Joe Hart’s Manchester City fallout was the talk of the transfer window ahead of the 2016/17 Premier League campaign, as new manager Pep Guardiola declared that his ball-playing abilities were below the level that he needed from his first-choice goalkeeper. One quick-fire move to Italy later, and Hart is now proving that he is still a top shot-stopper with Serie A club Torino.
While Guardiola’s issue seems to be specifically with Hart’s ability with the ball at his feet, I’m willing to bet that Hart isn’t quite as bad as Pep made him out to be. In fact, he’s probably not half bad, considering he started his journey into football as an outfield player.
Hart isn’t alone in that regard. There are a host of top professional goalkeepers that started out playing soccer in different positions – the likes of Mexico legend Jorge Campos, Napoli shot-stopper Pepe Reina and United States icon Brad Friedel, to name a few.
So, if they desired to be the next attacking star when they were youngsters, what made them change their minds later on?
Part of the reason why so many youngsters with the ability to become goalkeepers avoid the position is due to the fact that young children often perceive the goalkeeper position as the least fun, involved or skilled. Youngsters want to be in the midst of the game, where the ball is, and goalkeepers are, for large parts of the game, a world away from the action.
“Who do parents put in goal?” Hope Solo is said to have balked upon hearing that she would be used as a goalkeeper during his college years. “The fat kid. The kid who can’t run.”
And yet, despite her attempts to avoid it, she would go on to be one of the best goalkeepers in the history of women’s football. However, she is still thankful that she spent her childhood playing in a more advanced role, as it helped her to learn in a way that many goalkeepers fail to, and quality footwork is often the difference between a good goalkeeper and a top goalkeeper.
In some cases, such as Hope’s, this jump from outfield player to shot-stopper is pushed by coaches that recognise the qualities and potential that they possess between the sticks. However, for others, they stumbled into the position by complete chance.
Manchester United star David de Gea, for example, was a goalscorer of the highest quality among his high school team. He had never displayed an interest in playing as a goalkeeper, yet, desperate to play the game, De Gea volunteered to play in goal when nobody else would.
“Nobody wanted to go in goal, so I shut them up and said that I’d do it,” he told. “I was good at it. I liked it.”
Had that moment never occurred, soccer might have missed out on one of the best goalkeepers on this generation.
Youth coaches often talk about the need for young players to experience playing in a range of positions, in order to learn not only the game, but which parts of the game they enjoy most. However, goalkeeping is often left off of the list for a number of reasons, whether the player is perceived to be too short or simply doesn’t want to try it. Yet, if they aren’t tested, it’s impossible to know whether they will be any good at it.
There is no right or wrong way to become a goalkeeper. It is a matter of potential and hard work that some will find and some won’t. Some will be pushed and some will discover a passion for goalkeeping by mere chance.
Of course, the longer you have to practice something the better you will be, but there is no suggestion that learning how to play as an outfield player will harm a goalkeepers development – In fact, the likes of Joe Hart, Hope Solo and David de Gea prove quite the opposite.