Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Gyula Grosics – The Hungarian Legend Who Stood In The 6 Yard Box At The Age Of 82

As great as it is to live and watch the wonderfully talented and ageless keepers of today such as Casillas, Schwarzer, Cech, Neuer and Valdez it is also important to document and reflect on the players and teams that left an indelible mark on the great game that has carried through to our current batch. One such keeper that deserves high praise for his pioneering ways is the great Gyula Grosics. I wasn’t even born when Grosics was at the peak of his goalkeeping powers but from what I have read he is arguably the greatest keeper to ever play for Hungary for many reasons.

Magyar Legend
Grosics was a member of the “Magical Magyars”, a side that dominated football throughout the 1950s and he alone transformed the thinking of what a keeper’s role is within a team. Rather than remain a statuesque fixture in the six-yard box performing endless long clearing kicks, Grosics believed the keeper should add more value to the attacking potency of a team. His use of crafty throws to his defenders and fast running wingers could often catch opposing teams off guard and begin a quick counter attacks and often leading to scoring success.

Although Grosics was vertically challenged, he more than made up for his shortcomings with amazing ball control and jumping skills that were second to none. He defined his own style by thumbing his nose at the old school ways of keeping by creeping further and further off his goal line to form another layer to the defence. When watching such teams as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus you will often notice that keepers perform an important “sweeping” role at the back and play more like a part-time centre half that can be called on to add strength and width to a defensive line.

Outside of his physical and athletic talents on the pitch, Grosics can also be credited with changing the way keepers view themselves in terms of their all-important game day kit. Goalkeepers of the day rarely had preference or say in what match strip they could chose, which led to a young confident Grosics pressuring the football powers that be into providing him with an all black kit. His theory was that the colour black would compliment any colour his team may wear on game day. His love of the black kit eventually led to him being branded with the popular nickname of ‘the black panther’.

Grosics’ career began to blossom in 1947 when he agreed to join Budapest club Mateosz.  It was at Mateosz where he came under the eye of the Hungarian selectors and was chosen for the national side in his first season. He remained a permanent fixture as the number one keeper for Hungary for the next 15 years. After a tumultuous political period in Hungary’s history, Grosics ultimately moved clubs to Honvéd where he would enjoy playing with the legends of the game such as the great Ferenc Puskas and József Bozsik.

It was in his time at Honvéd that helped mould him from a good keeper into a great keeper.  In 1952 Honvéd won another championship going though the entire season undefeated. This winning feeling continued when he was part of the national team that qualified for the Helsinki Summer Olympic Games. His time in Finland proved fruitful and his keeping prowess came to the fore after conceding only two goals all tournament. His performance in the semi-final and final is what every keeper dreams are made. Keeping clean sheets in both matches and claiming Olympic gold!

Success continued for Grosics, winning another championship with his club in 1954, and then it was onto the World Cup in 1954 and heavily burdened by favouritism. The side handled all ahead of them by breezing past their opponents in the group stage before brushing aside Brazil and previous champions Uruguay to claim a place along side West Germany in the final. It was in this game that Grosics reputation was called into question as the Olympic champions faltered at the final hurdle by allowing the Germans back into the match after leading 2-0. It was Grosics that took much of the blame for the loss as his unfortunate stumble on the slippery surface allowed Helmut Rahn to set up the victory for West Germany.

It has often been claimed by many Hungarians that the loss to West Germany changed their team and country forever and was more than just a game of football to them. As I wasn’t there I cannot begin to understand or comment on the feelings of those fans as their political situation worsened in their country as their many lives were to be transformed for ever.

Grosics was never far from the spotlight and was subsequently investigated, placed under house arrest and charged awaiting trial for apparent treason and espionage. His career seemingly looked to be over, but for the fortunate lack of evidence that dismissed his case. He returned to the pitch in 1956 with Honvéd but with the political tension gripping the country he was forced to return to Tatabánya and ultimately see out his playing days.

Grosics played in the 1958 World Cup in a side that lacked the brilliance and awe of the heroic team of ’54. Sadly they were eliminated by Wales in a group playoff that Grosics proudly captained. Four years later he again wore the captain’s armband in Chile as they progressed marginally deeper into the tournament, this time to the quarterfinals. Sadly for Grosics it was to be his last World Cup and his last and 86th cap for the Magyars came later that year.

