Development the key for United’s new generation of keepers
“Goalkeepers are not born, they are made. Every quality a keeper needs – mental or physical – can be acquired through training. He must be a perfectionist; always ready to develop and better themselves.”
These are the wise words of the great Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff – a man who had achieved virtually everything; at the tender age of 40 he captained his side to World Cup glory in 1982. He also went a staggering 1,143 minutes without conceding a goal for Italy and, perhaps most remarkably, from ’71 to ’83, played a consecutive 332 Serie A games (for Napoli and Juventus). He was the very first of the modern-day keeper.
There is much to admire about a legend like Zoff; and, perhaps, the player most similar to the Azurri legend is Manchester United’s Edwin Van der Sar. Like Zoff, Van der Sar has too defied age and is renown for his nerves of steel and safe hands; as well as being commanding and courageous in the air. The Dutchman also went through a long spell where he had not conceded a goal – 1,311 minutes to be precise in the 08/09 season.
Goalkeepers are like Duracell, they last longer. Much longer. Twelve years before Zoff held aloft the Jules Rimet trophy, he won the European Championship in 1968. That’s an extraordinary gap of 14 years. The undisputed icon of Calcio is not the only great stopper to have been blessed with incredible longevity. Take, for example, the likes of the great Spaniard Ricardo Zamora, Sepp Maier, Peter Schmeichel and Van der Sar himself. He earned his first Champions League trophy for Ajax in 1995, and his second in 2008 with United – a gap spanning the 13 years. The quote at the very introduction sums Van der Sar in a nutshell; he has continually fine-tuned and developed his game. He was excellent for Ajax many moons ago, but that glory period might not be regarded as his heyday? Did he really have one? Still, at the age of 40, he is playing at the very highest level. Success is still very much assured, too.
The secrets to both Zoff and Van der Sar’s success could be put down to many things; Zoff empathises the importance of training and development, and how it builds you up as a player, and that it is the key to success. Their environment is another. Surrounded by players of the highest quality and led by good coaches can help – but surroundings can only add to the talent you have, if you have any.
The perfect surroundings are there for United’s next generation of goalkeepers. Once Van der Sar hangs up his gloves, it might fall on Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos, Tomasz Kuszczak (although his future is uncertain) and whoever might join the club, to take up the mantle. It is all about development – neither of the three current keepers are exactly what you’d define as “world class” (some might go further and dismiss them completely) yet neither are bad players, and have much room for improvement. And goalkeepers are ‘made’, not ‘born’.
Lindegaard, at 26, has his critics, Schmeichel for one, but modern-day keepers have improved fitness and much time in invested in training and development, meaning players like Lindegaard and Kuszczak can and will get better. Will they reach the heights of their would-be predecessor? That remains to be seen. The world of goalkeepers is unforgiving. one mistake and you’re instantly the villain. Even a string of saves might not save you, then. Making mistkaes is not necessarily a bad thing, and that at the end of the day the keeper can decide a game just like any other goalscoring striker.
Goalkeepers are an integral part of team, perhaps the most important, as Dino Zoff explained in an interview with Champions magazine:
“Being a goalkeeper is the only job performed in front of thousands of people who are ready to make you scapegoat for a defeat,” says Zoff. “[But] the keeper is the real soloist in the orchestra a football team represents. His personal strength and talent are always for the benefit of the team.”
In Lindegaard’s case, he has been judged far too soon. Some have written him off altogether, rather prematurely, before he’s even had a chance. Kuszczak’s time might be up at Old Trafford; although he’s not been half as bad as he’s made out to be. Ben Amos, still 20, does have a Manchester United future it appears – but any new signing might come to spoil that. The purpose of the piece isn’t to suggest that he might be as good as Zoff, Schmeichel or Van der Sar; but they are excellent examples of players who have thrived in football for most parts of the career thanks to the continuous effort they pulled in to develop themselves as players. So, who knows what the future holds for this generation of United keepers?