When England, Liverpool and Tottenham legend Ray Clemence was making the first of his 758 league appearances at the start of a glittering career, goalkeeping coaches didn’t exist. It is fair to say much has changed to the art of goalkeeping since then.
“Everything has changed really apart from you’ve still got to stop the ball going in the net” explained Clemence. who is Head of England’s National Teams and recently hosted The FA’s first ever goalkeeping conference, the Number One Event at St.George’s Park.
“The ball has changed, it has got lighter, it moves quicker through the air, it moves more and it moves later. That’s why you see goalkeepers made fools of; they’re going one way and then all of a sudden the ball changes in direction.”
Looking back on his playing and coaching career, the 64 year-old stressed that the continued reinvention of the goalkeeper’s style has been an on-going challenge.
“We see goalkeepers parrying the ball more than ever in my day. Years back you used to get goalkeepers to try and catch everything in training.
“But these days you have to coach them to catch the ball but also if they are going to parry it, to parry it into wide and safe areas so that oncoming forwards can’t tap in rebounds.”
The sight of a goalkeeper choosing to parry or punch the ball can still be met with groans by some fans on these shores. Clemence believes opinion would change if a goalkeeper’s pitch-level experience was understood by those in the crowd.
“I can understand somebody sat in the stand thinking ‘it was straight at him, what’s he doing?’ But until you’re behind it and you see how much it moves and how late it moves you don’t understand it.
“A goalkeeper may be stood there thinking the ball is coming straight at their chest and just as it is in front of them it will veer left or right.
The introduction of the back-pass role was another significant moment in the evolving role of the goalkeeper.
“In the modern game the goalkeeper has the ball more at their feet than they do in their hands. A lot of time has to be spent on the training ground ensuring goalkeepers are comfortable with the ball at their feet.
“In the modern game distribution is such an important part of the game. I liken it to having a golf bag; when the ball comes back to a goalkeeper they need three or four clubs in their bag.
“They may take a driver and hit it 80 yards down the field; or they may take a mid-iron and ship a ball to half-way; or they may have a wedge in their bag and chip the ball wide to a full-back who may only be 30 yards away, but requires a clip over an opponent.”
Many expert proponents of the distribution art hail from overseas and the influence of foreign goalkeepers on the developing style of English goalkeepers is not lost on the Liverpool legend.
Chelsea’s Petr Cech and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina are referenced as fine examples for young goalkeepers to look up to.
“Petr Cech has done a fantastic job at Chelsea. And for five seasons Pepe Reina has been outstanding. His distribution is probably as good as anybody else’s in the game. He has all the clubs in his bag.
“Those two stand-out because they are playing at the top-level and they have done now for some time now. It’s not just about having one or two good seasons, top goalkeepers can string five or ten seasons together.
The full interview with Ray Clemence is available now in edition six of The Boot Room