The biggest regret to plague his playing career was the failure to realise a dream of playing for Ferencváros.  His wish was denied by the powers that be and he later retired that season with a heavy heart.
The fairy-tale ending to his career never materialised for Grosics but it was his long held criticism of the Communist regime that unfairly decided his football fate. Thankfully sanity prevailed and as a wonderful mark of respect to Grosics’ passionate and loyal service to his nation, the club he so desperately wanted to be a part of honoured him by allowing him to stand in the six-yard box for the opening minutes in a friendly against Sheffield United at the ripe old age of 82.

Gyula Grosics…One of the true legends of Hungarian and world football and a man who helped redefine the tactical importance of keepers forever. A part of football legend that should never be lost to the many young keepers lucky enough to pull on the gloves each week. Be sure to have a bit of black in your strip and emulate the feats of the “the panther”.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Clean Sheet 15

Welcome to ‘Clean Sheet’, an inside look at the ‘Number 1’ position in World Football… “Goalkeeper”

It was a big week in the A-League with plenty of key games with the finals series fast approaching.  The weekend started with a dour match at Hunter Stadium between the Jets and the Brisbane Roar. Both teams had plenty to play for as a battle for a top six position looms with only five rounds remaining. Keepers Michael Theo and Mark Birighitti would have been satisfied for their individual performances after both keeping clean sheets. As for their managers the disappointment of missing out on three vital competition points would have been a bitter pill to swallow. Both sides had chances but the appalling conditions didn’t make for easy goal keeping or for the strikers trying to find their range. Michael Theo saved a fine shot from attacking midfielder Ruben Zadkovich and the Jets Mark Birighitti timed his slide perfectly to deny Besart Berisha from finding the net after a sweetly timed run through the middle.

To Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night and the conditions certainly didn’t improve for Perth’s journey back to the east coast.  The Wanderers again proved that they are serious Premier’s Plate and Grand Final contenders with a narrow win against a Glory side displaying plenty of promise and improvement under new coach Alastair Edwards. Danny Vukovic was unlikely to keep a clean sheet after a goal from Aaron Mooy came after an unfortunate deflection. The Glory’s newfound enthusiasm and teamwork could certainly decide the fate of a few sides with aspirations of a finals appearance.

Central Coast returned home to Gosford after an away loss to Perth last weekend and duly notched up a handy six-goal haul over the Melbourne Victory. Michael McGlinchey bagged an impressive hat trick and young striker Mitchell Duke chipped into the goal fest by snaring a brace. Central Coast didn’t have it all their own way though, as the score was only 3-2 in favour of the Mariners at the 80th minute mark. It was a horror night for Victory keeper Nathan Coe’s stats sheet after conceding six goals and three in the last ten minutes that will see the defensive coaching staff looking to strengthen things quickly. For the Victory it was their third loss on the trot and will be looking to make amends this week as they host the Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park on Sunday.

Wellington Phoenix hosted Adelaide at the ‘cake-tin ’in what was an entertaining game. The Phoenix’s second half effort was probably their best all year, but their conversion rate from 23 chances in the match displayed their lack finish prowess on the back of promising passages of play.  On the keeping front, Eugene Galekovic’s night was a double-edged sword from the howler he added to the highlight reel to the many great saves recorded. A mistimed back pass from Antony Golec brought about a situation where no keeper likes to be.  Do you back yourself against a striker or err on the side of caution and clear the ball as far as you can into the abyss that is your opponents half. To his credit he took the error on the chin, moved on quickly and finishing the game with no signs of post howler stress disorder. So much so two of his second half efforts helped salvage his team a vital point. His manager Michael Valkanis heaped plenty of praise in his number one, stating that he was outstanding throughout the clash but to expect him to be perfect for the whole campaign is unrealistic. Certainly the words you love to hear from your boss in one of the toughest positions in football.

