Football: Chelsea's goalkeeping Dutchman flying in face of adversity

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ed de Goey watched Chelsea win last season's FA Cup on television in Rotterdam. When they begin their defence of the trophy at Stamford Bridge tomorrow he will be more closely involved - minding Chelsea's goal against free-scoring Manchester United. As he prepared for the third round tie, he spoke to Glenn Moore.

With his broad-shouldered gangling frame, lugubrious face, moustache, shaggy hair, high forehead and prominent eyes Ed de Goey is the nearest thing the Premiership has to Donald Sutherland. There were those, when he first started guarding the Chelsea goal, who suggested he played like the actor as well.

The goal he conceded to Southampton, when Kevin Davies caught him hesitating over a clearance, was the most obvious error but whenever the ball was in the air De Goey did not appear to inspire confidence. With Chelsea having more keepers than London Zoo, the Dutchman's chances of holding off Frode Grodas, Dmitri Kharin, Kevin Hitchcock and Nick Colgan seemed numbered.

But tomorrow he keeps goal against Manchester United as one of the Premiership's form goalkeepers. With hard work and good advice he has adapted to the more physical nature of the English game, sharpened his play and begun keeping clean sheets.

In the last 11 matches De Goey has conceded seven goals and, despite the uncertain start, his League record of 21 in 21 is bettered only by Peter Schmeichel, David James and Kasey Keller of the Premiership's regular custodians.

This achievement is all the more creditable in the context of the team. No disrespect to the admirable Nigel Martyn but it is one thing to keep goal behind a blanket of white shirts, another entirely to do so behind the gaping holes sometimes left by Ruud Gullit's cavaliers.

De Goey, who was signed last summer from Feyenoord for pounds 2.2m, a Dutch record for a goalkeeper, admits he had early problems. "It was difficult in the beginning," he said as we sat in the canteen at Chelsea's training ground in west London. Searching for the diplomatic phrase, he explained: "Players are allowed more contact against the goalkeeper than in Holland, so I have to protect myself more. I am improving and can improve more. As for that goal against Southampton... I went to play the ball to Frank Sinclair but he was looking the other way so I took one more touch - but I did not see the striker."

"When he came he needed to adapt to the British game and he's done that," said Eddie Niedzwiecki, Chelsea's goalkeeping coach and, before injury brought a premature end to his career, their last consistently good goalkeeper.

"I know people had their question-marks over him when he first came but it always takes time: it is a lot quicker here, there are bigger crowds and probably more pressure. He's taken the challenge on board and done very well. His performances in the last couple of weeks show how he's improved. He's commanding his area better.

"I've been working with him on crosses. Over here players hit the goalkeeper a lot more than in Holland. I go to see most of the opponents so I can inform him on various aspects of the game that might occur: corners, free-kicks, whether they hit diagonal balls into feet, the various dangers he might face in a game.

"One of the things he had not really done in Holland was work on footwork in terms of the quick movement across the goal. That's very important in the everyday game and that has developed. He was already good with his feet on the ball, despite the Southampton goal. He has also lost a stone in weight and feels better for it.

"Ruud knew what he wanted when he signed him and had confidence in him. We've worked hard and you are now seeing an outstanding goalkeeper who is performing at the highest level."

The benchmark will, fitness permitting, be on duty at the other end tomorrow. Peter Schmeichel is the first name De Goey mentions when we talk about other goalkeepers, and Niedzwiecki added: "Schmeichel is held in great esteem. He's come here and is now dominating the art of goalkeeping. The best are judged on clean sheets and the number of mistakes they make in a season: the men who make one or two stay at the top. Schmeichel has presence, he commands his area and consistently produces important saves. That is what we are looking to emulate."

Chelsea and United have drawn twice this season and De Goey said: "It is a tough game but a nice one. The last couple of games we've had difficulties with small teams who press us and do not allow us to play our football. Manchester United and Chelsea are teams that want to play football so it should be good game. I would love to play at Wembley in the final. I saw it last year on television, I do most years, and the traditions, the crowd, the atmosphere, is fantastic. But while the FA Cup is important, and we want to defend it well, it is it just one of four competitions we are in.

"It could be important psychologically [to win] as we've had a couple of bad results. We may be seven points behind Manchester United in the League but it is a long season. They have the Champions' League to play and have to come to Stamford Bridge."

Had it not been for a club tour by his then rivals, Ajax, De Goey might not have been at the Bridge to welcome them. Having broken into the Dutch team at the tail end of Gullit's international career in 1992 he played 27 consecutive matches, including five in the 1994 World Cup, before being dropped. Capped once in 1996 he won his 29th cap against South Africa in June, as Edwin van der Sar was in South America with Ajax. Ruud Gullit was also there, to receive an award from Nelson Mandela. De Goey played well and, on the plane back, Gullit asked him if he was interested in joining Chelsea. "I signed three days later," he said.

De Goey, 31 last month, was brought up in Gouda and played five season with Sparta Rotterdam before moving to Feyenoord, the club he followed as a boy. There he won a championship and four cups. But he was looking to move - Everton were interested - and feels his international chances will benefit. "I can develop my game here and there are no easy games. In Holland you go to some teams knowing you are going to win. Not here. Sometimes in Holland I did not touch the ball in the game.

"I love it here. My family are settled and the people are very kind: they give you privacy. We are in Windsor. From my curtains I can almost see the castle.

Socially, the De Goeys see Tore Andre Flo, Mark Hughes and Frode Grodas, all of whom live nearby. Ken Monkou is an old friend and dinner with the Bergkamps is in the diary. De Goey's son, three in a few months' time, is down for nursery school (but not for Eton) and De Goey is becoming so Anglicised he sometimes has trouble remembering Dutch words. He does not, incidentally, speak in Dutch to Gullit - "It would seem strange to the other players."

One adjustment that had to be made was Christmas football. The Dutch league shuts for winter and playing on Boxing Day, as important as Christmas Day in the Dutch calender, was strange. Not that De Goey had trouble abstaining from the Christmas pleasures. He is teetotal, initially from not liking the taste, now also for fitness. "When we go out I am always driving," he said. "Everybody will be drinking and they will say, `You can drive, Eddie. You're not drinking'."

The autograph hunters, whom De Goey, a modest and courteous man, had earlier obliged, have now drifted away. In one corner two journalists wait to speak to Roberto Di Matteo, who is notoriously slow to emerge after training. In another Estelle Cruyff waits with their baby for Gullit. De Goey, 6ft, 6in in stockinged feet, lopes off to the showers, a quiet man preparing for a noisy afternoon tomorrow.