There’s a huge list of attributes every top Goalkeeper needs to have. But what is it that Goalkeeper Scouts specifically look for? How does one Keeper stand out from the rest?
Why Are Some GKs Scouted, But Not Others?
As a teenager I trained alongside many Goalkeepers at differing levels. Some played for the likes of Crystal Palace, Leyton Orient, and Colchester United. A few had previously been on the books for Premier League youth teams, prior to being released. Others, such as myself, had always played at local league level and nothing more than that.
But the truth is, it was often difficult to understand what separated one Keeper from another. I recall one boy who was widely regarded by parents and kids alike, as one of the ‘best’ Keepers in my age bracket. It seemed apparent to everyone, as he was so agile, nimble, and a great shot stopper. Yet he only ever played at a modest, Sunday league level.
Why was he not Scouted, yet others were?
I once spoke of this situation with a Football Scout and the response he gave was (words to the effect of):
“Well maybe he was unlucky and didn’t ever get spotted. But also think: what were you basing your assessment of that group of Goalkeepers on? Shot stopping ability? Handling? That’s not everything. There’s probably something else about the [scouted] Goalkeepers, compared to that particular kid, that you weren’t seeing from the drills you did in training. It could have been his presence on the pitch, or excellent distribution skills, for example”.
Having met various Goalkeeping coaches from different clubs over the years, its become clear that there are many “general” aspects of the game that all coaches value and want to see — but there’s also specific attributes that are favoured by individual Scouts and/or the clubs they represent.
Importantly, some attributes aren’t easy to see from training exercises which are, essentially, repetitive.
How Can You Stand Out?
Shot stopping ability, high fitness levels, and physicality (particularly a tall and strong body type) are common factors sought by all Goalkeeper Scouts. But in many ways these attributes are somewhat mandatory. It’s the more specialist areas of the game that separate one Keeper from another, and help to spark serious interest from big clubs.
In the modern era of football we’ve seen a rise in the demand for several specific Goalkeeping attributes that weren’t always top of the Scouting checklist in previous decades. Mastering these areas of Goalkeeping could, perhaps, give one Keeper an advantage over others.
Here’s some of the attributes that might improve a Keeper’s chance of being spotted by Scouts:
With the rise of the Sweeper Keeper role, GKs are increasingly expected to demonstrate “on-field” attributes in order to play the role of last defender. To fulfil this role Goalkeepers must:
- Maintain a very high level of fitness
- Demonstrate exceptional speed and agility
- Have excellent control, and confidence, with the ball at feet (especially when under pressure)
- Demonstrate the ability to produce highly accurate passes and long balls
- Anticipate the ball and consistently produce well-timed challenges (e.g slide tackles)
Just bare in mind that every club is unique and will value some “outfield” attributes more than others.
Confidence & Leadership
This is an aspect of Goalkeeping that’s difficult to practice in training sessions. Naturally, confidence and leadership will come more naturally to some Keepers than others.
Some Scouts have openly stated (online) that they want to see an GK that commands their penalty area in both a verbal and physical sense. This means giving clear and assertive instructions to their defense for all types of situations (building walls, clearances, marking spare players etc.), and also having the confidence to claim the ball to diffuse dangerous situations.
A Goalkeeper that’s able to command the respect of teammates goes a long way to building a stable defense. Hence why Scouts value leadership so much.
Decision Making & Reading The Game
A Goalkeeper can have all the technical ability and confidence in the world — but if they consistently make poor judgements on the pitch, then it offsets their potential.
Scouts want to see whether a technically-gifted Keeper can also read the game and make wise choices. They want to see if a Keeper can eliminate dangers by making the correct choice in terms of:
- Claiming or punching crosses/corners
- Choosing the appropriate handling technique for a variety of saves (including using feet)
- Choosing the appropriate distribution method for particular phases of the game (e.g. reducing pressure, or launching an attack on the opposition)
- Claiming or clearing loose balls on the edge of the penalty area
Check out my article on Goalkeeper Decision Making Skills to learn more.
Attitude & Work Ethic
The Goalkeeper, more so than anyone else on the pitch, cannot lose their head when things on or off the pitch aren’t going their way. Therefore a Goalkeeper Scout wants to recruit a steady-but-tough team player that’s able to bounce back from errors. The ideal candidate can handle criticisms and strives to constantly improve no matter what.
You may note that very few professional Goalkeepers are at the forefront of club scandals and bust-ups — because most of them are recruited based on their ability to stabilise a team. While the “wild card” striker may have some appeal (albeit with several potential downsides), nobody wants an unpredictable or volatile last defender.
Obviously being in the right place at the right time also helps in being Scouted. Nonetheless, if you’re doing all the right things, and can demonstrate abilities — in both real matches and in training — that cater to the modern game, then you stand a better chance of being noticed.