An finally, Melbourne Heart took on Sydney FC after they learnt earlier in the week that Allesandro Del Piero will be staying on for a further year. The news is a boost for the A-League after Lucas Neil also agreed to terms albeit to the displeasure of Melbourne Heart who were in the race for his signature. It is always tough to watch a leader of the national team being the subject of boos and jeers by opposition supporters, but it certainly showed the passion they had for him in joining the Heart this season. Heart eventually had the last laugh by running out winners 3-1 and secured their fifth home win in succession.  They now prepare to travel across the ditch to meet Wellington in what could define the Heart’s season with a fairly tough draw in the run home to the finals.

The race for the inaugural ‘Clean Sheet’ prize has gotten tighter than an old pair of jeans, with Western Sydney Wanderers evergreen keeper Ante Covic grabbing another to take his season tally to eight and is within one of the Mariner’s Matt Ryan.  It could be a tough gig for the judges if it comes down to a tie, as I’m not sure either keeper would be keen on sharing the prize. Perhaps a count back awarding the prize to the keeper who conceded the fewest goals at seasons end will be fair. At this stage Matt Ryan is on 17 and Covic on 18. Goals conceded seems to be a good measure to how a team is performing on the ladder.

Well it was a full week of A-League but next week I will be back with a detailed look at all the EPL goalkeeping goings on!

Until next week.

Football Quote of the week:

"I've just watched the replay and there is absolutely no doubt: it's inconclusive." 

 - Garth Crooks (Tottenham Hotspurs 80’s Legend)

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Clean Sheet - A few minutes with Nathan Coe

Nathan Coe is the "Number 1" Keeper for the Melbourne Victory Football Club. Coe, who hails from the humid, leafy suburban streets of Brisbane, has played three senior games for the Socceroos for three "clean sheets" and was lucky enough to spend two years with Italian football giants Inter Milan along with stints at PSV  Eindhoven, FC Copenhagen, Orgryte IS, Randers FC and SonderjskE. He rises from the pitch to a very imposing 191cm or 6ft 3in in the old measure and has an uncanny ability in peeling of some pretty acrobatic saves. Nathan has recently poured out his heart and soul on-line to FOXSPORTS’ well-respected football commentator and caller Simon Hill, but I recently peppered him in the six-yard box with some hard-hitting volleys and strikes that will hopefully share with you a little more about the man behind the gloves. As the great football writer Brian Glanville famously penned, "Goalkeepers are Different", so let’s see what makes Nathan Coe different from the other keepers in the A-League. I’m guessing he will struggle to keep a clean sheet in this match up.....

What was the first CD you ever bought?
It was actually a “tape” or cassette on a family overseas trip and I bought Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. On returning home I thought I would love to see them live one day only to find out that Kurt Cobain had tragically died. It’s a classic album that still resonates today. 
What was the make and model of your first car?
I drove my dad’s Holden Commodore VL for a while but when based in Italy with Inter Milan, I bought a Fiat Punto Sport and drove it around the city and to training with teammate and mate Carl Valeri. There wasn’t too much room for any other passengers unfortunately! 
Favourite pre-game meal?
My last meal before a game is a staple of brown rice with chicken and onion. Or if we have a late game I will have try something like lamb chops with salad.
Tell the readers something they wouldn’t know about you?
I once owned a go-cart with Jason Culina at our time at PSV Eindhoven.
Most embarrassing moment on and off the pitch?
At primary school my teacher wouldn’t allow me to go to the toilet and you guessed it, I couldn’t hold it in and wet my strides. Thankfully never happened again but never forgot it. On the pitch I would have to say anytime the ball crosses my goal line. Always tough to take, but you just have to shake it off quickly and move on and bounce back.
Best advice for young keepers?
Train hard; listen intently to your coaches; don’t try to over think things and number one enjoy the game you love! 
Not surprisingly it is “Coey”…Not much thought went into that one.
Communicating on the pitch and good hands. I feel I’m improving in my ball distribution and enjoy the way I can start the attacking movement from the back.
What GK or player did you want to be growing up?
As a huge Manchester United fan, I loved watching Eric Cantona, but since becoming a full time keeper I enjoy watching Iker Casillas (Spain & Real Madrid) and of course the Danish keeping legend Peter Schmiechel.
Where do you like to holiday?
I would have to say New York. It is one of the best cities in the world without a doubt. 
If you weren’t a footballer what do you think you would do as a day job?
Definitely nothing involving school as I just wasn’t good at it. Probably another sport like cricket or AFL as I played a lot of it at school.
Career High/Low?
High: Representing my country in my chosen sport, and being in the squad with the great Mark Schwarzer. Low: The disappointment of being eliminated by UAE after earlier beating favourites Brazil in the U20 World Cup. It was a bitter pill to swallow after having done so well against the might of Brazil 
Most famous person you have met?
That would have to be Melbourne Heart keeper Clint Bolton.He can be followed at @bootsa22 on Twitter! 
Favourite TV show?
“The Wire” or “Band of Brothers”…… both classics
Toughest shot to stop at the Victory?
Would have to say Adama Traore or Diogo Ferreira. 
Who do you room with on the road? 
Archie Thompson. Archie is always upbeat and makes me laugh. Hard to believe he’s 34. He’s like a big kid and keeps you nice and relaxed and chilled before a game. 
Last movie you saw?
“The Campaign” starring Will Farrell. His movies are always great for a laugh. 
Favourite Karaoke song?
I’m not gifted in the singing department so I try to avoid karaoke at all costs. If I were to though I would have a crack at Green Day’s “Time of my Life” 
The best pitch you have ever played on?
I have played on some great pitches in Europe, but I would have to say that AAMI Park, Melbourne is world class and a great surface for football. 
In three words can you describe the A-League?
Improving; physical and underrated 
Rock, Paper or Scissors?

