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POKER FACE

Why don’t goalkeepers ever do away with their wall?

Roberto Carlos bounds in off step number 15 and laces the ball towards goal from 38 yards with the outer diamond of his Umbro Speciali.

Fabian Barthez takes two steps to his left to gather, although the ferocity of Carlos’ strike forces the maverick Monaco goalkeeper to palm the ball down once before gathering.

You see, Barthez had instructed Patrick Vieira, Zinedine Zidane, Florian Maurice and Didier Deschamps to stand down from wall duty. Having been able to see Carlos’ strike the whole way, Barthez made a simple save. There was a collective chuckle at Carlos’ audacity before play moved on.

Of course, that isn’t how it played out in Lyon. Vieira, Zidane, Maurice and Deschamps stood proud in the wall. Barthez took half a step to his right to try and get a better view, at which point Carlos shifted the earth’s gravitational pull to score history’s most iconic free-kick.

The art of goalkeeping is ever-evolving. Keepers at all levels are now expected to be the 11th outfield player. If they’re not maintaining possession with an immaculate first-touch in the face of an aggressive press then they’re sparking counter-attacks with precision-guided missiles.

Yet, throughout all the evolutions, the humble wall has maintained. The sight of a goalkeeper disbanding their wall prior to a free-kick would be met with ridicule even though, in theory, it reduces reaction time and provides goalkeepers with an unobstructed view of the taker.

Why, despite the innovations and improvements in athleticism, are goalkeepers still so reluctant to go mano a mano with the set-piece taker?

James Devonald, development goalkeeping coach at Swansea City, believes there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to a keeper getting rid of their wall.

“Every goalkeeper should identify, based on their live assessment of the free-kick, whether they want a wall or not.

“There are various different aspects which will affect a goalkeeper’s decision on whether to set a wall or not: where it is, who’s stood over it, what the pre-match analysis has shown the likely outcome to be, and so on.

“I’ll always trust my goalkeeper to assess the situation and make the correct decision, as long as they can back that decision up with a reason and success.”

So close yet so far

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So close yet so far

“I think it’s a bizarre shout when people say goalkeepers should get rid of the wall from central free-kicks around the box, as it will just allow a free shot on goal,” says Queens Park Rangers Under-23 goalkeeping coach Erbil Bozkurt.

“In my opinion it’s a very non-goalkeeping shout, and I couldn’t imagine an ex-goalkeeper or a goalkeeping coach suggesting that idea. With the way top players can strike a ball, and the movement they can create, it will just make it a lot tougher for goalkeepers to deal with.”

That was certainly the case in 2014 when Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Weidenfeller allowed Hamburg’s Hakan Calhanoglu a clear strike at goal from a 45 yards. The resulting free-kick was about as comprehensive an argument for building a defensive wall as you could wish to see.

Leyton Orient goalkeeper Sam Sargeant echoes Bozkurt’s views and explains that all walls are not built equal. “A wall does help you out as a goalkeeper, but there are different variations on the walls you can have.” the 22-year-old says.

“On a personal note, this season I’ve been having chats with my goalkeeping coach in which we’ve come up with the idea of splitting the wall and leaving a gap.

“For example, if I had a four-man wall then I’d leave a gap between the third and fourth man to allow myself to take up a different position in the goal.”

“I’d tell the man on his own to line up with the far post, or the post that I’m nearest to, to prevent the taker from having as much to aim at on that side of the goal. That allows me to adopt a more central position to be able to cover the other side of the goal if the taker then decides to go over the top of the wall.”

“I think not having the wall is just giving the taker an option to hit more of the target. They can just strike the ball as they would a normal shot. Ultimately, having a wall is important, there are just different ways of setting it up depending on who you are up against and where the free-kick is being taken.”

Bozkurt agrees that there’s more to building a wall than meets the eye, explaining: “In general I think setting up a wall is a skill on its own, and maybe something we as coaches and goalkeepers don’t focus enough on in training.

“We also never seem to praise or give credit when the wall does its job. It automatically just becomes a ‘poor attempt’ when the ball hits the wall.”

Walls are here to stay, although goalkeepers and coaches are increasingly being forced to adapt and innovate in order to keep pace with the growing repertoire of techniques utilised by modern set-piece takers.

That being said, if an influential goalkeeper took a wall-less approach then the trickle-down impact on the keepers’ union wouldn’t take long to emerge.

Your move, Ederson.

Football in 2020

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Football in 2020

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