Alternating goalkeepers for big-name, top-tier clubs has shed its taboo. But is it really worth it?

There was a time when the goalkeeping hierarchy was somewhat unquestionable. Main keepers had their spot on the starting eleven guaranteed, whilst their substitutes knew only too well that they would be sat on the bench for the more important confrontations. They could aspire to taking part in secondary-grade matches, like the first eliminatory round of a national cup for example. Only, in these past few years things have changed and this plan of action has been increasingly questioned.

According to ‘Panenka’ magazine, the person responsible for this change in trends was Carlo Ancelotti. Before the arrival of Keylor Navas, the Italian technician decided to alternate him and Iker Casillas in both of the two most important competitions Real Madrid CF was taking part in at the time. One keeper would play La Liga, the other would play the Champions League.

Further on down the line, other managers would pick up on and follow through with Ancelotti’s new ways. One case, amongst many, to notice is that of Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique’s, who alternated their keepers in both competitions, feeding into an approach of managing a team that isn’t as surprising as it used to be. But is there any true and effective convenience to having two equally competitive goalkeepers on one same team? What should grassroots football trainers be taking from this tendency present in the higher, professional levels of the sport?

Rotaciones en portería
Eldar Taghizada blocks a ball during a training session at Marcet.

“We need to be making clear distinctions between these levels of performance”, explains José Bermúdez, goalkeeper trainer for FC Barcelona’s Under-19s A team. “In grassroots football, it’s clear that the goal has to be shared, so long as both goalkeepers are similar in their abilities. It’s important that both keepers are given equal opportunities to develop their qualities and progress through competition”. This doesn’t mean that in all of FC Barcelona’s under age teams they’ve fixed in a permanent criteria for rotating players. “All keepers get their minutes, it’s up to each technician to manage those minutes as they best see fit”.

Some, for example, prefer to make the switch at half time. Others, however, chose to give their keepers full matches. This is the case with Girona FC, whose managers usually grant starting eleven status to a single keeper for two or three consecutive matches. “This allows goalkeepers that find themselves in a good streak to build on that confidence and stay in that positive space to then take the best from that specific dynamic that they’ve built for themselves and improve”, explains Miquel Colldecarrera, the person in charge of Girona’s goalkeepers. “In addition, that is also good for the other goalkeeper, who has to learn how to behave when he’s not playing. After all this is a reality that almost everyone has to face at a certain point of his career.”

“A TRAINER need to know how to foment a healthy degree of competitivity in the pitch”

Juan Carlos Camacho, former keeper and manager for RC Recreativo de Huelva’s Under-19s’ A team, seems to prove himself most pragmatic of all. “This year we have two keepers which we’ve chosen to play according to how well the player’s aspects line up with the match’s necessities. Ideally, you want to be rotating so that both keepers stay connected and hungry at all times. It all comes down to what your keepers are like”.

Colldecarrera agrees and highlights some of the potential problems that could come with said coexistence in certain situations. According to the technician from Girona, line-ups need to be designed to produce a certain sense of competitivity in each playing position, however this can sometimes prove itself difficult when it comes to managing this kind of rivalry. “There’s a lot of ego involved and it can sometimes be difficult to maintain two keepers at their best. This should really be every manager’s obsession, we need to know how to foment a healthy degree of competitivity so that each and every player on the line up find their optimal performative and mental state”.

Rotaciones en la portería
A goalkeepers training session in the Marcet High Performance Academy.

All the managers we talked to seem to agree on the fact that these approaches should only be made in base level football. “In professional football, more variables come into play like representatives, contact terms, etc.”, explains Camacho. “Usually a team will have a keeper that the manager will rely more on”. Vincenzo Montella must have had a similar opinion when he first made a place for himself on Sevilla FC’s bench, when he decided to put an end to the rotations between Sergio Rico and David Soria.

In the elite, where a lot of matches are played throughout the year, I believe that it’s positive each keeper asumes their respective role”, Bermùdez points out. The Barça manager admits that alternating keepers gets in the way of them spending too much without competing. “But for keepers to be at 100%, they need solid minutes and continuity”.

 

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