Why are French goalkeepers getting taller and taller?

Why are French goalkeepers getting taller and taller?

As in the field, Fabien Barthez does not make the trip for nothing behind the microphones. At the beginning of the month, Bixente Lizarazu, his ex-teammate and 1998 world champion, launched him on the evolution of the position of goalkeeper for 30 years. And there, the former doorman of the Blues sprang. Without taking gloves. An exit as authoritative as against the Brazilian Ronaldo in the World Cup final.

Now we train goalkeepers from the age of 15dropped the former Marseillais on France Bleu. We have to stop saying that they have to look like hand keepers. Today, we say: ‘his name is so and so, he is 20 years old and 1.97m tall“. Me, with my 1.82m, I would have been fired directly. It’s like with players at one time: they had to be big and run fast. I find that absurd. A goalkeeper is not that, it is not a question of size. Me, I prefer a goalkeeper of 1.82m or 1.83m with a great reading of the game and good anticipation, able to stay upright in front of the attackers andwho plays high, rather than a 1.92m goalkeeper who stays on his line and crosses his arms. The goalie game now is just that.”

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Fabien Barthez threw a stone into the pond. But he’s not the only one in the business to think so. Starting with Bernard Lama, his ex-teammate with the Blues. “They all make the same thing and the same mistakes. Not everyone is Manuel Neuerhe told us. Today, I don’t find them mobile enough, technically they have become impoverished and there isn’t one who knows how to catch a ball. However, in this case, he cannot ensure a recovery which unbalances the opposing team. Then, about air bullets, let’s not even talk about it. And they have reaction times that are far too slow. But that is related to their size. When you are 1.90m tall and weigh 100kg, you move and dive slower, your reaction time is longer. Finally, in the outings in the feet, I observe things that are incredible.”

A keeper has about 3m to defend on each side, and I find they all stretch. There is not one that grows on the legs, that relaxes

From the time when he was the last bulwark of Lille, Metz, Brest, Lens, Paris, West Ham, Rennes or the Blues, Bernard Lama excelled in the art of relaxing to fetch balls under his bar, in the skylight or at flush with the pole. A quality that he no longer finds in his successors. “A keeper has about 3m to defend on each side, and I find they all stretch. There is not one that grows on the legs, that relaxes“, he points.

Elie Baup is on the same wavelength as Fabien Barthez and Bernard Lama. For the 1999 French champion with the Girondins de Bordeaux, the “French goalkeeper” loses his identity. “If you are not 1.90m or 1.95m, you can no longer be a goalkeeperexplains the former doorman. It’s not normal. The skills are always the same: parries like the German goalkeepers with corner closures and knees on the ground. Today, the goalkeepers are content to push away the balls. The hand technique is different. We melted into a general model that came from Germany or England and we lost our French identity.”

With his 1.80m, the Lensois Wuilker Fariñez is a UFO today in Ligue 1. The Venezuelan international is four centimeters from Anthony Lopes (1.84m) and ten from the current average (1.90m ) in the French championship. In 20 years, the goalkeepers of the French elite have grown considerably. Because in the 2001-02 season, their average height was 1.84m against 1.83m five years earlier (note: during the 1996-97 financial year).

In England this season, the average reaches 1.91m against 1.90m in Germany. A championship where Manuel Neuer evolves (1.93m). A goalkeeper whose style is often cited as an example by observers, especially since his title of world champion in 2014. “They say it’s a mirror cabinet but it’s not just that. He has such an impact on his team’s play and the placement of his teammates“, specifies the agent Claude Cagnon, specialist in goalkeepers and author of the book “Cardiac coherence and optimization of performance”.

The 2014 world champion Manuel Neuer considered an example to follow by many observers.

Credit: Getty Images

But Manuel Neuer’s style does not necessarily convince our former French internationals. Bernard Lama again: “With Andreas Köpke at the time in Marseille (1996-98), we already had a vision of what the German goalkeeper was. On the balls at ground level, he went with his fists. But that was how he performed. I could never have adopted such a style. And the style of the goalkeeper goes with his physique. When in France, we decided that he should not be less than 1.90m, we started recruiting kids based on their size but not on their ability to defend a goal. That’s where the problem isEven me who is 1.83m tall, they would have looked at my file and said: ‘forget it, you’re too small‘”, slips the ex-keeper to the 44 selections in Blue.

In the early 2000s, we began to realize that tall goalkeepers were not necessarily slow

So when did the switch take place? “At the beginning of the 2000’s“, answers Christophe Lollichon, in charge of goalkeeper development at Chelsea. Twenty years ago, he trained those of Stade Rennais. And saw Petr Cech (1.97m) pass first, and Andreas Isaksson (1.99m ) then. “I had the chance to work with these two great goalkeepers. For the first, I can assure you that it went very, very quickly, he recalls. As for the second, it was a monster of speed to go to the groundI. We then started to realize that tall goalkeepers were not necessarily slow.”

For Christophe Lollichon, this aspect has become obvious. “It confirmed to me that my first criterion was size before then evaluating everything related to speed, intelligence, power, quality of feet, coordination, understanding of the game, etc… But be careful, size alone is not enough“Whoever later became a goalkeeper coach for the Blues, however, believes that this criterion is “decisive in today’s football“.

Today, the game is faster, the strikes are stronger and the technique of the players has evolvedhe continues. The man grows and the athletes grow too. It’s not just in football. In hockey, for example, goalkeepers have been five or six centimeters taller for seven to eight years.. Then there is a physical and mathematical side: when you are tall, you take up more space.” Close to French training centers, Claude Cagnon confirms. “For 20 years, players have been more athletic and there is no exception for goalkeepershe notes. It allows them to be ready for the physical duel. On a corner or a free kick, for example, there is such a density in the area that the goalkeeper must be able to impose himself“.

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Because in addition to the size, it is the physical capacity of the guards that also makes the difference. “Take Anthony Beuve d’Avranches (National). If he had played in the 80s and 90s, he is a goalkeeper who could have played in L2 or L1. It is 1.86m but is not very thick, emphasizes Claude Cagnon. Certainly Fabien Barthez and Bernard Lama did not exceed 1.83m, but they had a very solid physical mass and well above the average. At the level of the legs and the bust, they were very powerful.” “When you face powerful and super fast goalkeepers like Thibaut Courtois, Edouard Mendy, Marc-André Ter Stegen or Petr Cech at the time, who have a very, very high level of gestural speed, you have almost everything“, corroborates Christophe Lollichon.

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Great complete goalkeepers therefore. And which grow on the legs, hammers the former trainer of Petr Cech. “When you have a Thibaut Courtois who takes off, I can tell you that he has some in his thighs, the same with Edouard Mendy. You have to see the power he gives off when he intervenes on a lateral dive. It is enormous. Although it may look less spectacular than when it’s directed by Anthony Lopes or an average goalkeeper.”

Beyond the physical aspect, football has also evolved tactically. The proliferation of video sessions but also the strengthening of various technological tools have given new weapons to goalkeepers. “They have a science of placement that is much more developedanalyzes Claude Cagnon. At the time, goalkeepers played more on instinct and relied on their triggers.”

As for the few doormen”who stay on their line with their arms crossed“, Christophe Lollichon joins Fabien Barthez. “Unfortunately I see it too and I fight against it. But when we analyze the evolution of their position in general, we see that they are more proactive. We are fighting for goalkeepers to be more playful at heart, like he was. What to look for are goalkeepers who influence their partners but also the opponents“, he concludes.

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