The life of a goalkeeper…….

Any member of the goalkeeping fraternity (a fraternity I used to be a member of) knows the awful truth: you will only be remembered for your mistakes.

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FC Gifu goalkeeper Gakuji Ota committed an error of judgement yesterday which put Gifu behind in a game they were on the way to getting something out of. The fact that he made a superb save in the first half is something that few people will remember – they’ll remember the way he rushed out of his area and clattered Kazumichi Takagi, which left the ball open for Diego Forlan to smash the ball into the empty net.

I saw Gakuji in the cooling down room after the game and he looked crestfallen. He probably got a dressing down from Ramos as well – not something I think anyone would particularly like. But here’s the key point: he made a mistake. Not a deliberate attempt to alter the course of the game, a mistake. Every single player on the pitch made a mistake that day, but for goalkeepers, the harsh truth is that a keeper mistake usually leads to a goal.

Every GK knows this, and it is why a lot of the goalkeeping game is mental. There’s no hiding place when things go wrong, you have to stand there, take the criticism and try and re-focus on the game. That is a very difficult thing to do.

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Why did Gakuji come out for that ball? Only he will know, but it is recent trend for ‘keepers to act more as an auxiliary defender than just someone who patrols the penalty area. Most people would observe that Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is the best exponent of the modern goalkeeper. He’s comfortable on the ball, shows excellent judgement, is good with either foot and instills confidence in those in front of him. Does he make mistakes? Of course he does (witness his howler against Moenchengladbach last week). Does he move on? You bet he does – because he is incredibly strong mentally. I remember watching Edwin Van Der Sar at Ajax and thinking “does he do any GK training because it looks like he’s just as good outfield as he is in goal?” Goalkeeping these days is a lot more than simply saving shots.

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Gakuji, I think, is trying to model his game on one a modern ‘keeper. He is good with the ball at his feet, and his distribution is very good. He isn’t afraid to come for high balls, although I’d prefer to try and catch more often instead of punching it. But you can’t keep making errors of judgement like he did on Sunday on a regular basis though and that will have to be worked upon. He’s still young (for a goalkeeper) and so has time to improve. He needs an arm round his shoulder and to be told that he can’t change what happened. He has to look forward.

It’ll be interesting to see what Ramos does with him next week. Will he take him out if the firing line? Or will he tell him to get out there and prove he’s learning? Lest we forget, FC Gifu have one of the best goalkeepers Japan has ever produced in Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, and the highly able Satoshi Tokizawa waiting for their call.

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In any event, I hope this game doesn’t effect Gakuji too much. He has potential, and looks as if he has the fundamental tools to be a good goalkeeper for years to come.

Gakuji, don’t let your head get down. People make mistakes, it is what makes us human. It is how we get past them gets respect. Vamos Gakuji!

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