“The next revolution will come through goalkeepers; whoever dares to take him out of the box and play as if he were just another player will begin to change the rules”. Pep Guardiola thought so in an interview not too long ago when he was asked about the next game-changing step in football’s internal struggle to dominate the ball and counter the sophistication and organization of teams seeking to win it back.
It was not so long ago that Erik ten Hag’s Ajax generated a very positive impact in terms of organization with the ball and the role of the goalkeeper, an André Onana who can anticipate the role of some goalkeepers -we have already seen it-, even if his behavior is too extreme in many moments. These maps of the Inter Milan goalkeeper exemplify what Guardiola said: Onana added 20% of his passes outside the box (map 1), with a heat map (2) and passing networks (3) in specific matches that visualized very well the role that Onana had in the Ajacied team.
Okay, Onana may not be a paradigmatic example, to the point of leaving photos like this in the last World Cup in Qatar, even questioning the guidelines of his coach, leaving the call of his national team, but it certainly serves as a laboratory of a possible future. We will see if it is probable, as Guardiola believes. Or Manuel Neuer himself (on the right), another precursor of the goalkeeper-player.
While all this may or may not happen, what is certain is the role of the goalkeeper with his feet. It is a reality that the goalkeeper is already a crucial part of the principles of play of a team that wants to generate advantages with the ball from the first pass and goal kick. It is no coincidence that the best talents in this regard are in the best goalkeepers in Europe or that those who did not have a natural gift in this facet, end up improving in an extraordinary way, as in the case of Thibaut Courtois.
In these two graphs we can cross the percentage of ball retention with the percentage of successful forward passes (graph 1), as well as the percentage of completed long passes with the percentage of total passes (graph 2). Today, in teams where individual and coaching talents are aligned to keep the ball longer and retain it more successfully and accurately, goalkeepers not only initiate many more passes but also receive the ball in much greater numbers. They must not only pass the ball well but also interpret how the opponent is pressing to find the free man, no matter how far away he is.
We are Driblab, a consultancy specialized in the statistical analysis of players and teams; our work is focused on advising and minimizing risk in professional football decision-making in areas related to talent detection and footballer evaluations. Our database has more than 200,000 players from more than 180 competitions, covering information from all over the world. Here you can learn more about how we work and what we offer.