We often hear goalkeepers are a ‘different breed’ which is a polite way of saying they are probably slightly crazy.  

The weekend's Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool showed just how much pressure and scrutiny goalkeepers come under. Loris Karius' double error had a huge impact on Liverpool's 3-1 loss to Real Madrid, and there was nowhere to hide for the 24-year-old. 

With the score goalless, Karius rolled the ball on to the foot of Karim Benzema, allowing the ball to trickle into an empty net. Karius then saw Gareth Bale's speculative 40-yard shot slip through his hands, giving Real Madrid a 3-1 lead and Bale his second goal.

Karius was in tears and almost inconsolable at the end of game, yet he still took the time to go over to the Liverpool fans and apologise. It’s worth remembering that we are all human, we all make mistakes and we all have emotions - goalkeepers and fans alike. It’s also worth noting that Karius did a lot of things right in the game too; most notably the save from Ronaldo’s point blank header. However, there is no doubt that Karius will shoulder most of the blame for Liverpool’s loss. Post-match, Karius summed up his thoughts:

“It’s very hard right now but that’s the life of a goalkeeper. You have to get your head up again. These goals cost us the title, basically.”

So are goalkeepers really a different breed? I recently spoke with Clint Bolton and Glen Moss to find out what it really is that makes goalkeepers tick.

Clint Bolton

According to Andrew Howe's Encyclopedia of Socceroos, Clint played a near record 479 national league games for Brisbane Strikers, Sydney Olympic FC, Parramatta Power, Sydney FC and Melbourne, winning four championships with Brisbane Strikers, Sydney Olympic and Sydney FC. Clint made his senior international debut for Australia against Paraguay in 2000, and played another three times in 'A'-internationals for the Socceroos. 

Glen Moss

Glen has been an established goalkeeper in the A-League since 2007 when he signed for newcomers, Wellington Phoenix. Moss departed Phoenix for Melbourne Victory in 2009 but after only one year he joined another newly created team - the ill-fated Gold Coast United in 2010. After two years in the Sunshine State, Moss went back over the ditch and re-joined Phoenix for five years from 2012-2017. Most recently, Moss re-joined ex Phoenix Head Coach, Ernie Merrick at Newcastle Jets. Moss has 21 caps for New Zealand.

SF: Firstly, do you think goalkeepers are sometimes under-rated? 

CB: Clearly, yes. It is a position that gets overlooked within a club. Often keepers are an after thought or not even thought of at all. Quite often, the coaching departments leave the keepers to do their own thing – it’s the attitude of go and do your own thing and we’ll call you when we need you. And then when you are called upon, make sure you get the job done properly, otherwise you are out of the team. I think we are treated as an after thought in many aspects and I think it’s because most people don’t understand what’s needed in training for goalkeepers; the training, the technique - they don’t understand it, so instead of trying to understand it, they are more than happy to brush it to one side.

GM: Under rated or undervalued?! It’s a tough one as I am the kind of 'keeper that quietly goes about my business. I’ve never been one to be in the spotlight or blow my own trumpet. It would be rich for me to say that goalkeepers are under-rated or undervalued. Quite often, we are over in the corner, working just as hard or if not harder than the outfield players. Often the hard work we do, goes unnoticed because we train in isolation a lot of the time. I guess only a goalkeeper would know how hard we work. Quite often, we are just as fit as the outfield players and we have to have that little bit extra as well.

It’s crazy at the moment, you look at some of the statistics for goalkeepers and guys like Maty Ryan are covering 6km a game. The average is between 5 and 6km which is quite incredible. The GPS tracking systems have just come about in the last season or two and whereas the focus has always been on the outfield players, coaches are now looking at the statistics linked to goalkeepers. If you asked me before the statistics came out, I would have guessed 1 or 2km. 

When you think about the distance a keeper like Maty Ryan will cover, it goes unnoticed on television as the cameras are focussing on the ball. However, when you’re at the ground, you’ll see most keepers are always covering, always sweeping, always being an option when the team has the ball.  

SF: In light of often being that ‘afterthought’ and often training on your own or in small groups, how do you think that impacts on the characteristics of goalkeepers? 

CB: It leads to heightened levels of frustration. You have to accept that there will be periods throughout training or on a game day or periods in between where those moments get to you - but this means the frustration levels go up. You see it on the field when you’re shouting at defenders and such; that’s almost a culmination of all that built-up frustration of how you are treated. It comes out in the moment, when someone else isn’t doing their job. 

Being isolated is fine some of the time, depending on the mood of the camp, the club, the team. If they are down and not in good form, then sometimes it’s good to be away when it’s just you and your coach doing your own thing and the others are getting smashed. However, when things are good and you’re off on your own, everyone else seems to be having a good old time, whilst you are working really hard. It makes you feel very isolated. 

