The position of the goalkeeper in football is one of the most difficult and sensitive roles in any sport. Every time they make a mistake, they are ridiculed, criticized and lambasted. This means that goalkeepers need to have strong psychological skills, and always back themselves to perform. Even when they are full of confidence and everything they touch stays out of the net, that can all change so quickly. If a goalkeeper slips up, it usually results in a goal, and that inherently makes their position so much more difficult than any other.
The evolution of the goalkeeper into a player who does more than just save shots has also taken to new heights in recent years. Goalkeepers like Ederson and Alisson are integral to the build-up of their teams, and their excellent distribution has seen them even assist goals from time to time. Training is no longer just about saving shots, but a holistic understanding of how, when, and where to perform certain actions based on the position and movement of the opponent and the ball. In fact, goalkeepers are sometimes not even considered just goalkeepers anymore, but playmakers. Clubs are focusing more and more on keepers who are good with their feet and making active strides in the transfer market to sign the best of the bunch. Dortmund’s recent signing of Gregor Kobel is not just about the fantastic shot-stopper’s save ability, but also his distribution and ability to complete short passes and play out from the back.
Barcelona’s signing of Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the early 2010s was as much about his ability with his feet as his shot stopping ability, and the same could be said of both Ederson and Claudio Bravo before him in the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City. Manuel Neuer also helped to revolutionize the role of the goalkeeper in the early 2010s with his “sweeper” like approach to coming out of his net and stopping attacks in behind a high-line and a high-press. This was on full display at the World Cup in 2014, and since then the likes of Alisson and Ederson have followed his footsteps to act as sweepers for their clubs. Ederson’s even picked up a few knocks to the head using this approach, as he fully commits himself to every loose ball.
Perhaps Pep Guardiola and his Barcelona team should be most credited with helping to propel the evolution of goalkeepers. But it’s far more complicated than just that. The evolution of goalkeepers is a direct result of the evolution of the game as a whole, from a greater emphasis on playing out from the back to a greater emphasis on pressing from the front. As the game continues to evolve in unique ways, the role of the goalkeeper will continue to evolve with it.