The biggest rule change in the past 20 years has undoubtedly been the introduction of the back-pass rule in 1992. The whole flow, tempo, and speed of the game was drastically altered and football as a spectacle was significantly improved. The ability to waste time and kill the game was drastically reduced ensuring that the ball was effectively in play for longer.

With this rule change came a huge impact on the role of the goalkeeper. Suddenly goalkeepers had to be able to deal with back-passes and to become much more effective with their feet. Receiving and distributing the ball became far more significant attributes than they had been previously. Over the years these attributes have become more and more important.

The principles of coaches who play a possession game based on positional play with building from the back being a key feature has further evolved the role of the goalkeeper. Pep Guardiola was questioned from many quarters when he made the decision that Joe Hart would not be his goalkeeper upon arriving at Manchester City. This was not a decision based on goalkeeping in the pure sense of the role but specifically in terms of Hart being able to play within his system of play. In order to successfully implement his playing principles and philosophy he requires a goalkeeper who can build the attacks. A goalkeeper who is exceptionally composed and comfortable with the ball at his feet and who possesses a range of distribution.

The Price Of A Playing Philosophy

The goalkeeping position has always been a vital position and successful teams have generally been built on having a strong goalkeeper. It is even more imperative in the modern game. Especially so for managers and coaches who want to build their attacks from the back. This has been reflected in the transfer fees paid in recent seasons. £17million for Claudio Bravo. £30 million for Jordan Pickford. £35million for Ederson Moraes. £66.8million for Alisson. £71.6million for Kepa Arrizabalaga. Astronomical transfer fees in the opinion of most people but everything is relative. I always believe a transfer fee should be judged in hindsight. 18 years ago Juventus paid £32.6million to sign Gianluigi Buffon in 2001. At that time it was widely regarded as a ridiculous transfer fee for a goalkeeper but was actually an inspired signing given what he has achieved and his impact on Italian football. Even the £35million paid for Ederson in June 2017 now seems great value relative to the amounts paid for Alisson and Arrizabalaga. Given that Ederson was 24 years old when he was signed he could potentially be Manchester City’s goalkeeper for the next decade. Similarly Jordan Pickford. He could arguably be in goal for Everton and England for another 10 years. A decisive factor as to why he was made England goalkeeper by Gareth Southgate was because of his ability to distribute the ball and to fit the playing principles that Southgate wanted to implement within the national team.

I actually think Ederson has been one of the key signings of the last 3 seasons. His concentration levels and ability to focus during long periods without having to make saves is exceptional. He has made numerous vital saves for Manchester City when called into action, is so fast coming from his line, has incredible bravery, and has shown great mental resilience when he has made rare mistakes. Crucially for the philosophy of Pep Guardiola he has been a key part of their success. Ederson has outstanding vision, awareness, and composure for a goalkeeper. His ability to read the game and decision-making skills are unbelievably high. He also possesses a range of distribution that is such a vital part of the build-up play of Manchester City. This is a goalkeeper that can not only play short passes and receive them back comfortably, he can also break defensive lines with passes, clip with great accuracy into advancing full backs or a dropped off forward, and can even send the ball straight behind the opposition defence for a forward to run onto or even for a forward starting behind the defensive line from goal kicks.

Initial build-up play: Inviting the press to expose the space beyond

The following images show Ederson providing depth and support. He plays an initial pass into Rodri who passes back to him, then a second pass to Walker who also passes back to him again. These 4 passes have shifted the West Ham team and drawn pressure to one side. His next pass is to Laporte who is able to step forwards with the ball. After not being able to play forwards successfully they look to drop deeper again in order to bring West Ham onto them and create the space they want to expose. Interestingly Stones does not drop deep but instead signals and calls to Ederson to provide the depth between he and Laporte. He also signals to Laporte to pass to Ederson. When Ederson receives the ball he shows the composure and awareness to draw greater pressure before breaking the first defensive line with a pass to Zinchenko who is now in space.

How The Initial Build-Up Play Disrupts The Opposition Shape

The whole purpose of this initial build-up play of which Ederson played such a key role was to create space further up the pitch for Manchester City to exploit. It ultimately disrupts the West Ham defensive organisation. Good, accurate passing and always providing that depth and support. The bravery, confidence, and composure to step outside the penalty area to receive the ball. Then pause to draw further pressure before playing the precise pass to Zinchenko.

From there Zinchenko now has space to exploit. He drives inside which along with the positioning of Silva, De Bruyne, & Sterling causes the West Ham midfield line into really narrow positions. The defensive line is also disrupted. This creates a line of pass straight into Mahrez as he drops to receive and creates the opportunity to penetrate for Kyle Walker. The timing and weight of the pass from Mahrez in combination with the acceleration and cut back from Walker is stunning, leading to the own goal which put them ahead in the game. A wonderful goal passing through the thirds of the pitch but the philosophy and playing principles that lead to the goal are impossible to implement without a goalkeeper who can perform them.

What Does It Mean For The Future?

There is already a lot of good coaching that goes on at both Academy and First Team levels. Without doubt there has been a far greater emphasis placed on the decision-making and distribution skills of goalkeepers over the last 10 years, possibly even more so over the last 5 years. The challenge moving forwards is to produce goalkeepers that can successfully build attacks whilst at the same time still developing all of the other attributes that are essential for a top class goalkeeper. The fundamentals are still the most important aspects. The ability to distribute the ball consistently well is an additional element on top of that.

Integrating goalkeepers within team practices more frequently could become more and more common. However, they still very much need the specialist coaching and time within their own unit. With how the game is evolving the position of goalkeeper is only going to become more and more important. Therefore extra goalkeeping coaches and facilities may be required. The coaches may need to be paid more as well, both at Academy and First Team level. Psychologically goalkeeping has always been a very demanding position and with the added pressure of successfully building attacks, sometimes under huge pressure those demands are taken to a whole new level. Producing goalkeepers who possess all of the necessary attributes to perform their role well and to be able to play within a team who want to build their attacks from the goalkeeper could well be the biggest coaching challenge in this country over the next 5 years. Any clubs who are successful in doing so could well have an extremely valuable asset on their hands.