It’s the life of a keeper and you accept it more often than not, but there are times where you feel you are not really integral to the team. You’re treated like you are not an important part of the team. It’s only when you are called upon to produce something of quality on the field or at training, then you are recognised, but more often than not you don’t feel as valued as others. 

GM: Yes. It does. I think everyone always jokes about the ‘keepers union’. You are often isolated in a small group – a few keepers and the goalkeeper coach - you do become quite close and know each other’s personalities quickly. 

I’ve often got frustrated when I’ve read articles or had questions from journalists about being rivals or competitors. My first response and what I’ve always said it that we’re not rivals, we’re team mates. We wear the same colours, the same badge, we’re out there fighting for the same cause. 

Just because there’s only one position available, unlike the field players that can slot into a number of positions, it doesn’t mean we’re rivals. We’re all there working as hard as we can, often helping each other, which often goes unseen day to day in training. 

I’ve been so lucky to work with guys like Clint Bolton. When I was a youngster, he was always the one to take me under his wing and help me. We were never competitors and now I’m fortunate enough to be in the same position with Jack Duncan at the Newcastle Jets. I’m the senior keeper, even though Jack is the number one. There’s some really interesting dynamics there. You work really closely and help each other and push each other. I think it’s something that does help build character when you do have a small unit inside of a team.     

SF:  So often, it’s the strikers who steal the headlines and very rarely do keepers receive credit for keeping a clean sheet which often contributes to a win too. More often, keepers are blamed for conceding goals – their blunders are highlighted and shown on television with commentary such as ‘he should have saved that.’ How does this added scrutiny and pressure affect the mental toughness of goalkeepers? 

CB:  Exactly. And that’s what leads to levels of frustration. As a keeper, you’re expected to be perfect and often you might have players all around you making mistakes and simple errors all the time which leads to mounting pressure on you to keep the ball out of the back of the net, so that can sometimes come out as anger and frustration; shouting at your defenders – that’s another reason why you see that reaction from keepers. 

It’s because you are trained and conditioned to not make mistakes, because you understand that when you do, it costs your team goals and goals are precious. It’s a fine line for a keeper because you cop too many goals and you could be out of the team.  The mental pressure is high and it’s unlike any other position on the field. 

GM: Yes definitely. I think it builds mental toughness. Those of us that have been keepers from a young age. Especially growing up when you are 9, 10, 11 years old and the ball went in, everyone just stood there at pointed the finger at you. I still see it now when I watch junior football.  

Now when you become a professional, the tables turn and the goalkeeper is the one pointing the finger at the players at the front and criticising them. We finally get a little bit of revenge! 

But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because of the mental strength I’ve developed. It doesn’t just help you in football, it helps you in life. When difficult situations come up with the family or financially, most keepers have the mental strength that then helps you handle these situations. Being a goalkeeper from a young age has turned me into the person I am today.

You know how to battle through it, keep a positive mindset whether it’s on the field or off the field. Whereas you look at some players, for example a striker that’s on a bit of a dry run and they get some heat from the media about not scoring, sometimes I question, how are they handling it? Do they deal with it as well as a goalkeeper that is used to being under that kind of scrutiny week in week out? 

Importantly, I never measure my performance on just goals conceded or the result of the game. I’ve played plenty of games where you’ve been man of the match, but still conceded four goals. It’s an absolutely crazy position to play. 

I think another characteristic playing keeper has taught me is to be honest with yourself, whether you’ve conceded four and still got man of the match or you’ve won 2-0, but you’ve had a shocker and you’ve dropped balls left, right and centre and only luck has stopped them going in. It’s taught me accountability and honesty with myself. Often, I put the score aside and I can still gauge whether I’ve had a good game or not. 

SF: As a goalkeeper, you see the game from a different perspective from every other player on the pitch as you are in one area for the entire game.  It’s also imperative that you have great communication skills. I’ve often thought for that reason, goalkeepers would be able to add some value in the post-match analysis. Are your views as a goalkeeper often utilised to help the performance of the entire team?  

CB. You’re right. I think goalkeeper’s knowledge is underutilised. Rarely, have I been asked my opinion. It’s only through experience and being a leader of the team and later on in my career that I was asked a little bit more. But that’s more so because I was an older player, not because I was a goalkeeper. The real underutilised area is goalkeeper coaches. 

As goalkeepers, we see the game from a perspective different to anyone else. We then have to communicate quickly in games to rectify situations, so that’s a skill in itself.  You are always making quick decisions on the fly and often that knowledge could add so much value to a team meeting to coaches to offer a different perspective on team tactics and such. From my experience, goal keeper coaches are definitely underutilised – sometimes goalkeeper coaches are not invited to the team meetings – you are just left to go out and do your goal keeping training. 

