Off The Ball

Meet the accidental keepers

Paraguayan goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert takes a free kick

“I never wanted to be a keeper,” acknowledged Daniel Carnevalli, Argentina’s first-choice custodian at the 1974 FIFA World Cup Germany™, revealing what is a fairly common theme among the goalkeeping fraternity.

“I was forced to become one,” he went on to say. “I was a forward and I played like Cristiano Ronaldo: I didn’t give the ball to anyone. One day my team-mates at Morning Star came up to me and said: ‘Daniel, you’re going in goal!’ They put me there because I hogged the ball.”

Carnevalli is far from the game’s only reluctant keeper. Many are the players who have started out in an outfield position only to find themselves winding up in goal by accident or fate. After all, football-mad youngsters who prefer keeping the ball out to putting it in the back of the net are few and far between.

Manchester United shotstopper David de Gea is a case in point. The goalscorer-in-chief in his school team until the age of 12, De Gea first pulled on the gloves to cut short the arguments that inevitably preceded the kickabouts he had with his friends.

“Nobody wanted to go in goal, so I shut them up and said that I’d do it,” he explained. “I was good at it. I liked it, and I’ve sorted out a few problems because of it.”

While the Spain man made a fairly seamless switch to life between the posts, the same cannot be said for some of his colleagues. 

“I’m still asking myself why I became a keeper,” joked USA No1 Hope Solo. “I was a really good outfield player. I always scored the goals, so it was really difficult for me to make the change. But once I’d made the decision, it was all or nothing.”

She added: “I know I can play at a very high level as an outfield player, even today, with a little bit of training. I made a decision, though, and there’s no going back.”

That decision was no easier for her German opposite number Nadine Angerer. The 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year donned the gloves for the first time at the age of 15 because the side she was playing for at the time was short of a goalkeeper.

“People who watched me that day encouraged me to give goalkeeping a go, even though I still wanted to be a forward,” she said. “I took their advice in the end, but I wasn’t that keen on the idea.”

Within two years Angerer was making her full international debut, and in 2007 she helped her country win the FIFA Women’s World Cup without conceding a single goal.

As former Barcelona gloveman Victor Valdes explained a few months before winning the World Cup himself with Spain in 2010, handling the pressure of being between the posts is no easy task.

“Playing in goal week in week out has been a constant source of suffering for me,” he revealed. “I’ve suffered so much that there have been times when I’ve pictured having a different life. My dream was to be an outfield player.”

Valdes even contemplated quitting the game when he was 18, such was his fear of making a mistake. With help, however, he was able to overcome his concerns and become the world-class keeper he is today.

An eye for goal
For most outfield players-turned-keepers, pulling on the gloves means putting aside all those dreams of goalscoring glory. Yet, for the likes of Mexican extrovert Jorge Campos, the urge to get forward and hit the back of the other net always proved hard to resist.  

A talented striker in his early days, the irrepressible Campos struck 14 goals in his first season before taking up keeping duties and going on to become Mexico’s undisputed first-choice custodian at USA 1994 and France 1998.

His goalscoring instinct remained intact, however, and it was not unusual to see him race off his line and join the attack or switch position in the middle of a game. In one match against Atlante, he even found time to score with a spectacular bicycle kick.

Campos was one of the game’s revolutionaries, as was the Italian Attilio Trere decades before him. A talented midfielder in his day, Trere was consigned to goal by his coach as punishment for arriving late for training one day. He proved so good between the sticks that he stayed there, helping AC Milan win their second scudetto in 1906. No sooner did a new coach come in, though, than Trere slipped out of goal and back into his favoured midfield position.

“There’s no kid in South America that wants to be a goalkeeper,” said Jose Luis Chilavert. “They always send the useless one, the fat one or the kid who owns the ball.” That was not the case for the Paraguayan showman, a striker at heart and who became famous for his magical dead-ball skills.

One top-class keeper who was consigned to goal because of his size was Beto, Portugal’s No1 at Brazil 2014, who freely admits that he went in goal and remained there because he was too chubby to play anywhere else when he was young.

Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, whose footwork on the ball has impressed even Lionel Messi, went into goalkeeping for an even more unusual reason, citing his strange walk, while Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois discovered his rare gift for throwing himself around while playing volleyball.

“We had a beach volleyball court in the garden at home, and I loved diving for the balls,” said the Belgian. “It was the same when I played football, which is why I chose to go in goal when they gave me a choice between that or playing in defence. It’s worked out well for me too.”  

"Each goalkeeper has within us the footballer we couldn't become," admits Adrian, who has - along with Courtois and De Gea - been one of the outstanding keepers in the English Premier League this season. The West Ham United No1 played as a striker until the age of nine and was recently given a chance to relive those goalscoring days when he converted a match-winning penalty in his club's FA Cup shootout win over Everton. "I wouldn't mind taking another one," he said, laughing,

Proof, if ever it was needed, that these accidental keepers never completely let go of their outfield past.

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