Are Goalkeepers Crazy?

It’s an odd job, you’re in the team but you wear a different shirt, for the most part you train by yourself, you need to throw your body to the ground at will and dive at the swinging boots of opposition players. Everything you do correctly is quickly forgotten and every mistake is magnified and scrutinized, it is for perhaps this reason that you may frequently see “the angry keeper” rushing from their goal to chastise defenders, they know its the goalkeeper who gets the blame. It is a job that requires you to prevent the thing the fans most want to see, goals.

It takes someone who stands out from the pack to do this job and over time, more than any other position, goalkeepers have provided us with some of the most unorthodox and memorable characters the game has ever seen.

Perhaps the first person to spring to mind when you think of the stereotype of the crazy goalkeeper is former Colombia shot stopper and scorpion kick enthusiast, Rene Higuita. Nicknamed “El Loco” Higuita had a playing style far ahead of his time. Although a capable shot stopper, Higuita frequently played out from the back, taking on players trying to involve himself in the attack. This didn’t always work however, at Italia 90 playing Cameroon, determined to spur his team on in a must win game, Higuita was caught in possession about forty yards from his goal allowing Cameroon to tap into an empty net and eliminate Colombia from the competition. Higuita’s biggest legacy however is that in 1992 his cavalier attitude and entertaining style inspired FIFA to introduce the back pass rule. Meaning goalkeepers could no longer pick the ball up when it was passed back to them, forcing them to be more skillful with their feet. In an interview Higuita is quoted as saying, “I changed the game, not even Pele, Maradona or Messi can say that”.

If Higuita was the first of the new breed of goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was a goalkeeping traditionalist. A massive frame, quick reflexes and assertive style lead to Kahn becoming the worlds best goalkeeper in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kahn played with an intensity rarely seen before, he was aggressive with opponents and with his own teammates. Oliver Kahn ruled his penalty box with an iron fist, it was his territory. In a game against Bayer Leverkusen, Bayer player Thomas Brdaric challenged Kahn inside the box, Kahn then retaliated by grabbing him by the back of the neck and pushing him away from the penalty area. Brdaric said in a post match interview “he feared for his life, his paw came down on me like a wrestler, then I was really scared”. When Kahn was asked about the same incident, he arrogantly laughed and said “football is a mans sport, it belongs in the game”. The moral of the story here is that more than his world class shot stopping abilities, Kahn will be remembered as a maverick, fearless and a determined winner.    

We may never see the likes of an Oliver Kahn today as the position continues to evolve and the “crazy goalkeeper” is phased out. But were Kahn and Higuita crazy goalkeepers? Or did they just have qualities that are uncommon and not really understood?

Maybe not everyone reading this will have heard of former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, although capable, he certainly was not one of the all time greats between the sticks in terms of ability but it was his qualities that made him a goalkeeper that made him a hero in February 1958. Gregg was on that ill fated plane in Munich that crashed carrying the United team. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Gregg emerged from the wreckage and realized the devastation around him. Gregg is quoted as saying “Christ, I’m the only one alive”. Gregg then heard noise from survivors still caught in the what remained on the aircraft. A mother and her baby had been seated across from Gregg, he heard the babies cries and crawled back into the rubble in search of the infant. Gregg knowing an explosion was imminent forwent his own safety to try help rescue those he could. He was able to lift the baby, Vesna Lukic, to safety. Gregg knew there were more survivors still trapped. He again returned to the wreckage to save the babies mother Vera Lukic as well as his teammates Dennis Viollet and Bobby Charlton, dragging them clear of the fire and debris. All who Gregg rescued survived.

 The qualities that Gregg possessed that night, determination, assertiveness and most of all bravery are not just those that make good goalkeepers, they are best qualities found in good people.

 So are goalkeepers crazy? A bit, yes, but it’s certainly not a bad thing.

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