By Onuba Comms’ translator & sportswriter Marie-Océane Bayol, goalkeeper for Italy’s AC Perugia.
Often the subject of finger-pointing in the past and accused of being their teams’ “weak links”, goalkeepers have struck back with a vengeance at this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. No fewer than four custodians – Argentina’s Vanina Correa, Chile’s Christiane Endler, China’s Peng Shimeng and Hedvig Lindahl of Sweden – all won Player of the Match awards, while several others also contributed eye-catching displays.
Decisive when coming off their line, commanding in their penalty areas and comfortable with the ball at their feet, these thoroughly modern keepers have certainly silenced the critics – but what are the key factors behind this leap in quality?
1. An increase in the number of licensed players
Over the past decade, the number of licensed women’s football players has gradually increased the world over, a trend that has enabled clubs and national team set-ups to build up a larger pool of players, and by extension goalkeepers, to choose from. What is more, those federations that lead the way in terms of infrastructure and investment – such as the United States, Germany, France and England – already head to major tournaments with two or more top custodians competing for the No1 jersey. This has meant that, at international level, the lack of a capable performer between the sticks has become a tell-tale sign that all is not as it should be development-wise in the women’s game in that country.
2. A rise in professionalism
The multiple advances made by clubs and federations in terms of improving the professionalism of the infrastructure, work-life balance, quality of training and physical conditioning of their players have helped women’s football to take significant steps forward. In addition, the need for top clubs to have at least two quality players in every position – as cover for injuries or loss of form – has also generated a greater level of healthy competition between goalkeepers. The fact that neither the outstanding Endler nor the Netherlands’ Sari van Veenendaal, the winner of the Golden Glove for best keeper at France 2019, were automatic starters last season at Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal respectively shows just how deep the pool of shotstopping talent has become.
3. Increased access to specialist coaching
The aforementioned rise in professionalism has included the addition of specialist goalkeeping coaches to the staff at many more clubs. This development has meant that teams’ last line of defence can now work on more areas of the game specific to their role, whether they be technical, physical or tactical considerations. Plus, the availability of a specialist coach leads to improvements in keepers’ mental strength and self-awareness, thanks in large part to more extensive match analysis and better awareness of the finer details of the goalkeeper’s art.
There is no doubt in my mind that the standard of goalkeeping will continue to increase, with the stellar performances shown by shot-stoppers at this World Cup providing a host of fine role models for young girls to identify with. Whether it is the rugged bravery of Correa, the athleticism of Endler, the leadership of Japan’s Ayaka Yamashita, the aerial ability of Lindahl and Italy’s Laura Giuliani, or the all-round excellence of Van Veenendaal – there has been a keeper for every taste on French soil.
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