However, because of the evolution of the game, specialist trainers like Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper coach, Wendell Robinson, ensure that a goalie’s role in the structure of a team is as important as that of outfield players.
As he sat down for this interview sipping on a cappuccino while in camp, Robinson gave insights on everything to do with the game’s last line of defense, as well as weighing in on the world’s best goalkeepers that will converge in Qatar for this year’s FIFA World Cup. A SUNDOWNS MOMENT THAT COULD HAVE BEEN QATARThe keepers’ party in Qatar would have had a Mamelodi Sundowns flavour had Bafana Bafana qualified. The Brazilians were certain to be represented in goal by Ronwen Williams, the national team’s current No.1 and captain.
For Robinson, the priceless experience would have provided Williams with a platform to test himself against the best in the business.
“The World Cup is where goalkeepers stand out and make their mark,” Robinson points out.
“It would have been brilliant to see Ronwen testing himself at that level. Being in a World Cup is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any player especially from the African countries who don’t really make it in successive years to be in a World Cup.”
At 30, Williams is the same age as Belgium and Real Madrid keeper, Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool Brazilian goalie, Alisson Becker.
Courtois - once a team-mate of the late Mamelodi Sundowns defender Anele Ngcongca at KRC Genk in Belgium – is among a strong field of keepers who will lead from the back in Qatar. THE BEST NO.1S GRACE THE GLOBAL STAGEBased on their countries’ FIFA world rankings, all the top 10 ranked goalkeepers will be at the World Cup except for Italy’s Gianluigi Donnaruma after the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the global showpiece.
From Brazil’s duo of Allison and Ederson to Courtois, to Germany’s Manuel Nauer, to Hugo Lloris who won the World Cup with France in Russia four years ago, the stage in Qatar will be littered with riches of talent between the goalposts.
As for his pick when it comes to who could be a standout in goal in Qatar, Robinson did not hesitate on his choice. “I think Portugal have got one of the best young goalkeepers in Diogo Costa of FC Porto. And I hope they play him ahead of Patricio because that boy is exceptional.”
Sundowns’ namesake, Brazil, boasts in their goalkeeping department two of English Premiership’s best keepers in Manchester City’s Ederson and Allison of Liverpool.
Robinson admits that the two are talented, but if he were the Seleção goalkeeper trainer, he’d go with Allison. “A lot will be on how the Brazilian coach would want to play. But I think they’ll need a better goalkeeper and not a ‘goal player’.”
Robinson elaborates: “The better goalkeeper is Allison in terms of the goalkeeping because I don’t see teams going to press Brazil too high.”
“But if there were teams that were pressing, then it’s Ederson; because he’s a better player and he’ll find those passes into the channels.”
“So, if I have to choose, I’ll go with Allison because in a World Cup you play every three days and with the hot conditions in Qatar, you won’t get a lot of high pressing. You’ll probably need the better goalkeeper to deal with set-plays that come up and one-versus-one situations from breaks, and I think Allison is better in those situations.”
Apart from the usual suspects, Robinson has also been monitoring the new generation of glovesmen like Unai Simón of Spain.
“Unai Simón has really improved a lot. I was watching him in the UEFA Nations League. He’s good with the legs but the goalkeeping side has improved tremendously when it comes to dealing with crosses and shot stopping. So, Spain have got a big chance.” AFRICA'S PROSPECTSThree keepers from Africa’s five representatives at the World Cup play for top European clubs – Senegal’s number one Édouard Mendy turns out for Chelsea in the English Premier League; Cameroon’s André Onana plays for Inter Milan in the Italian Serie A, while Morocco’s shot-stopper Yassine Bounou keeps goal for Sevilla in the Spanish LaLiga.
“I think that Mendy will be very important for Senegal, they probably have the best chance amongst the African countries. I know a lot of people are rooting for Morocco, but I feel that Senegal have a little bit of something to offer.”
“Morocco might have a lot of European influence because their team make-up is 100% European-based players. As much as Senegal’s team is also dominated by European-based players, they still have the X-factor players in Sadio Mané and Kalidou Koulibaly.”
“I think they’ll have a shot at this year’s World Cup, but they need Mendy to be at his very best. He is a top goalkeeper and a UEFA Champions League winner. We know what he brings to the table.”
“The same with Onana for Cameroon.”
“I think they’ve got a bit of a younger team and his experience will be very important for the Indomitable Lions if they want to progress.”
Interestingly, Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana remain the only African teams to have reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup. It is now left to the generation of Onana, Mendy and Joe Wollacott of the Black Stars to emulate or surpass the feat only achieved by the great Thomas N’Kono of the Indomitable Lions in 1990, iconic Teranga Lions shot-stopper Tony Sylva in 2002 and Ghana’s Richard Kingson in 2010. THE LAST LINE OF DEFENCE IN QATAR BRAZILALLISON BECKERAge: 30 Club: LiverpoolEDERSONAge: 29 Club: Manchester CityGERMANYMANUEL NEUERAge: 36 Club: Bayern MunichMARC-ANDRÉ TER STEGENAge: 30 Club: BarcelonaENGLANDJORDAN PICKFORDAge: 28 Club: EvertonAARON RAMDSALEAge: 24 Club: ArsenalSPAINDAVID dE GEAAge: 31 Club: Manchester UnitedUNAI SIMÓNAge: 24 Club: Athletic BilbaoBELGIUMTHIBAT COURTOISAge: 30 Club: Real MadridDENMARKKASPER SCHMEICHELAge: 35 Club: NiceFRANCEHUGO LLORIS Age: 35 Club: Tottenham HotspurSENEGALÉDOUARD MENDY Age: 30 Club: ChelseaCAMEROONANDRÉ ONANA Age: 26 Club: Inter Milan MOROCCOYASSINE BOUNOU Age: 31 Club: Sevilla POLANDWOJCIECH SZCZĘSNY Age: 34 Club: Juventus PORTUGALRUI PATRÍCIO Age: 34 Club: AS Roma DIOGO COSTA Age: 23 Club: FC Porto