Nathan Coe can be followed on Twitter: @coenathan

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The current “Top” keepers in Europe – Do the stats lie?

It is always a talking point amongst football critics, mates down the pub and the endless groups of Monday “experts” gathering around the water coolers, building sites and tearooms all around the globe. “Who is the best?” It is what makes us who we are, separates us from our peers and defines our character. Rather than compare keepers from different eras, I will dissect the stats from the most popular leagues in Europe to come up with the current top five in keepers in each and open it up to the floor for discussion. One thing is for certain that fans rarely agree and everyone has their own favourite. They may not come from the stats book, but rather from the heart or from a deep emotional club bond or National pride that is harder to crack than a piece of “Corelle” crockery.

In my opinion I have chosen from Europe’s four most hardened football leagues towards inclusion towards this most subjective of selection exercises. The English Premier League is a given, followed by Spain’s La Liga; Germany’s Bundesliga, and Italy’s Serie A. I would have included the Dutch Eredivisie but trying to gain detailed stats for goalkeepers is proving harder to find than a left handed football.  For now I will stick with “arguably” the big four and in future editions may move the focus onto Ligue 1 (France); Eredivisie (Dutch); Superligean (Danish) and Spor Toto Super Lig (Turkey).

For the purpose of the exercise, I will take the top five keepers from each league based on clean sheets recorded (often used as a bench mark of a keeper’s quality), but not the only measure as it does not always reveal a keeper’s real worth based on the work rate the keeper may have endured throughout a tough season. i.e.: shots faced/goals allowed. The average minutes between goals conceded is another fine measure so together with clean sheets will go part of the way in determining the worth of a keeper. Again the results are up for discussion, analysis and cross-examination. There is certainly no right or wrong answer but an interesting window to the world of what makes a fine keeper. More often than not though the cream of the keeping elite does tend to rise to the top of the stats sheet.

English Premier League after 26 rounds (Min 10 games to qualify)

Top 5 Clean Sheets
Joe Hart 11 (Manchester City)
Simon Mignolet 9 (Sunderland)
Asmir Begovic 9 (Stoke City)
Petr Cech 9 (Chelsea)
Pepe Reina 8 (Liverpool)

Top 5 Average minutes between goals conceded
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham) 102.8 mins 16 games
Joe Hart (Manchester City) 97.5 mins 26 games
Gerherd Tremmel (Swansea City) 92.8 mins 12 games
Petr Cech (Chelsea) 84.6 mins 24 games
David De Gea (Manchester United) 81.00 mins 18 games

