is equally important for those manning the goal.
You need to be somewhat erratic, a little loopy and beaming with confidence to be a successful goalkeeper. You only need to look at Lukasz Fabianski at Arsenal as an example of a player who is reportedly imperious in training but turns to mush when faced with the onrush of a relentless opposition attack. He doesn’t have that same sense of frightening lunacy or simple but effective virtuosity to command a place in a successful team.
With players like Iker Casillas or Gianluigi Buffon, they fall into the category the exemplary goalkeepers who are filled with quality and class. The other options are players like Manuel Neuer or Jens Lehmann, both of whom would build a fort around their penalty area if it meant keeping the opposition at bay. But above all it’s the confidence and quality that each of them have. However, are they necessarily examples of players always needing quality in reserve to keep them at the height of their game?
Most of the best goalkeepers do not need it, with the previous four mentioned being prime examples. Although, the competition between Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn was both a blessing for Germany and a great low-level rivalry between the two. Manuel Neuer has risen through German football to become the undisputed no.1 for the biggest club in the country and his national team, one who are consistently thought of as one of the best. The German reserve ranks are littered with quality who will one day push Neuer for the no.1 spot, but that doesn’t hide that the fact that the former Schalke keeper has been exceptional for almost all his career.
Victor Valdes at Barcelona may be an example who walks the tight rope between both camps, one that he’s an excellent goalkeeper when at the top of his game (let’s not forget how important his is to Barcelona’s game as well), but the other being that he doesn’t have the greatest of opposition in Jose Pinto to wrestle for the no.1 jersey, which sometimes results in poor and costly performances.
The Premier League might be looking at the decline of Pepe Reina, once one of the leading keepers in the country, while Wojciech Szczesny’s unrelenting confidence and cockiness simply can’t compensate for those moments where he drifts off during a game. That and the obvious lack of competition at Arsenal. But both goalkeepers are players who have no competition or have never really experienced a fight from someone else in the squad for a starting spot. Alexander Doni has barely made an appearance for Liverpool, even while Reina was producing poor performances with disappointing regularity last season, and Szczesny was given the starting spot due to the calamitous nature of the other keepers at Arsenal,
Goalkeepers are either going to be in a position where they command their spot and perform to excellent standards regardless of competition, or they’ll be gifted players but with a need for something or someone to elevate them onto the next level.
Iker Casillas has given no evidence during his career that he’ll ever find a bad run of form and be booted off the starting XI for Spain, even with the quality Vicente Del Bosque has at his disposal. But you also never get the feeling that the player needs a greater sense of competition at Real Madrid, either.
Competition for goalkeepers is essential if the player is experiencing a lengthy dip in form or they’re not what you’d consider a player of excellent quality. Thibaut Courtois has been excellent for 18 months for Atletico Madrid and remains a youngster at only 20, and it’s very easy to see that he’ll become one of the elite keepers in the future. For players like Szczesny or Reina where complacency has crept in and set up camp, the extra push a good player can give is essential.
Even with the very best squad of outfield players, any team can come undone without the necessary quality in goal, either through one individual or with the responsibility shared between two.