Football starting to realise goalkeeper's worth
Football is a team sport but positions aren't treated equally. Defenders, midfielders and strikers receive the most credit. Clubs pamper them, especially the frontmen. Goalkeepers are excluded.
Proving how important outfield players are considered, Liverpool spent £75 million on defender Virgil van Dijk in January. A week later, the Reds sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142 million, making him the most expensive midfielder in history. The world's top attackers command even higher fees. Paris Saint-Germain spent a combined £358 million to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
Outfield players are valued highly; goalkeepers not so much. It's a rare occurrence when teams invest heavily on keepers. Most feel they add the least, doing little more than stand between the sticks and watch the game unfold.
However, the influence of shot-stoppers can't be written off. Apart from saving certain goals at times, they organize defences to help prevent mistakes. Their assertive tone keeps defenders in check, triggering them to mark opponents and clear the ball when needed.
Keepers also contribute to attack. As well as creating chances with long distribution, they start plays from the back. They're the only players who see the whole pitch, meaning they can easily locate unmarked teammates.
This summer's transfer activity shows the game has started valuing goalkeepers. The last time a club invested big on this position was 17 years ago when Juventus bought Parma's Gianluigi Buffon for £32.6 million, a then world record. In the intervening period, teams have filled their number one role somewhat on the cheap. That was until recently.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery realised the vital role a keeper plays. In his mission to rejuvenate the Gunners, the Spaniard hijacked Bayer Leverkusen's Bernd Leno for £22 million. Jurgen Klopp learnt from his Kyiv nightmare against Real Madrid, spending a staggering £75 million on Roma's Alisson to upgrade Liverpool's goalkeeping department. Maurizio Sarri, meanwhile, was satisfied with Chelsea's number one, Thibaut Courtois. The European champions soon came calling, though. The Belgian couldn't turn down Los Blancos, leaving the Blues needing a replacement.
To make the Courtois deal happen, Real decided to sacrifice Mateo Kovacic. The midfielder joined Chelsea on a season-long loan. He is a blend of skill and natural talent. In La Liga's star-filled roster, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Croat had the highest pass accuracy last season with 93.68%. That isn't all. Among the players with over 30 attempted dribbles, Kovacic's average was the best. The Merengues, however, opted for a reliable keeper over their talented midfielder.
In response, Chelsea activated Kepa Arrizabalaga's £71 million release clause. Arriving from Athletic Bilbao, the 23-year-old became the most expensive goalkeeper of all time.
In a rather unusual transfer window, keepers have been involved like never before. It's a good sign. Big clubs are now aware of their importance. To rule domestically, a team requires excellence in between the sticks. To compete with Europe's elite, a shot-stopper who possesses strong reflexes and distribution is needed.
Goalkeepers are crucial to success. They deserve treating similar to outfield players, like valuable diamonds. Thankfully, that's now happening.