Top 5 shots to goals conceded
Gerhard Tremmel (Swansea City) (168 shots/11 goals = Avg. 15.27 shots)
David De Gea (Manchester United) (235 shots/20 goals = Avg. 11.75 shots
Simon Mignolet (Sunderland) 399 shots/34 goals = Avg. 11.74 shots
Julio Cesar (QPR) (287 shots/25 goals = Avg. 11.48 shots
Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion) (278 shots/25 goals = Avg. 11.12 shots

German Bundesliga after 22 Rounds (Min 10 games played to qualify)

Top 5 Clean Sheets
Manuel Neuer (Bayern München) 16
Oliver Baumann (SC Freiburg) 9
Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund) 7
Fabian Giefer (Fortuna Düsseldorf) 7
Rene Adler (Hamburger SV) 6     

Top 5 Average minutes between goals conceded
Manuel Neuer (Bayern München) 282.8 mins 22 games
Oliver Baumann (SC Freiburg) 90 mins 22 games
Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund) 78.75 mins 21 games
Christian Wetklo (FSV Mainz 05) 73.20 mins
Lars Unnerstall (FC Schalke 04) 73.13 mins

Top 5 shots to goals conceded
Manuel Neuer (Bayern München) 162 shots/7 goals = Avg. 23.14 shots
Rene Adler (Hamburger SV) 305 shots/27 goals = Avg. 11.30 shots
Oliver Baumann (SC Freiburg) 218 shots/22 goals = Avg. 9.91 shots
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen (Mönchengladbach) 292 shots/31 goals = Avg. 9.42 shots Fabian Giefer (Fortuna Düsseldorf) 273 shots/29 goals = Avg. 9.41 shots

Spanish La Liga after 24 Rounds (min 10 games played to qualify)

Top 5 Clean Sheets
Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid) 11
Willy Caballero (Málaga) 10
Andrés (Osasuna) 9
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) 8
Adrián (Betis) 7

Top 5 Average minutes between goals conceded
Willy Caballero (Málaga) 102.86 mins 24 games
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) 100.12 mins 19 games
Thibaut Courtois (Atlético Madrid) 94.29 mins 22 games
Andrés (Osasuna) 80 mins 24 games
Víctor Valdés (Barcelona) 80 mins 24 games

Top 5 shots to goals conceded
Willy Caballero (Málaga) 259 shots/21 goals = Avg. 12.33 shots
Dani Hernández (Valladolid) 220 shots/22 goals = Avg. 10 shots
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) 169 shots/17 goals = Avg. 9.94 shots
Andrés (Osasuna) 250 shots/ 27 goals = Avg. 9.26 shots
Toño (Granada) 239 shots/26 goals = Avg. 9.19 shots

Serie A after 25 Rounds (min 10 games played to qualify)

Top 5 Clean Sheets
Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli) 10
Mariano Andújar (Catania) 9
Gianluca Pegolo (Siena) 9
Federico Marchetti (Lazio) 9
Jean Francois Gillet (Torino) 9

Top 5 Average minutes between goals conceded
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) 121.76 mins 23 games
Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli) 107.14 25 mins 25 games
Federico Marchetti (Lazio) 106.88 mins 19 games
Christian Abbiati (AC Milan) 84.71 mins 16 games
Sergio Romero (Sampdoria) 82.22 mins 22 games

Top 5 shots to goals conceded
Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli) 317 shots/21 goals = Avg. 15.10 shots
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) 228 shots/17 goals = Avg. 13.41 shots
Federico Marchetti (Lazio) 213 shots/16 goals = Avg. 13.31 shots
Sergio Romero (Sampdoria) 290 shots/23 goals = Avg. 12.61 shots
Zeljko Brkic (Udinese) 253 shots/21 goals = Avg. 12.05 shots

Based on how each keeper ranks I have compiled a final list of the top keeper from each league.

·       EPL                           Joe Hart (Manchester City)

·       Bundesliga           Manuel Neuer (Bayern München)

·       La Liga                     Willy Caballero (Málaga)

·       Serie A                    Morgan De Sanctis (Napoli)

So there you have it. What do you think? I welcome your criticisms, concerns and if there another measures you could use or add to the mix, I wanna hear from you!