Welcome to this week’s edition of The Glove Bag! This weekly mailbag looks at some intriguing goalkeeper topics from the past week (Monday to Sunday).

This edition covers some topics that happened between Monday, August 3 to Sunday, August 9.


LAST WEEK IN GOALKEEPING HISTORY

Looking back on an important moment in goalkeeping history.

Kepa Arrizabalaga is a very unpopular goalkeeper these days. The Chelsea netminder has conceded about 10 more goals than the average goalkeeper would’ve been expected to concede in his position (according to fbref.com), and his 54.5% save percentage ranks him dead last among all goalkeepers in Europe’s top five leagues.

Kepa was benched in Chelsea’s final games of the 2019-20 season, including the FA Cup final and Chelsea’s 4-1 loss to Bayern Munich. And according to some reports, he will be transferred out of the club this summer.

These reports come in the middle of Kepa’s seven-year deal, which he signed when he joined the Blues from Athletic Bilbao in 2018.

Speaking of which, Saturday, August 8 marked the two-year anniversary of Kepa’s record-breaking £71.6 million move.

Kepa’s 2018 move to Stamford Bridge is the single most expensive goalkeeper transfer in football history. He cost nearly £5 million more than Alisson Becker (if you include Alisson’s performance bonuses), who joined Liverpool from AS Roma just under a month earlier.

Unfortunately, Kepa hasn’t been anywhere as successful as his Brazilian counterpart. While Alisson backstopped Liverpool to UEFA Champions League and Premier League titles in his first two seasons with the club, Kepa only has a Europa League trophy to show for his Stamford Bridge stint. There’s also the fact that Alisson is widely accepted to be one of the best goalkeepers — if not the best goalkeeper — in the world, while Kepa has fallen out of favour with coach Frank Lampard and Chelsea fans.

Kepa’s unsuccessful stint has raised several questions over why Chelsea thought he was worth anywhere near his record-breaking fee. The truth is, at the time, the club were in a very difficult position regarding who their starting goalkeeper was going to be, and that played a key role in the transfer,

In August 2018, Chelsea’s regular number one goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, decided he wanted to move out from the club. The Belgian goalkeeper cited wanting to live closer to his children in Madrid, and given his Golden Glove-worthy 2018 World Cup performance, he felt that then was the right time to return to Spain.

But Chelsea didn’t see eye-to-eye. They made it clear that unless they sign a replacement goalkeeper, Courtois was going nowhere.

Furious at his club’s reaction, Courtois infamously went absent without leave. He attempted to force an exit out of Chelsea by refusing to show up to training in the summer break.

Courtois’s actions, which were well-covered in the British tabloids, annoyed his Chelsea bosses. But nonetheless, the plan worked. On August 8, 2018, Real Madrid officially announced Courtois’s transfer to their club. A few hours later, Chelsea confirmed the move.

Courtois’s transfer had forced Chelsea into a very tight corner. With their number one goalkeeper gone and their Premier League opener just days away, the Blues had to go shopping for a new ‘keeper. They could not rely on 36-year-old Willy Caballero and 39-year-old Robert Green to tend their goals for the season.

Unfortunately, most of the top goalkeepers on the market had already been transferred. Alisson, who Chelsea were connected with previously, had already signed for Liverpool nearly a month earlier. Bernd Leno and Rui Patrício, two other fantastic goalkeepers, had also joined new clubs earlier in the summer. And Keylor Navas, who was on Real Madrid when they signed Courtois, decided against transferring to a different club and instead opted to contest for the number one spot.

Chelsea had waited too long, and as a result, the market had dried up. Other clubs had already bought the shiniest toys, and Chelsea were left to scrap for the leftovers.

This is how the club happened upon one Kepa Arrizabalaga. The then-23-year-old was in just his second full season of regular action with Athletic Bilbao, and he was turning some heads. He was a U-19 European champion with Spain, and at one point he made eight saves in a single match against Real Madrid.

Kepa was so impressive that at one point he was being rumoured to join Real Madrid, months before Courtois’s arrival. And while that speculation was snuffed out when he signed a seven-year contract extension with Bilbao, it was enough to persuade Chelsea to take a chance on him.

But why the expensive fee? That was down to the genius work of Athletic Bilbao.

Bilbao are not run like the average football club. While other teams rush to spend millions on the brightest international stars, Bilbao’s transfer policy is very restrictive. The Basque club only sign players with connections to the greater Basque Country, be they a native or a trainee in the area from a young age.

This obviously restricts who Bilbao can sign. They won’t be buying up the Messis and Ronaldos of the world (unless they come from the Basque region). Instead, money they make from transfers would be put towards buying other Basque players or investing in their youth academies.

