When the back-pass rule was introduced at the 1992 Summer Olympics, few could have envisaged it would have quite the impact on the modern game as it has done.
No longer were goalkeepers simply required to ‘save’ any pass that had been fizzed at them from 40 yards by a panicking right-back. Instead, they had to show an accomplished first touch and an ability to get the ball out of their feet before distributing to a teammate, with the presence of an onrushing centre-forward growing more prevalent by the second in their peripheral vision.
Almost 30 years on from the introduction of the rule and the goalkeeping position has evolved arguably more than any other position on the pitch.
The current crop of top keepers in world football are far more than just ‘stoppers’ – they’re proper footballers who are regularly afforded the chance to showcase their ability with the ball at their feet.
The introduction of the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp to the Premier League has seen an influx of managers looking to play out from the back, and without a competent footballing goalkeeper none of this would be possible (insert picture of forlorn Simon Mignolet here).
Keepers have become the foundation of a team, no longer scoffed at as ‘the only one mad enough to play in goal’, instead they have become arguably the most important part of a squad.
And not only has the development in distribution benefitted those within close proximity of them, it’s also been to the profit of those further up the field, with Marc-André ter Stegen, Alisson Becker and Ederson all recording assists for their respective clubs last season.
The similarities between modern-day goalkeepers and outfield players doesn’t end there.
In a world where diets and training regimes are intensely scrutinised in the hope of gaining any slight advantage, footballers are as sharp and pacy as they’ve ever been. Because of this, the gap between a goalkeeper and his defence is more susceptible to being exploited by lightning-quick forwards.
In order to combat this threat, keepers have had to adapt yet again. Gone are the days of the slightly, erm, rotund guy between the sticks, instead they have to be athletes, capable of sensing danger and displaying swift acceleration when called upon.
While Gyula Grosics and Lev Yashin were pioneers of the sweeper-keeper role, the performances of Manuel Neuer’s for Bayern Munich and Germany have truly evolved the way goalkeeping is coached.
While a manager is open to playing absolutely any formation he likes, the one thing which will remain a constant in football team is the goalkeeper. Because of this, it would be easy to believe that goalkeeping would never evolve, it’s just a case of keeping the ball out of the net, right?
In fact, goalkeeping has evolved as much – if not more – than most positions on the pitch, with a whole host of top-class keepers including Peter Schmeichel and Oliver Kahn laying claim to having developed the position in some way.
Some of them may still be a little eccentric, but they’re every bit as athletic and gifted with their feet as most of the players in front of them.