Next play: Moving past bad performances

In this week’s moody NYC Footy vid, there is a moment where I point out that I had a bad first half in goal for my side. To say I had a bad game was an understatement. And the attempt I made in the video to add some levity to my abject performance was nothing other than a desperate attempt on my part to mask what was horrifying internal embarrassment and crushed confidence.

Now I will admit, the game was the first proper game I have played in goal for almost two decades. As a kid, and up to about the age of 14, I played in goal regularly. I was a pretty good keeper, always picked for my local team, and also playing regularly for my school in Gaelic football (a kind of soccer / rugby hybrid sport).

My school got all the way to the Gaelic cup final which took place in Croke Park - the most famous and historic stadium in Ireland. Even though we lost that final, it didn’t stop The Irish Times from writing - Only a fine goal keeping display from Stephen O’Regan prevented the winners from scoring more.

Considering how long its been since I put on the gloves, perhaps I could be forgiven for having to dust off some cobwebs. Perhaps I was naive to think that I could simply turn back time and expect to be the agile shot stopper I once was. Regardless the excuses I or anyone else could have, the embarrassment and humiliation I was feeling was real.

The bad vibes creeped in early. An inoffensive ball was floated into the box. It was a simple catch by anyone's standards. But as I looked up at it, terror overcame me. What if I don’t catch this? Don’t mess this up whatever you do.

Suffice to say, I completely misjudged the flight of the ball, taking my eye off it as the panic overcame me. Instead of falling into my hands, it fell into the goal, with my hands flapping pathetically. When you make a mistake like that there really is no one else you can look at but yourself.

Sometime later a similar ball was floated in. This was one of those that had the potential to just go wide, or over the bar. A braver and more confident keeper in that moment would have not taken that chance and simply caught it. Instead I watched the ball as it got closer and closer to the goal in the hope that it would miss the target. But no. To my skin crawling embarrassment the ball hit the bar, bounced back and hit my arm and went in. And this was just as a bunch of NYC Footiers passed by the goal in the background.

I made about 3 or 4 other glaring mistakes in the first half alone. I have no idea what my team must have been thinking.

But how does a keeper or any player for that matter recover from an embarrassing moment? The super elite have such intense focus and determination to be the best that they simply manage to dust themselves off and even come back with renewed vigor. Ronaldo, Messi, and even David Beckham have had very high profile bad moments but they all came back fast and strong. Those type of players are in the minority though. Confidence can be shattered easily even at the top level, and it is incredibly hard for most to come back from that.

In the last few years, I have found that goalkeepers’ confidence to be more brittle than I remembered as a kid. David De Gea at Manchester United, for example, has been the best United player of the past 5 seasons. But in the past few months he no longer has seemed as reliable as he once was. When he concedes a goal he may previously have saved he now has a look of bafflement. So much of goalkeeping is instinctive. You just react and save. But when something in that instinct goes and you end up letting in that goal at the near post, you just wonder, What did I do differently there than what I usually do? You begin to second guess yourself.

Look at Liverpool. They have been blighted by shaky keepers for years. When they made the Champions League Final a couple of years ago - the grandest stage of them all, Liverpool keeper, Loris Karius, was already walking on ice with Liverpool fans. The fans knew he was capable of mistakes. His confidence I would suspect was already delicate. But nobody could have expected the mistakes he made in the final which gifted the trophy to Real Madrid.

The mistakes were too much for Liverpool to accept and soon after, The Redmen broke the bank for a new keeper. It has been a very public ordeal for poor Loris Karius and one which he will be reminded of for the rest of his days.

Confidence affects player performance all over the pitch, of coarse. Strikers seems to be either on form or off it. There are countless examples of players who were at one time incredible, and then for no reason that anyone can understand suddenly are a shadow of their former selves.

Fernando Torres was a world superstar until his 50 million pound move from Liverpool to Chelsea when he suddenly couldn’t hit a barn door. Most recently, much was expected of Alexis Sanchez after his big money move from Arsenal to Manchester United. But he has been a shadow of the player he was prior to the move. I don’t think anyone can understand his drop in form.

So, how does someone recover from embarrassing performances? How does one avoid it sinking into one's psyche and leading to prolonged bad form? Well, if I had the exact answer I might be a better player. In fact if I had the right temperament I might be an all round better person. Temperament is the word of the day here. It’s either in your temperament to overcome setbacks fast, or it’s not. If like most of us, it’s not and you’re relegated to those sorry souls that buy various self help books in a bid to improve yourself.