This is why when Chelsea inquired about Kepa’s services, Bilbao were adamant they pay his expensive release clause. The money they make for the deal couldn’t really have been used to sign a star goalkeeper to replace Kepa; losing Kepa pretty much meant losing their star goalkeeper with little chance of finding a replacement. So if a club wanted Kepa, they had to pay up.

While another club — such as Real Madrid — might’ve backed away from the deal, Chelsea were in such a bad position that they had to pay the fee. It was either sign this young, talented Spaniard who could develop into a top goalkeeper in the future, or risk going an entire season with Caballero or Green as your starting goalkeeper.

Chelsea obviously went with the former.

Bilbao’s strict transfer policy, mixed with Chelsea’s desperate need for a goalkeeper, set the perfect foundation for Kepa’s record-breaking move to take place. And while the move is largely seen as a dud nowadays, it’ll always have its place as one of the most expensive goalkeeper transfers of all time.


Goodbye, legend

Farewell to an important goalkeeping figure.

Football said goodbye to one of its greatest ever goalkeepers last week. On Tuesday, August 4, Spanish sporting legend Iker Casillas announced his retirement from professional football following a 22-year playing career.

It was a sad but inevitable end to a glorious career. Casillas had suffered a heart attack in May 2019, and while he had resumed training with Porto by November, his heart complications forced him to consider calling it quits.

After failing to make an appearance in the entirety of the 2019-20 season, Casillas, now 39 years old, confirmed his intentions to retire on Twitter.

Well wishes and messages of support were immediately sent Casillas’s way. From fabled El Clasico rivals to fellow members of the goalkeepers’ union, most of football’s top players praised and thanked Casillas for his years of service to the sport and the goalkeeper position.

These messages showed that Casillas was not only a respected athlete but also one of football’s most admired personalities.

Even former Real Madrid manager José Mourinho, who had his infamous quarrels with Casillas during their time together in the Spanish capital, praised Casillas’s “intelligence and maturity” and called him a “historic goalkeeper for Real Madrid, La Roja and world football.”

I must admit, when I first read Casillas’s tweet confirming his retirement, I shed a couple of tears.

Anyone who has followed my work, especially on this blog, knows how much I adore Casillas. I’ve penned several pieces focused on the Spanish goalkeeper, from a five-part series detailing parts of his career to an analysis piece breaking down two of his most famous saves. Casillas was one of the subjects of this site’s very first mailbag and — *spoiler alert* — he’s going to be the focus of my next piece.

My admiration for Casillas started in 2010. Around that time, I was starting to play as a goalkeeper more consistently. I was initially a defender when I first started playing football, but after playing hockey as a goaltender for a couple of years, I decided to adopt the goalkeeper role full-time.

It was also around this time that I caught Casillas’s performance in the 2010 World Cup final. I particularly remember watching Casillas’s toe save unfold — from Arjen Robben’s breakaway to the miraculous moment of Casillas’s denial — with a level of childish astonishment that I had never experienced before.

Then just 12 years old, a completely awestruck Mouhamad felt vindicated by his decision to pursue his goalkeeping ambitions.

A few weeks after the final, one of my friends gifted me a Spanish goalkeeper jersey from the 2010 World Cup. On the back was Casillas’s World Cup-winning number one.

casillas
16-year-old Mouhamad rocks his Casillas jersey. 

As I continued to follow Casillas’s career, one thing really stuck out to me the most; his height. Casillas was not a tall goalkeeper by any stretch of the imagination. While the average goalkeeper hovers around the 6 ft 3 mark Casillas stands at just 6 ft 0 tall.

According to some fans and so-called experts, Casillas’s diminutive size should’ve hindered his goalkeeping ability. But on the contrary, Casillas’s frame aided him in areas such as his agility and in turn helped him become one of the top goalkeepers of his generation.

That was enough to convince a teenage Mouhamad, who stood at just 5 ft 8, that even short goalkeepers could succeed in football.

I could go on and on about my admiration for Casillas — and I’ll take any chance I can to talk about his impact on my ambitions — but this section of the mailbag has gone on for long enough.

To end off, I’d like to thank Casillas for influencing my path to goalkeeping, and I hope he enjoys his retirement. His place in the pantheon of the sport’s top goalkeepers will never be overtaken. #Grac1as.


Pardon my Opinion

Mouhamad’s take on a pressing goalkeeping-related topic.

Last week, UEFA quietly reminded us of a couple of new amendments to the Laws of the Game. These IFAB-sanctioned amendments, which came into effect in early June, were adopted by UEFA for the 2020-21 season.

The remaining matches of various 2019-20 continental club competitions, including the Champions League and the Europa League, also adopted these rule changes.

