Wednesday 12 December 2018

Everybody loves it when a goalkeeper scores a goal

Except if you're the manager of the other team, writes Jim White

AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso. Photo: Reuters
AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso. Photo: Reuters

Jim White

Gennaro Gattuso is not a man renowned for exuding a sense of calm. Anyone who relaxes by grabbing Joe Jordan by the throat is not someone who relishes the quiet life.

But even as the Italian firebrand scaled new peaks of hyperbole following his team's draw away at the Serie A whipping boys Benevento, it was not hard to sympathise with the new Milan manager's passionate overreaction.

What had just happened was this. After losing their first 14 matches following promotion to the Italian top flight for the first time, Benevento scored a last-kick-of-the-game equaliser against the faltering giants of AC Milan.

But what made the goal even more memorable was that it was scored by the Benevento goalkeeper, Alberto Brignoli, who had charged upfield to get his head on the end of a last-ditch free-kick.

Gattuso's response was laden with drama. "A knife wound would have been less painful than that goal," he said.

And, for once with Gattuso, it is hard to disagree. For those who believe that football can be organised, planned, plotted to its last detail, there is nothing more ridiculous than a goalkeeper scoring.

For them, seeing a green-shirted buffoon gambolling forward to get on the end of a hoof into the box challenges every principle of the game. It is unnatural.

Which is why the rest of us love it so. We love the inversion of the normal rules entailed in a bloke who spends his life trying to stop goals doing his best to score one.

Remember Jimmy Glass, on loan at Carlisle, getting on the end of the last-second strike that kept the club in the Football League in 1999?

That was a goal of such drama and consequence, his name has become synonymous with last-gasp rescue acts. Imagine that: he had an entire career trying to keep goals out. Yet he became a significant footnote in football history for doing something he should have been preventing. It is like a fireman being eulogised for an act of arson: it really should not happen.


True, there are goalkeepers who have made a habit of putting the ball in their opponents' net.

The Brazilian Rogerio Ceni scored more than 100 times during his career with Sao Paulo. A dead-ball specialist, he was assigned to take free-kicks and penalties.

He even once scored a 'Panenka', deftly chipping his prone opposite number. Which, as acts of treachery go, should have resulted in instant dismissal from the goalkeepers' union.

What made Gattuso's response all the more understandable, though, is that the gamble of dispatching the goalkeeper forward so rarely pays off.

What generally happens is that, moments after arriving in the opposition box, he is obliged to scurry back to his own area as the ball is cleared and the opposition break away.

Indeed, for all of Brignoli's delight in securing his club's first Serie A point, what is more typical is what happened in 2005 when the then Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce, in pursuit of the victory in the last match of the season that would have brought qualification for the Uefa Cup, brought on his reserve goalkeeper to stay between the posts, while instructing David James to act as an emergency centre forward.

For five tortuous minutes, James charged around to no effect at all, getting nowhere near the ball, never mind putting it in the net. In a brief, hapless cameo, he demonstrated a fundamental of the game to which the likes of Gattuso have long clung: goalkeepers are goalkeepers for a reason. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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