Which Goalkeeper is Better: Today’s or Yesteryear’s?


Author’s Note: This article discusses professional goalkeepers. Non-professional goalkeepers are exempt.

Because today’s goalkeepers are so tall and so athletic, I believe it is much harder to score goals today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. In fact, sometimes I wonder how any goals are scored because goalkeepers make regulation-sized goals look like youth goals. Yet despite all the physical gains, tactical advancements, and acrobatic dives, I don’t believe today’s goalkeepers are held to the same standards as their predecessors. Which begs the question … which generation of goalkeepers is better—today’s or yesteryear’s?

For me, it all comes down to expectations and accountability. Back in my playing days, goalkeepers were expected to hold onto all shots. Rebounds, of any sort, were unacceptable unless the ball was being tipped over the crossbar.

Today, that philosophy has changed and I think for the better. Since today’s shots are stronger and more unpredictable (I’ve never seen so many knuckleballs), it is harder to make a save and hold on to the ball. Therefore, it makes sense to have goalkeepers deflect shots for a corner rather than trying to corral them and possibly give up a rebound. Plus, many times a fingertip is all a goalkeeper is able to get on the ball making a deflection the only option.

Yet too often, I see today’s goalkeepers letting rebounds deflect back into the center of the field or deflect shots that appear easily catchable. Besides being unacceptable, rarely do I see or hear goalkeepers being held accountable for poor saves.

Saves should never deflect back into the center of the field. The diagram below shows acceptable deflections (green) and unacceptable deflections (red). Granted, there are times when goalkeepers have to make reaction saves. In these cases, who cares where the ball ends up as long as it is not in the back of the net? But for longer-distance shots that can be judged, they should be just as easy, if not easier, to deflect sideways.

To counter high-velocity shots, I see many goalkeepers catch-and-drop the ball in front of them rather than try to catch it outright or deflect it away. This is a wonderful solution to the velocity problem. The ‘catch-dropping’ method prevents a goalkeeper from having to absorb the full impact of a shot. Since an attacker is rarely close enough to a goalkeeper, if the ball drops close to the goalkeeper’s feet, this method should preclude a goalkeeper from having to deflect shots kicked directly at him/her.

I am no goalkeeper (I only recall playing in goal once in a JV game) and don’t claim to be one. And God Bless those players who want to play ‘keeper. You are a rare and special breed. But I think today’s professional goalkeepers are permitted to get away with poor and unnecessary deflections which is setting a bad example for youth goalkeepers. Therefore, while they are athletically superior to their predecessors, today’s goalkeepers don’t appear to be as technically sound.

What do you think?

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3 Responses to “Which Goalkeeper is Better: Today’s or Yesteryear’s?”

  1. Gerry Says:

    I agree the modern goalkeeper is a better all around player, however, handling can always improve. One reason for the success of the so-called flat 4 which replaced the stopper-sweeper was the back pass rule. Goalkeepers had to become the 11th field player and many countries, particularly the Dutch and Italians, began to focus heavily on the GK’s foot skills. As that became commonplace, the goalkeeper has become a far better all-around athlete with a greater understanding of the tactical game. They aren’t relegated to standing at the back of the field watching the game.

    Handling has gotten tougher as a result of bigger, stronger players unleashing absolute rockets which are made possible by the new thermally-bonded, seamless balls. The design of the modern ball gives them unpredictable flight characteristics, they knuckle, move and swerve erractically which can make them harder to hold. As a goalkeeper coach, we’re spending almost as much time working on boxing or parrying as we are on shot stopping. One area which results in so many rebounds is “over-diving”. The flying save is sexy, it looks great on TV, and people get the impression you’re a great goalkeeper if you are that dynamic and acrobatic, but it overlooks a key point. A good goalkeeper rarely dives, they don’t rely on pure athleticism to be successful. Top GKs are keenly aware of the tactical picture and the more effectively they read the game, they will be better positioned to stop most shots without diving. As a result more shots are held and less rebounds are left in the red zone.

    I think 2 of the biggest priorities for coaches and goalkeeper coaches are constantly training footskills and getting goalkeepers to dive only when they have by teaching them to read the game and improve their positioning. It will help develop the modern goalkeeper into an even better player and a bigger asset for the team.

    • Alex Kos Says:

      Great points, especially the piece about over-diving and making dives sexy when they truly are not necessary. Can you answer me 2 questions: Isn’t it easier to parry the ball to the sides than back up the middle? To me it seems like that should happen, regardless of the shot. But too many bounce back to the middle. How hard is it to learn the catch-n-drop method? Since the ball is moving (knuckling) so much, boxing and parrying is just as difficult to learn, I would think and would be more dangerous.

  2. C.Kiernan Says:

    Hi Im a Goal Keeper and 16, one thing i can say ive for sure noticed from own experience and articles about it, is that there is not at all enough qualified pure goalkeeping coaches, by that i mean back in the day, parrying was not allowed so to speak, the catching/handling ability for goalkeepers was a must. What I have learnt from my warm up/training sessions that i have took part in or watched, is that Goal Keepers are told to dive all over the place and they are taught just to simply get rid of the ball rather than catch it. This causes the ball to end up ‘free’ in the field, and also contributes to harsh injuries (I myself have experienced!)
    I think its just a fact of the teachings and priorities in training methods for Goal Keepers have changed drastically. Along with the obvious change in out field players, ball used etc, the game has changed so much itself.

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