“The next game is always the most important,” is a famous phrase in soccer. It’s unknown who said it first, but almost every manager in the game has said it since. What this saying means is that teams should always prioritise winning their next game over anything else, training tactically to ensure that they outsmart their next opponent on the day.
Although, while training sessions for outfield players are often tailored to counteract oppositions and exploit their weaknesses, goalkeepers are often given the same job each week. However, goalkeeper coach Xavi Valero believes that that needs to chance and is focused on doing just that.
“Goalkeepers have always trained in specific ways, differentiated from the rest of the team,” Valero explained. “It seems like a long time ago when we could see the manager or his assistant dedicating just half an hour extra to the goalkeepers after training whilst the rest of the players stretched on the pitch. Yet the truth is that this has been quite common until recently.”
The Spanish coach’s ideologies have developed over the course of his long career in the sport. He started out playing for a number of lower league Spanish clubs, but he really excelled upon moving into coaching.
His big break came in 2007 when he was hired by revered manager Rafa Benitez to work with Pepe Reina at Liverpool, before following the coach to Inter Milan, Napoli, Chelsea and Real Madrid. Opting not to follow Benitez to Championship club Newcastle, Valero continues to work with Keylor Navas at the Spanish club.
Anybody that has worked with the Spaniard will tell you that he is brilliant at what he does. Yet, his coaching sessions are difficult to evaluate, considering how frequently he mixes things up.
The ‘next game’ mantra is at the forefront of his thinking and his sessions are tailored with that in mind – he isn’t interested in developing overall technique or skill, but teaching the goalkeepers in his charge to deal with situations that are likely to arise in the next game, based on not just the opposition, but their own squad’s style of play.
“The way a team develops its ideas about the game directly affects the role of the goalkeeper within the team. This circumstance can take us to a situation in which we prioritise the real demands of the game in our training sessions,” Valero revealed.
According to Valero, if a manager likes his team to play out from the back, goalkeepers should work on their distribution and footwork skills, for example. Or if their next opponent are a speedy, counter-attacking side that are likely to break through the defence, keepers should practice 1-v-1 situations.
Valero’s ways have unsurprisingly earned him praise in the world of soccer as one of the best goalkeeper coaches around. However, his support hasn’t only helped the likes of Reina and Navas to take their game to the next level.
Valero takes it upon himself to go above and beyond his duties as a goalkeeper coach. Ahead of each match, he also takes a look at the opposition’s goalkeeper, studying their abilities, preferred moves and vulnerabilities, before passing this information onto the outfield players. As a result, his influence stretches far beyond the goalkeepers in his squad, with the likes of former Liverpool star Fernando Torres listing him among his best teachers.
“Xavi Valero tells me precisely what each keeper tends to do – stay big, go down early, if they have a preferred side they try to push you to. It’s vital information,” Torres stated during his time at Liverpool. “Nobody has ever worked with me like this before. It’s outstanding.”
Valero may not stick to the rules, but his innovative approach to goalkeeper training is proving to be a huge success in the world of soccer – helping not just his goalkeepers, but his club as a whole.