nyc footy

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…

The best formation for 5 a-side (5v5) soccer

On my way to NYC Footy’s Friday night games in Chinatown last week I pondered to myself what would be a good question to ask players during my weekly coverage of Footy happenings.

I confess that I consider myself as a bit of a diminutive Pep - that is a tactical genius. A wannabe anyway. 

So the question that came to mind was simply - what is the best 5 a-side formation?

The response I got from most was the 1-2-1 formation. Not taking into account the goalkeeper, the 1-2-1 might otherwise be known as the diamond. The thinking with the diamond is that there is a defensive player, an attacking player, and then two players on the sides that can move up and down. These two wing players should, if they do their jobs correctly, get up to support the attacking player, and then they should get back to support the covering defender.

Without giving it much thought, this formation should work well. That is, unless the opposing team use all 4 outfield players to put the pressure on when they get the ball. If they do that well, especially on a quick counter attack, you can quickly find yourself easily outnumbered, especially should your attacking player be lazy getting back. And let’s face it, we have all been guilty of that at times. 

See, five a-side tactics/ formations only work well if all players know and carry out their responsibilities well. But since many of us just come along for a kick about, things can become unwieldy pretty fast. 

Things are thrown off even faster when substitutions are coming on and off with good regularity. In one of my games last week, my team literally got caught out as we were trying to work out positions in defense as a substitution was coming on. The question of when is a good time for a substitution might be a subject for a future article 🤔. 

Other five a-side formations might include the 2-2. That is two defensive players, and two midfield/ attacking players. Again, if people adopt their responsibilities well, this is solid enough. It feels like it should be more solid than the diamond if the team plays together as a strong unit. But playing as a unit appears to rare enough in 5-a-side.

With the diamond formation there is a bit of an obsession with wing play. Which is rather impractical when you consider how small the fields are. Wing play even in the professional game has been a dying art for some years. The main idea of wing play - in the sexy sense - is that some player with great skill and speed goes by a player on the side before ultimately whipping a ball into the box for the striker to nod in. But if you go by a player on the wing on a 5 side field, your more than likely hitting the by line. Also, I rarely see crosses of any type in 5 a-side except at corner kicks. All a defensive player has to do in 5 a side to protect against wing play is stand back a bit from the attacking player. The attacking player will be forced then to come inside and shoot or pass inside. This can still be effective, but again, it makes the focus on wingers a bit futile. 

Then there’s the ultra defensive formation, The 3-1. In practice, it should be good at preventing you conceding. But in the end I think it plays out the same at the diamond. Eventually you have to try go forward, sacrificing the wing backs in defense.

There are so many permutations that play into your success in 5-a-side. Quality of player with game understanding being the most key. An intelligent player should know the players around them, know when to cover back, and know when to step forward. Football intelligence is pretty rare actually. Some players may have the skills, some players may be great goal scorers, but that doesn’t mean they have any football intelligence. 

At the Footy Fest this past June, I played alongside an incredibly skillful and powerful player. He blew my mind with what he was capable of. But he shared little in terms of responsibility towards his team. He was your traditional glory hunter. The type of player that infuriates managers in the professional game (5-a-side managers are more forgiving…because there are none). Anyway, they are often considered to be a luxury. A famous example of the glory hunter was David Ginola. Ginola was spectacular going forward but not much use to the team at large. Some say that Cristiano Ronaldo in his heyday was this type of player. Though he got away with it because of how extraordinary his skill was in attack. 

Anyway, I went off on a little tangent there. Let’s get back to some Pep like thinking. 

What everyone is discounting here is the goalkeeper. In 5 a-side the goalkeeper should be considered almost like an outfield player. Think about the Bayern/German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. When Germany had the ball he would come far out of his box , sometimes as far as the halfway line. The whole defensive line of Germany would push far up and and press the opposing team back into their last third.. The opposition team would be so hemmed in by 10 oppressive Bavarians. They would be suffocated. Often the best an opposing team  could do was clear the ball long, in which case Neuer was often there to sweep it up with no one there to pressure him. Neuer was the classic sweeper keeper. 

In 5-a-side what you really want then is the whole outfield team attacking together as a unit, and once you lose the ball, the whole team needs to get back and pressure the opposing team to get the ball back. Barcelona under Pep were masters at this. They attacked together, but when they lost the ball, everyone bust a gut to get the ball back as fast as they could. No one abandoned that responsibility, including Messi. Opposing teams never had time to breathe against Barca. 

Peps Barca were marveled for their ability to attack, but in truth, it’s how hard they worked to get the ball back once they lost it that was their main strength. 

This plan is the most courageous in 5-a-side. But any other formation usually takes two players out of the game itself, and sometimes 3 - the goalkeeper, the holding defender, and the sit up top striker. This only allows 2 players to be flexible. The question is, why take 2 or 3 players out of the game? 

After interviewing players and pondering further, I’ve concluded that the most effective strategy is when everyone moves up together, and everyone moves back together. That includes the keeper sweeper. You must avoid getting spread out, avoid getting stretched. Short quick passes are the order of the day to unlock the opposing team.

It goes without saying that any of these formations only work if players know their responsibilities, especially when the team loses the ball.

Do you play 5-a-side? What say you?