Tottenham’s Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes’ nervy performance against AC Milan last Wednesday has again set alarm bells ringing among much of the club’s faithful support once more. It’s difficult to question the undoubted improvements the ‘keeper has made to his game over the last year or so, but despite this improvement, will it be enough to ensure his prolonged stay between the sticks?
Gomes appears to be a goalkeeper capable of producing the sublime and the ridiculous only minutes apart. He’s as error-prone as they come in the Premier League, yet he’s a key player for Spurs and they miss his presence when he’s not in the side. Quite the contradiction.
It’s clear that good goalkeepers don’t grow on trees, sometimes you have to persevere with one until they’ve developed, matured and combined their promise with their performance. A goalkeeper’s peak years are thought to be between the ages of 32-36; and such is the nature and importance of a goalkeeper’s decision-making to the position, it is thought that as a goalkeeper matures, so will his decision-making.
It’s safe to say that Gomes at the age of 30 hasn’t quite reached this point or his peak just yet. He’s both eccentric and inconsistent. His main strengths lie in his reflexes and his ability to make himself big (not a tough ask I’ll grant you) in one on one situations.
However, he can look particularly suspect when asked to rely on his decision-making ability as opposed to his instincts. He looks extremely susceptible to high balls into the box and his handling ability and communication skills can often be called into question.
It’s rare for a goalkeeper to have such big flaws yet still be capable of producing such outstanding performances while being integral to their own side. Being a goalkeeper is a tough ask in the modern day game, and with footballs being made lighter than ever before, it’s worth mentioning that this is not a game designed for goalkeeping excellence anymore – the movement that modern day balls have through the air must mean that it becomes difficult for ‘keepers to do anything with any real conviction nowadays.
I do retain a degree of sympathy for the goalkeeping fraternity. It’s a position where one’s errors are magnified tenfold in comparison to their saves. The do-or-die nature of the position means that they are often castigated for a player’s errors further up the pitch, yet despite all of this, Gomes does stick out as being particularly prone to errors of the game-changing variety.
There is no question that Gomes has his plus points though. He is a dominant and at times overwhelming physical presence. He is capable of keeping Spurs in a game almost single-handedly at times and due to his sheer size, he can reach things most other goalkeepers can only dream about.
It’s also worth attaching some perspective to this too and a frame of reference – Gomes is not the first goalkeeper, nor will he be the last either to make high-profile errors. Pepe Reina, the best ‘keeper in the league to my knowledge, regularly delves into the depths of a Nick Hancock blooper reel and finds something to top even the most horrific of mistakes on those terrible compilation clips. The song ‘Reina drops keep fallin’ on my head’ will live long in the memory for most Everton fans.
The most important thing with a goalkeeper prone to the odd gaffe though, is that that they go onto atone for these errors with games where they become almost impossible to breach – Reina most certainly does this for Liverpool.
There is a school of thought that subscribes to the view that as long as a goalkeeper’s gaffes aren’t as regular as their match-winning performances, then they balance themselves out. The only time when this becomes an apparent problem is when the defence begins to lose trust in the man between the sticks and the lines of communication break down more often than not.
Petr Cech treads the line very carefully at Chelsea yet retains an influence that’s hard to match over his team mates and his presence is much-needed – I think that it’s safe to say the same for Gomes at White Hart Lane. Most Spurs fans accept that humiliating errors are just par for the course with Gomes now. He will make them in the future, in the most unfathomably awful ways imaginable I‘m sure, however the next minute he’ll make a game-defining save, and with that you get the balancing act of picking and sticking with a number one.
A microcosm of Gomes’ Spurs career came this December in the away league game at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, where the Brazilian turned from villain to hero in a matter of moments. After letting a rasping drive all too easily pass him for Didier Drogba’s equaliser, Gomes then proceeded to give away a penalty, only to then save Drogba’s resulting injury time spot-kick and earn himself a shot at redemption and with it, Spurs a point in the process.
He is most certainly mad, sometimes bad, but often brilliant. Gomes retains the club’s number one jersey for now, but such indecisiveness will not serve Spurs well going forward as they hope to capitalise on a potentially bright period in their recent history with some silverware – something that I’m sure the player and his manager are acutely aware of.
Whether they place their trust in a player capable of destroying months of work in a moment of madness remains to be seen. With other areas of the team in more urgent need of strengthening if Spurs are to make this season’s Champions League appearance a regular occurrence as opposed to a brief soirée, Gomes is likely to retain his place in the starting eleven for the foreseeable future, at least going into next season.