Football: Fears over safe future

Norman Fox hears a goalkeeping guru bemoan the lack of home-grown stars

IF THE popular question before England's match with Chile at Wembley on Wednesday is who Glenn Hoddle will ask to front the attack, one of equal importance is: who plays in goal in place of the injured David Seaman? And, more to the point, would he be good enough if called upon to play in this summer's World Cup finals?

The former England goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson, who even Peter Schmeichel regularly looks to for advice, believes that although Nigel Martyn and Tim Flowers are at present more than adequate understudies, English goalkeeping generally is not what it was and is heading for serious decline.

Under Hodgkinson's guidance the Scottish national team has had 19 clean sheets in their last 23 competitive matches; an extraordinary record for a country whose goalkeepers were always considered to be worth a goal advantage to the opposition. He considers that Martyn and Flowers are technically fine but could be among the last in the line of "top-class" home-produced keepers, although Hodgkinson was not ignoring the talents of Richard Wright, the young Ipswich keeper training with the England senior squad.

Peter Bonetti, another former England goalkeeper - who from his experience in the 1970 World Cup finals when he was the cruelly criticised deputy to Gordon Banks knows the perils of being an understudy - agrees that cheaply bought foreign players are endangering England's traditional goalkeeping strength but does not accept that an absence of structured coaching should share the blame.

Bonetti coaches goalkeepers at Fulham and Wolves and will be with the England B side this week. He says Martyn and Flowers "could not be more equal in ability and temperament". Hodgkinson's view is that Martyn is the better "shot-stopper" but adds: "At international level he has had the odd little blip, particularly against South Africa at Old Trafford, but I think he is now consistent and can look forward confidently to coming in to replace Seaman." He has worked with Flowers. "I found him a little impetuous in his game. He sometimes looks a bit tense - he thinks a lot about his game but if he gets through the first 10minutes he's usually OK. What he does well is handle the problem of the headed back-pass which is a very important part of goalkeeping today. Even at the highest level of international football I see goalkeepers who can't do anything with the back-pass."

He sees Martyn and Flowers as being more urgent in their work than Seaman, "a laid-back character who lets nothing worry him mainly because of experience". Seaman, he says, can afford to be that way because of his reputation which can easily survive a few errors this season. An understudy, though, "simply wants to get through his early matches without much action and with no mistakes. The biggest trouble with being an international substitute keeper is being pushed on and then realising that on this stage you need to have a higher level of concentration. You may not have to make a save very often but you have to be alert when the time comes."

Hodgkinson sees fewer and fewer young goalkeepers who are potentially capable of that transition. He is troubled by cheap imports. "I was instrumental in bringing Schmeichel to United but I find the situation disappointing. You can name the really promising young English goalkeepers on the fingers of one hand. They are getting more and more difficult to find. We need coaching for youngsters. In Scotland we have Europe's only senior coaching licence for goalkeeping coaches. There are 12 licence holders, all goalkeepers of experience who can be called on to take courses or go to any club. That is what I believe should happen in England. In the summer in Scotland I have 40 senior goalkeepers on our coaching course which lasts for a week. I don't see that sort of thing happening in England."

Bonetti is satisfied that work being done ad hoc by former professionals is sufficient, but Hodgkinson said: "The Premiership clubs may have goalkeeping coaches but they're all on a different wavelength. In Scotland we teach the same way technically. I realised that was the way things should be done as far back as when the Hungarians won at Wembley in 1953. Everyone talked about their great technique yet even today if our clubs get beaten in Europe, we still say the foreign teams have better technique.

"So when I went into goalkeeping coaching, the first thing I wanted was for people to be able to say my keepers had good technique. It's got nothing to do with having good facilities or weather. For too long goalkeepers have been a neglected breed as far as coaching is concerned. We used to be called mad. We were, but these days goalkeepers have to be almost like sweepers - so they have to be taught how to do that, properly."

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