Ray Clemence, discussed the changing role of the goalkeeper, during his time as head of England national teams.

When Ray Clemence was making the first of his 758 league appearances at the start of a glittering career, goalkeeping coaches didn’t exist. Much has changed to the art of goalkeeping since then.

“Everything has changed really, apart from that you’ve still got to stop the ball going in the net,” explained Clemence, who is head of England's national teams.

“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 direction.”

Looking back, the 64 year-old points to the constant reinvention of goalkeeping style. Method and technique have developed in order to deal with the constant changes in the game: equipment, players' shooting and crossing techniques, and changing playing styles.

“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.”

Ray Clemence talks to Joe Hart
Clemence working with England senior goalkeepers Paul Robinson and Joe Hart.

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.

"That’s why a goalkeeper’s position has changed again since I played and a bit after I played. When people were shooting from 18/20 yards you would certainly see me, and goalkeepers after me, close to the six yard line, narrow the angle and make the goal as small as we possibly could.

"These days, goalkeepers tend to make those saves midway in the six yard box and occasionally only a yard off the line. The reason for this is it gives them more reaction time; it just gives them a split second more to move their body to try and make the save.”

1992 was another significant moment in the evolving role of the goalkeeper: the year the back-pass rule was introduced. Clemence admits that when he started out in the game, little work was done on distribution.

“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 chip a ball to halfway; 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.”

In the modern game, the goalkeeper has the ball more at their feet than they do in their hands 
Under-17 goalkeeper during a match
Clemence believes goalkeepers in the modern game have to be comfortable playing out from the back.

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 Anfield's current keeper Pepe Reina are referenced as fine examples for young goalkeepers.

“Petr Cech has done a fantastic job at Chelsea. And for the past 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 for some time now. It’s not just about having one or two good seasons, top goalkeepers can string five or ten seasons together.”

Clemence believes the influx in foreign goalkeepers provides a great challenge for emerging English goalkeepers. Match practice is the first aspect Clemence points to, when asked why some goalkeepers progress and others don’t.

“When you’re 16, 17, 18 it’s ok playing in youth team football. When they get to 22/23 they need to be playing first-team football. If they’re exceptional you’d like them to be playing first-team football when they’re 21.

“Jack Butland [Stoke’s recent signing, loaned back to Birmingham] has been in the first team since he was 18/19, because he does have that capability. Eventually you have to be put in a situation where it matters to concede a goal and make mistakes. You have to learn and cope with it very quickly.”

There is much hope for the 19 year-old who has had experience in Roy Hodgson's senior squads. Clemence believes his grounded personality and psychological toughness will give him a chance.

“Jack is such a steady lad. He’s not just got the potential to be a great goalkeeper, he’s psychologically really strong. He knows where he wants to be. I was so pleased when he made the decision to go to Stoke, because he’s got a better chance of playing. At a bigger club he might have to sit on the bench for a year or two. Development for him is playing first team football.”

Clemence believes that one area Butland and other young English goalkeepers must continue to develop in, is their ability and confidence to play out from the back, contributing to attacking moves and launching counter-attacks. Clemence believes coaches must provide young keepers with a variety of options to play out from the back.

Jack Butland makes a save during an England training session
Lighter footballs have challenged goalkeepers to develop new techniques, believes Clemence.

“It might be your two centre-backs splitting; it might be that your central midfielder drops into that space and picks the ball up; or if the full-backs are marked the goalkeeper might have to chip it over their markers to the full-backs.

"These things don’t just happen on a match day, you have to work at them daily. Also the head coach must work with the outfield players on their movement to allow the goalkeeper to distribute the ball in the way the head coach wants him to.”

Playing out from the back is fundamental to The FA’s Future Game philosophy and although Clemence believes there are encouraging signs of an evolving style from England’s youth teams more work on game management is needed.

“We haven’t spent as much time as the best sides have at becoming comfortable with the ball. The Premier League is about technically gifted players playing at a fast pace, but when you get to top international football, teams can play at that pace but they also know when to slow the game down, take the pace out of the game, even have a rest in possession of the ball. Then they come alive in the final third, I’m not sure we’ve quite mastered that yet”.

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 

Ray Clemence on the best coaches he’s worked under:

At club level the greatest manager I ever came across was Bill Shankly, who signed me. He was all about motivation and making you believe anything was capable. Also, simplicity: how to control and pass the ball, and don’t admire a pass but move and make a different angle. Shanks would be the top of the tree because he made me who I am.

I was with Terry Venables as a coach at Tottenham. He was fantastic, always coming up with new ideas. He had a plan whoever we were playing.

I remember playing Nottingham Forest in The FA Cup Final [1990/1991]. Nigel Clough was at his peak, causing havoc playing off the strikers. Terry spent four days making sure everyone in the side knew that wherever Clough was somebody would be beside him. We won that game because we nullified Nigel Clough.

Ron Greenwood was as close to being a modern coach as you could get. Ron made you think. He said the most important thing about being an international player was being adaptable; he said the game would change and you had to change with it. He stressed not to be rigid with regards positions, because at the top level you would be tested physically and mentally to change.

Ray Clemence on the best players he’s played with and against:
The team I played in when I was at Liverpool was unbelievable. When I first joined I was playing with Ian St John and Ron Yates. Then of course Kevin Keegan and John Toshack came into the side. When Kevin left Kenny Dalglish joined and he was one of the finest players I ever played with. Then there was Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Terry McDermott; out of eleven players we had eight leaders out there.

Also I played against the very best: Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Ruud Gullit, Maradona, Rivelino, Zico; all those great players who test you as a goalkeeper.

Of all those great players, I surprise people when I pick out Kenny Dalglish as the best; he was a dream to play with, and a nightmare to play against. He could do everything: he could score goals, create goals. He worked hard too and he could tackle.

They say that goalkeepers get better with experience, because you get to know a striker’s strengths. One against one you have a good idea what they are going to do. But with Kenny you could never work out what he was going to do with the ball. He would always come up with something different.

One of the greatest examples was the 1978 European Cup Final at Wembley against Brugge. David Fairclough went through against the goalkeeper, Jensen, four or five times who came out spread himself and stopped him every time. The next time Kenny went through he just dinked it over him and we won the European Cup 1-0.


Ray Clemence retired from his role at the Football Association in 2013.

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