GM: Firstly, you’re absolutely right. It is a fantastic view point to have, back there. Whether your side is winning or losing, you do quite often pick things up – issues or things that are working well quite quickly and it is something that coaching staff are starting to tap into. Most games when I’m walking off at half time, the goalkeeping coach will come up and have a chat – how’s it looking, what are your feelings? Have you spotted any issues? And then it goes through the chain of command – from the goalkeeping coach up to the assistant, to the Head Coach. 

The role of the goal keeping coach is so important - they don’t just look after the keepers by kicking a few balls at them. They’ve got to work on defending set pieces, defending as a whole unit, defending as a back four, how high the line is, attacking threats of the opposition, video analysis and so on. It’s such an important role and one I’ve started to look into the role myself and help out here with the youth keepers at Jets and it’s something I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The role has just grown so much. 

I’ve had a 15-year career and it used to be just kicking a few volleys at the keeper as a warm up and running out there and trying to do my best, but the role has evolved so much now with the way you have to play and how fit you have to be. Also, how mentally strong you have to be and the ability to communicate and coach is just another valuable asset to a goalkeeper. 

SF: When I grew up playing football, going in goal was often seen as a punishment. No-one wanted to go in goal. Everyone wanted to be on the field running around, getting involved in tackles, creating chances and scoring goals. Consequently, goalkeepers have sometimes ended up there by chance as they weren’t seen as good enough to be an outfield player. In these situations, does this add to frustration levels and the need for mental toughness?

CB: I was a striker to begin with before I became a goalkeeper. 

I was an ‘accidental’ goalkeeper. And not because I was poor on the field, but because no-one else wanted to go in goal, so someone had to go in. We started taking turns and I just happened to be really good at it, so I just got stuck there. You’re stuck in this box, but really, I just wanted to get out and get amongst it. And another thing goalkeepers miss in football is the physical side of the game. You don’t have a one-on-one battle like a striker and defender have or that physical contact where you are trying to out muscle someone. Sometimes there were games where you play ninety minutes and if your team is much better than the opposition, you are just standing watching the game and you might only get half a dozen touches in the game. 

GM: Pretty much – that was the case with me. I actually remember the moment. It was the first under 12 representative side on the Gold Coast where I played my junior football. I trialled for the representative team as an outfield player, but wasn’t good enough to get in. They knew that I had been mucking around in goal at training and backed up for the goalkeeper a couple of times. They said ‘look we can’t select you as a player, but we need a second keeper, so if you want to come to the national tournament, we’d love to have you, but we have enough outfield players, so you can only come as our second keeper.'

I went home in a bit of a sulk. I told mum the story and first off, I didn’t want to go and be a second keeper. I didn’t really want to go away and be ‘back up’ goalkeeper as I wanted to be out there running around with the boys, but mum ended up convincing me to go and said, ‘look just go away with your mates, have some fun’. I ended up playing four out the five games as the starting keeper on the tournament and I got identified from then on, so if I hadn’t taken mum’s advice, I might not be where I am today. 

SF: So with all this in mind, do you really have to be crazy to be a keeper?  

CB: I always say, you don’t go into the job crazy, but you come out of it a bit nuts, because of all the stuff we just talked about it; the isolating factor does get to you eventually, so you are likely to come out of it a bit ‘different’. 

GM: Definitely not crazy. Definitely brave - physically and mentally. Your moments away from ending up on YouTube with 100 million hits for a mistake that you’ve made. You really have to be such a strong character. 

SF: Do you think you can you train someone that doesn’t necessarily have the personality traits of a good keeper to become an excellent keeper or must the traits such as bravery, maturity, excellent communication and mental toughness, be there to begin with? 

CB: I think it’s very rare that as a keeper you don’t have those characteristics already. I don’t think they are things that can be learnt. It’s very rare that you develop them. You come into the job with a courageous attitude. You often have those characteristics already because of the way you have been brought up. It’s very hard to train those characteristics into someone.  

GM:   I’m thinking about all the goalkeepers I’ve worked with and they are all good people. They are really good guys and I think it’s down to the position and the mental challenges we have all faced since we were 12 or 13 years old. I’ve just been on a coaching course in Canberra for a week with some three or four other A-League keepers and these are some of the best people I have met in football. Not saying that I’m not mates with outfield players too – I’ve got really good mates that are outfield players too.

But there’s something about goalkeepers. They have a humility about them, they understand challenges in life, that people might be going through. They’re just really good people. I am yet to meet a goalkeeper that isn’t a caring person first of all and a good goalkeeper second of all. 

I am really proud of the way I have turned out and a lot of it is down to being a goalkeeper for the last 15-20 years. 

All goalkeepers need to have an ego as without ego you don’t have ay confidence, but the way the majority of goalkeepers keep that under control and control their emotions, keep their ego in check – it’s hard to sum up, but I guess goalkeepers really are special.”

Categories: People | Football Life

clint bolton, glen moss, loris karius, goalkeepers, #keepersunion

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