In a second article where Read But Never Red goes slightly ‘off piste’ from writing exclusively about Manchester City, we once again delve into the thoughts of a football manager and head of youth development, this time on the topic of aspiring goalkeepers.
The often ‘colourful’ and controversial manager is concerned that many professional clubs in England are inadvertently blighting the potential of youngsters, by imposing strict height requirements before even considering them for admission to football academies up and down the country.
He has asked to remain anonymous and RBNR is happy to respect those wishes.
When it comes to goalkeepers Manchester City are blessed with having one of the finest in the world in the shape of Joe Hart.
With a nice round 300 City first team appearances under his belt, more than 50 England caps and four of the last five Golden Glove Awards for keeping clean sheets in the Premier League, Joe stands proud and tall in his profession.
At 6ft 5” (that’s 1.96m in ‘new money’) and 28-years of age, Joe’s best playing years are more than likely still ahead of him – and that’s taking into account two PL title wins and FA & League Cup winning medals already in his collection.
Hart follows in a long line of City goalkeeping giants, legends such as Frank Swift, Bert Trautmann and Joe Corrigan, men big in both stature and achievement.
The quartet of City keepers were fortunate that Mother Nature gave them the natural height to go with their athletic ability.
But what happens if an aspiring youngster doesn’t measure up to the rigid, and many would say, short-sighted criteria of ‘if you’re not 6ft or more by the age of 16, you can forget about being a goalkeeper’?
Our mystery football manager and youth development expert shared his experiences, tales which should encourage a far more flexible and enlightened approach, when looking to identify young goalkeeping talent.
30 years ago a teenager was making a name for himself in his local league as a brilliant goalkeeper. His dream was to be a professional footballer, but how many of us achieve our dreams in life?
So often the dreams remains just that…people fall short of their aspirations and dreams go unfulfilled.
In this instance the lad in question faced the prospect of coming up short – two inches to be precise. He was 5ft 10” tall in a world full of 6ft+ strikers.
How many times did the boy hear the feedback “Great keeper, but nowhere near tall enough…” it was discouraging and frustrating to say the least.
Desperate to prove people wrong the boy took action to prevent his career ending before it had even begun.
He joined a gymnastics club to enhance his agility, took up athletics to speed up his sprinting, he even indulged in ‘Billy Elliot-style’ dance classes to improve his overall footwork.
If his lack of height was deemed an impediment he was determined to overcome it by excelling in other areas of his game.
It paid off. His quality and consistency of performance caught the eye of more and more scouts. Eventually, to his surprise, he was offered a trial at a major club in the First Division – today’s Premier League.
Thrilled at the prospect of finally getting a shot at the big time, the boy was nonetheless, still carrying the mental burden of constantly worrying about his perceived lack of height.
As he walked from the changing room to the pitch for his trial match, a familiar figure approached the nervous teenager – the manager of the club’s first team.
“Hello son, you’re not very tall for a keeper are you?”
His heart sank. His worst fears were being realised before he’d even stepped onto the pitch. What came next from the famous manager was totally unexpected.
“Well you listen to me, those strikers may be taller than you but they can’t use their f**kin hands can they, so with your arms in the air I reckon that makes you about 7ft f**kin tall – so nothing to worry about!”
As pep talks go, it was about as good as it gets. The trial went like a dream, the young lad was signed as a professional and prospered in a career spanning 700 first team appearances.
The question posed by our unidentified contributor, our football youth development expert, is could such a positive scenario happen today, in the land of ritzy academies?
He fears it highly unlikely.
“Clubs nowadays are far too prescriptive and conditioned to putting ticks in boxes – irrespective of natural ability. The notion of a young keeper, who doesn’t hit the 6ft mark, progressing at a professional English club is highly fanciful.”
He tells the story of a young keeper who found himself discarded by one leading club in the North West of England, because his parents were comparatively short and it was assumed the lad would inherit their genes.
The keeper in question was an adopted child, but the club couldn’t see beyond their stereotypical prejudice, didn’t bother to do their homework and cast him aside.
Their loss was a bitter local rival’s gain, and the player went on to an illustrious career.
Two goalkeepers – one being the oldest to ever play in the Premier League, the other being just about the most successful keeper of all time – fell short of the 6ft mark.
One of the domestic game’s most colourful of characters, John ‘Budgie’ Burridge, came on as a half time substitute to play for Manchester City against Newcastle United on April 29th, 1995. He was 43yrs 4 months and 26-days young, he kept a clean sheet that day…and he was just 5ft 11” tall.
Burridge made four appearances for City after being signed by manager, Brian Horton, as cover for first choice Tony Coton. In total he played 771 times for 29 different teams in a career spanning nearly 30 years – a remarkable achievement.
But when it comes to footballing glory there’s not many who can top 5ft 11½” Iker Casillas of Real Madrid and Spain – the winner of a World Cup and 2 European Championships at international level, the Spanish skipper has amassed 3 Champions League medals, 2 UEFA Super Cups, a FIFA Club World Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, 5 La Liga titles, 2 Copa del Rey victories and 4 Supercopa de Espana wins – not too shabby for a man who wouldn’t meet the basic admission requirements for clubs in the lower reaches of the professional game in this country.
And, despite the obvious idiocy of the stipulations that govern whether a less than 6ft keeper gets the chance of a professional contract in England, our guest contributor is in no doubt:
“The answer is an emphatic NO!”
By David Walker
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