While these amendments aren’t anything major in the grand scheme of things, a few of the changes impact goalkeepers directly. Specifically, these amendments target goalkeeper encroachment on penalties.

The first significant amendment was to Law 14, which deals with penalty kicks. According to the new rule changes, “an offence by the goalkeeper will no longer be penalized if a penalty kick misses the goal or rebounds from the goal (without a touch from the goalkeeper) unless their encroachment clearly affected the kicker.”

This means that if a goalkeeper encroaches on a penalty kick, he or she will not be penalized for their offence if the player misses the goal or strikes the post with their shot.

Furthermore, a goalkeeper will no longer be carded for a first offence; they will only be warned by the referee. Only if the goalkeeper illegally encroaches a second time will they be carded.

And if a kicker and the goalkeeper commit an offence at the exact same time, it’ll be the kicker — not the goalkeeper — who will be penalized. Previously, a kicker would only be penalized if the kick was scored; if the kick was missed or saved, the kicker would be given a retake and both players would be cautioned. That’s no longer the case, and now, only the kicker would be cautioned, not the goalkeeper.

The other goalkeeper-related amendment was to Law 10. From now on, yellow cards and warnings will no longer be carried into the penalty shootout.

While this rule impacts all players, it’s particularly relevant for goalkeepers. They’re no longer at risk of accumulating a yellow card or a double yellow on their first offence in a shootout, which decreases their chances of potential being sent off for encroachment.

Regarding why this rule change was made, Roberto Rosetti, UEFA’s chief refereeing officer, notes: “According to IFAB and according to the Laws of the Game, the kicks from the penalty mark are not part of the match – it’s just a way to determine the winner of the match.”

He further says that given the presence of VAR and the increased likelihood of a goalkeeper being sent off in a shootout due to VAR, this “good, important change” had to be made.

In terms of how people have received this news, there seem to be two camps. On the one side, some people believe these amendments help the goalkeeper. On the other side, some argue that these rule changes favour the attacker.

Personally, while I do have my concerns, I think both of these rule changes work in favour of goalkeepers. For Law 10, the benefit to the goalkeeper is pretty obvious, and based on Rosetti’s comments, it seems as though UEFA considered VAR’s impact on goalkeepers when they tweaked the rule.

As for Law 14, given a goalkeeper’s encroachment usually has little to no impact on their chances of stopping an attempt — a few inches off of the line doesn’t significantly cut down the angle — it’s fair to not penalize the goalkeeper with a yellow card when most of the time we goalkeepers don’t even realize we’re encroaching that far off of our line.

As I mentioned, I do have some concerns, mainly surrounding a potential spike in goalkeeper encroachment calls. If a goalkeeper offence is no longer a cardable offence the first time around, will referees be more willing to call out encroachments? I think they will be, which means we’ll see more retaken penalties. But I also believe, like what we saw following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, that the number of these calls will start to dip to an acceptable median as more games are played.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m content with the rule changes.


STARS OF THE WEEK

Shoutout to these goalkeepers for their great work last week!

Anthony Lopes (Olympique Lyonnais)

The Champions League returned last week after a long hiatus. Manchester City, Olympique Lyonnais, FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich all punched their tickets to the quarter-finals thanks to aggregate victories.

The biggest shock was Lyon’s progression. The French club eliminated Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus on away goals following a 2-2 aggregate draw. It’s the first time they’ve reached this stage of the competition since 2010.

Despite conceding two goals, Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes played a key role in the win. His 40th-minute diving save on a Ronaldo free kick kept Lyon’s lead intact and erased a potential third goal from the aggregate score.

Kevin Trapp (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Eintracht Frankfurt had a rough return to continental club action last week. Nearly five months after losing the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie with FC Basel by a 3-0 scoreline, the Germans dropped the second leg 1-0. The 4-0 aggregate loss eliminated last season’s semi-finalists, who were the only round of 16 side to not score a single goal across the two legs.

Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp can’t be blamed for the second leg loss. The German international turned aside five shots, including two top-class stops on Silvan Widmer. It took Basel 88 minutes to finally beat him.

Rui Patrício (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

Wolverhampton Wanderers were one of two English clubs to advance to the Europa League quarter-finals after they bested Olympiacos by a 2-1 aggregate score. It’s the first time the Wolves have progressed this deep into the competition since their appearance in the final in 1972.

This historic progression would not have been possible without Wolves’ experienced goalkeeper, Rui Patrício. The star Portuguese goalkeeper had one of his best career performances in his side’s 1-0 win in the second leg. Patrício made five saves — four of which came from shots inside of the box — and kept his fourth clean sheet.


Have a question, suggestion or anything else you’d like to see included in this column? Let me know on Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper.

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