Evolution is a thing of nature; it cannot be stopped and football is no exception. We’ve witnessed the beautiful game transform in countless ways over the years, exciting us with different formations and revolutionary styles of play.
One area of the game that has seen significant change in recent years is goalkeepers, who provide more duties than simply keeping the ball out of the back of their net these days. Once just shot-stoppers, they are now viewed as the foundations of sides that play out from the back - a drastic change from the old school, long ball over the top and leaving the second phase to the outfield players.
It has rapidly grown in football and is used by the teams that like to play with plenty of possession and dictate matches with clinical passing in all thirds of the pitch.
Pep Guardiola made a big deal about it when he joined Manchester City in 2016, when he exiled the club’s number one goalkeeper Joe Hart because he wasn’t accustomed to this new way of playing. He was subsequently shipped off to Torino and his time with the Cityzens came to an end.
At the time of Hart’s banishment, it was felt that he was treated harshly due to the fact that he was not only one of the best in his position in the Premier League and he had been pivotal in the club’s first two Premier League title wins. However, if the last six years are anything to go by, the Spaniard’s decision has more than paid off, and his brilliant style of play starts with his current goalkeeper, Brazil international Ederson, whose passing range could put many outfield players to shame.
Many football clubs and international teams now look to take this approach and England are no exception. There is no doubting the positive impact Gareth Southgate has had on the Three Lions since 2016 and he has transformed them into a side that look to impose themselves on the game in possession while building from the back.
His current number one, Jordan Pickford, has rarely put a foot wrong for his international boss and he has some great attributes of the old school shot-stopper, but when compared to Ederson, and even his compatriot, Alisson of Liverpool, he isn’t quite at the same level as those who execute this style at club level as well as on the international stage.
Pickford isn’t alone. The other two goalkeepers that have made the latest England squad, Nick Pope and Fraser Forster, are also more traditional goalkeepers and it leaves the key area of the English game that still has some catching up to do. The only current goalkeeper in the England frame that is being nurtured at club level to play this modern style is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale.
The Gunners’ number one is being coached by Guardiola’s former apprentice Mikel Arteta, who has implemented a similar style at the Emirates Stadium to that of his mentor - something which will provide a boost to England boss Southgate.
The 23-year-old is currently looking like he will be England’s future in between the posts but at the moment he appears to be isolated with the national set-up in need of more goalkeepers who will be able to compete with Ramsdale for the number one jersey in the future.
For now at least, Pickford is continuing to keep the faith of his manager and his starting selection is more than justified, but while he continues to deliver for the Three Lions, the Football Association should start to focus on the development of goalkeepers in the youth levels to help lay the foundations for the future of the England national team.
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