The key piece of wisdom that I might give comes from any other bad moment you have in life. Think of a failed relationship, for example. Or a failed business effort. The advice your usually given is to dust yourself off and get straight back up. You need to just move forward. Quickly learn the lesson from the mistake you made, and then speedily move forward. Avoid wallowing in the past at all costs.

But if you are like me , a nostalgist - as these articles have demonstrated, moving on bravely is not so easy.

7 of the most memorable goalkeepers

After making this weeks video about goalkeepers of NYC Footy I thought it would be fun to make a list of 7 of the best goalkeepers (err, my favorite goalkeepers).

The list in no particular order, since it’s not really a “top goalkeeper” list. Well, except for No.1. He’s in that spot because I actually feel he is the best keeper of my lifetime.

Without further ado, “the list”:

7. Bruce Grobbelaar: Bruce Grobbelaar was a Liverpool keeper in the 80s and early nineties. He stood out for his cat-like agility. He would stop shots in a style I have rarely seen a goalkeeper do since. As a kid, I thought Grobbelaar had a funny look to him - he seemed small for a goalkeeper - round head and a stand out mustache to go along with that iconic green jersey. Grobbelaar’s life has been full of drama too. Here is a video on his story:

6. Packie Bonner: A proper emotional choice here and someone I have already referenced in previous articles. Packie Bonner became my first football childhood hero after his penalty kick save v Romania that put Ireland into the 1990 World Cup Quarter Final. After that moment I had to get the jersey and the gloves. I would then try to mimic Packie in every way - from his kick out style to angry gestures. In later years, Packie struggled with the back pass rule which only came into effect in 1992. Whenever the ball was passed back to him, I would almost have a heart attack in hope he wouldn’t mess up. Scroll forward to 11:40 here and relive Packies greatest moment:

5. Thomas Ravelli: An obscure choice. I first saw Ravelli play for Sweden in Euro 92, the first major tournament I could sink my teeth into. Ravelli had a peculiar scruffy look to him. He was a bit like a Swedish Grobbelaar in his movements. But what I always remember most about Ravelli was his curious and risky habit of juggling the ball behind his back before he would launch goal kick out of his hands. I’ve had to watch a lot of videos to try and find an example of him doing it. Here is a good doco piece about Ravelli, and you can spot his ball juggling at the 7:20 mark:

4. Rene Higuita: Top of the nutter list - Colombian keeper Rene Higuita. You know when you are playing 5-a-side, and your keeper decides to recklessly go on a run up field while leaving the goal empty? Well Higuita would do that during a World Cup match. Here is a fantastic montage of his antics (excuse the awful choice of music). But for me the stand out moment by Higuita will always be his ‘scorpion kick’ save he pulled off v England in a friendly in 1995. I was lucky to watch the save live. The next day the UK news was telling how kids were in danger of getting badly injured in attempting the stunt. It’s a classic football moment:

3. Andy Goram: As a Celtic fan in the mid and late 90s, Andy Goram of Rangers broke my heart over and over pulling off what seemed to be impossible saves. Rangers at the time were the dominant force in Scottish football. But Celtic were getting closer and closer to over taking them. And when things got so close, it seemed like literally only Goram was getting in the way. Goram was another keeper who didn’t seem like he had quite the right look for the role - short, stocky and scruffy - but despite this he got in the way of everything. As he played for Glasgow Rangers there really is not much more I wish to say about him.

2. Jorge Campos: Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos had a few claims to fame. Through his career he would often play as striker and scored a hatful of goals doing so. But what stood out most about Campos to me were his incredible jerseys. My friends and I were such football nuts growing up, that we would often draw our dream football kit designs. So due to this - Campos jerseys were the stuff of our childhood fantasies. What was even cooler was that Campos actually designed his kits himself. My dad would tell me the crazy designs were to put the strikers off during one on ones. Decent logic if true.

1. Peter Schemeichel: I first saw Peter Schmeichel when he played for Denmark in Euro 92. During that tournament he seemed taller and more impressive than any keeper I’d seen. With his blonde hair he brought back memories of Ivan Drago in Rocky 4. Schmeichel had unique attributes as a keeper in ‘92. He would come out far and fearlessly, and pull high crosses out of the air. He would then launch a long throw out. We would marvel that Schmeichel could throw the ball out as far as most other keepers could kick it. After Euro 92, Schmeichel moved to Manchester United where he had a sparkling career. Specialising in the starfish save, and with agility he got from handball, Schmeichel is the all round best keeper in my memory.

Till next time…