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The complex psyche of a goalkeeper in the A-League and beyond | A-League

Andrew Redmayne receives a backpass. The Sydney FC goalkeeper has the ball at his boot and an eye up the field. He has options for a clearance but hacks it straight to Luka Prso, who sends it straight back and beyond to open the scoring for Newcastle.

Sydney ultimately won Saturday’s home game 2-1, but Steve Corica noted afterwards that his team had got Redmayne “out of jail”. The coach was “not happy with the mistakes that he’s making, definitely not”.

“But,” Corica acknowledged, “goalkeepers can’t hide”.

“They make one mistake and it’s in the back of the net. Unfortunately, he’s made a few of them this season. He’s a very good keeper, Redders, he’s been excellent for four or five years for us.

“We need him, he’s a great player for us, and he continued to do his stuff in the second half; he’s just got to stop making these silly mistakes.”

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The point is not to disparage Redmayne, whose renaissance at Sydney FC has been a cornerstone of the club’s four-year A-League dominance and whose employment of a unique but deliberate limb-flailing jig is a penalty shootout skill to behold. His output for the Sky Blues earned him a first Socceroos call-up at the age of 30.

Nor to criticise any other keeper who has suffered snap moments of misjudgement; in the same match, Redmayne’s Newcastle counterpart, Jack Duncan, had a slip of the glove which contributed to Alex Wilkinson’s winner.

The point, rather, is an examination of personality. More specifically, of which characteristics might be common to this special breed of human who operates as part of a team but also on a solitary plane.

What are the cognitive ingredients for high-calibre net-minding? What exactly is it that links the likes Eugene Galekovic, Danny Vukovic, Michael Theo, Liam Reddy, Ante Covic, Clint Bolton and Jamie Young?

“Crazy” and “weird” are superficial catch-all terms often thrown up. Potentially more accurate could be “a bit different” – from the rest of the population but also from each other.

Liam Reddy of Perth Glory
Member of the goalkeeper’s union, Australia branch, Liam Reddy of Perth Glory. Photograph: Darren Pateman/AAP

Some on the global stage appear to thrive on patience (Hugo Lloris), others on chaos (Rui Patrício), calm (Alisson), resilience (Thibaut Courtois, David de Gea), risk-taking (Manuel Neuer) and charisma (Gianluigi Buffon). Many, of course, overlap into other boxes.

There is something about the psyche of football’s only line of defence comprising a single player, one who spends 90 minutes hovering on the uncomfortable cusp of inaction and intervention. A sole figure within a 7.32m space where responsibility cannot be diffused by teammates, and where a save is just as crucial as a goal but engenders less external praise.

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Iker Casillas once said he believed “personality defines the goalkeeper of a big team”. “By personality I don’t mean yelling and waving,” he said in an interview with German magazine, 11 Freunde. “Being cold and calm can be just as important for a goalkeeper.”

There can be yelling and waving, like the vocal remonstrations of Peter Schmeichel (an idol of Matildas custodian Lydia Williams), but also quiet confidence, like that of Jan Oblak.

One goalkeeper coach a few years ago said off the record that a prerequisite to making it big between the posts was to have “a little bit of cunt in you”.

That little bit of something could be apparent in the difference between feeling panic upon an opponent’s arrival or opportunity at the prospect of starting a new attack. It might be the capacity to more easily find “the zone”, that heady state of extraordinary focus devoid of indecision.

It may also be the ability to turn fear into impregnable daredevilry – an incongruous forte of the modern sweeper keeper. This dangerous game of thinking outside the box – quite literally – conjures Marc-André ter Stegen and René Higuita.

Australia’s version would be Mat Ryan, a student – along with Redmayne – of John Crawley’s Chilean influence with Colo-Colo, for whom he was second choice to Marcelo Ramírez in the early 1990s.

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And therein lies the other lonely element of the gig. Bench-warming for an outfield player at least holds the sweetener of possible substitution. Rarely does a back-up keeper get a go, as Joe Hart will not doubt attest, and entire seasons can be spent in the shadows, attempting to self-motivate and train as if the next match could bring the big moment to make or break a career.

Advancements in sports psychology have made inroads. Toes only twinkle if the brain tells them to, and cognitive behavioural therapy has provided many with the tools to avoid over-analysing the minutiae of every performance and the public’s reaction to it.

Ryan, for instance, uses the trash trick to move on quickly from mistakes. The Socceroos No 1 and recent Arsenal signing does a quick scan for a rubbish bin in the stands and mentally throws his error into it.

Psychologists have fast become a fixture in many a professional sporting environment, tasked with helping athletes avoid the rumination that bleeds into subsequent seconds and minutes and matches, and culminates in the dreaded form slump.

Research has increased, too, and qualitative studies have attempted to find out how goalkeepers cope with negative media content and how they psychologically prepare for penalty shootouts.

The upshot? Redmayne has made a few blunders this A-League season. But his rubbish bin is somewhere in the stands; he just has to find it.

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