When it comes to transfer windows and squad rebuilds there is always a lot of press speculation. For supporters of any club the ones linked who get the excitement levels building tend to be the creative offensive players and the guys that put the ball in the net.
There’s the tricky winger who beats three men, feints to pass, and instead curls the ball round the last defender and past the overstretched fingers of the opposition goalkeeper. The one that gets your bum off the seat on a cold February midweek night and returns some feeling, however momentarily, starting with your toes and by the time you’ve hugged those around you as well as five rows down a warm glow has replaced the shivering.
Then there’s the maestro in the middle of the park pulling strings, dropping the shoulder, drifting through a congested midfield and threading that pass that to you is as artistic as anything hanging in the Louvre if not more so.
And of course the ones you pay the big fees for – the pressure position – the number nine shirt that weighs heavy on some but not when you get the good one, the guy who scores the worldy at the end of the mazy run past two brick outhouses then lobs a 6ft 7 goalkeeper from less than 12 yards and betrays the laws of physics to win you the closest of encounters in the tightest of league campaigns.
These guys if they are consistent deliver your club three points on a regular basis but there is one position more than most that wins you league titles.
A good goalkeeper can be the guy who wins you just as many if not more points than the big back of weekly swag leading the line. A man between the sticks you can rely on cannot only save you fifteen points a season, but an inferior one can cost you the same. A thirty-point swing by way of the man filling the gloves therefore means the difference between success and failure.
Teams can occasionally win a league title with a strong defence and an average goalkeeper, but how many of you can think of a team who retain titles or win double and trebles and have done so with an average Joe between the sticks?
The position is vital, confidence throughout the team depends on your number one exuding belief. Belief his defenders then have which encourages them that they can hold a high line, the midfielder who believes he has solidity behind him so can take the risky pass that supplies passes that wins games or the ball carrier who knows if he beats the last man there is daylight in front of him but lose it and his team is open to the counter.
Risks in those areas of the park is what can be the difference between one point and three. Over the course of the season the freedom to play with that security starts with believing the man between the sticks can and will bail you out if your creative gamble backfires.
But it’s not just players who need the confidence in their goalkeeper, so do managers and particularly new guys. Most managers taking up new roles are only in a job because someone else has made a pig’s ear of the previous season.
A new manager is also aware he’ll need new recruits and his budget is unlikely to stretch to every area of the pitch he needs. It can be easy therefore to be blinkered to focussing on guys who will put the ball in the net or supply the creativity who will afford those guys the chances to score, even then it can be just as easy to focus on top class central defenders as the age-old adage of the spine of the team is addressed and the team builds through the middle.
But the spine of any team starts with a goalkeeper it is at the very least the second most important position on the pitch if not equally so with the guy at the opposite end of the pitch who picks up the plaudits and the glory.
It is of course possible for a new manager to improve those who let the side down before. There is a lot to be said for breeding confidence and in turn momentum and seeing players who spent a year hiding, for fear of making mistakes to flourish under the belief, coaching and psychological input of a fresh voice directing things.
That can happen in any area of the pitch and it can happen with goalkeepers too. But there comes a time for a decision. How long do you leave it to see if your horse whispering takes effect? At what point do you decide to stick or twist? After all, all your hard work in every area of the pitch can be undone and with it your own reputation if you get that vital decision wrong.