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Keeping it real

[This piece was originally published over at Roma Journal, a fan site that will be picking up all my AS Roma related material from now on]


[WARNING: This post may contain traces of reasoned argument free from idealism or dogma. If you believe Zdeněk Zeman to be a horseman of the apocalypse, please seek medical advice before reading further.]

That Zdeněk Zeman favours former third choice goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea over more illustrious teammate Maarten Stekelenburg is cause for widespread consternation amongst Roma supporters at the present time. However the argument is at least in part a proxy for another much more serious squabble. The two camps for and against Goicoechea are almost identical to the two camps for and against Zeman himself. This makes the debate worthy of some resentment as it’s something of a red herring. That the two goalkeepers have become metaphors for the wider ructions within our support base is unfair on them. Arguing over the two of them right now feels a bit like a car that’s coughing and spluttering along the road while the passengers bicker about the quality of the tow bar.

For some reason, with this position more than any other, fans feel an emotional pull to desire a big name. This is somewhat understandable. Goalkeepers are different and it’s hard not to love them, especially when they drag you out of the poo. But while having a reliable presence between the sticks is important, it’s also very easy to put too much emphasis on the role. Aside from very rare occasions, goalkeepers don’t win you matches. They can only be partly responsible for losing them, or partly responsible for stopping you from losing. They are your last line of defence. No more. No less.

Unless your name is Zdeněk Zeman, that is. The Roma tactician uses goalkeepers in his teams as a springboard for attack. His keepers need to be able to get up quickly, assess the options in a split second, and distribute the ball in the best way possible to set the team on its way towards the opponent’s penalty area. Players who are proficient at this make it look easy, but it’s not. If you think it is, I advise you to try practicing it. These are specific skills that some average keepers have and some great keepers don’t, because they are not qualities that every tactician looks for or requires. Virtually unknown Uruguayan keeper Mauro Goicoechea is in possession of these qualities and thus is a Zeman style keeper. Dutch international and former Ajax keeper Maarten Stekelenburg does not and is not.

If you listen to the anti Goicoechea camp, you would think him a bumbling fool who causes acute myocardial infarction whenever the ball is within a 50 meter radius. Skekelenburg on the other hand is an invincible world beater capable of stopping bullets between his teeth. The truth, of course lies somewhere in between.

When Roma is awful, Goicoechea has been at times awful too, and when Roma is brilliant, he has himself shown flashes of brilliance, particularly in the 4-2 victory over Milan before the Christmas break. This inconsistency is not unusual. The whole team has been shockingly inconsistent and most keepers look bad when playing behind rubbish teams. Yet I honestly can’t think of a game I’ve seen where Goicoechea was the worst player on the pitch. In fact, his performances have been no worse than Stekelenburg’s often patchy showings. Yet every mistake Goicoechea makes tends to be blown out of proportion and greeted with much venom by those who dislike Zeman. On the other hand, every good save tends to be greeted by silence.

Stekelenburg is arguably fashionable simply because he’s been the Dutch number one and the Oranje are held in high esteem by football fans the world over. He’s certainly a big name, but in reality he’s had one good season with Ajax five years ago and one outstanding World Cup in 2010 – that’s about it. If putting him in the team would solve all our problems I’d be the first to advocate it, but it won’t. If he was putting out stunning performances for Roma then I could understand the outrage at his benching, but he hasn’t been. In many games he has looked uncomfortable at best and at crucial times he has shown himself to be shockingly red card prone. The harsh reality is what trophies he has or hasn’t won mean nothing. He’s only as good as he is when he’s playing for us and the truth is he’s been mediocre.

Let’s be real about this, Goicoechea and Stekelenburg are both perfectly adequate goalkeepers. But that’s about as far as it goes. Neither of them are great keepers. The key should be that whether we like it or not our coach is, and for at least another six months will be, Zdeněk Zeman, and he prefers Goicoechea to play his style football. Zeman is both a fact of life and a package deal.

It all boils down to this: If you support this manager then you support the team he sees fit to select. You can’t employ a guy like Zeman then tell him which players to pick – it can’t work. On the other hand, if you don’t support Zeman, then your beef isn’t really with Goicoechea, it’s with Zemanlandia. You’ll just have to wait until the old bugger is gone and when that day comes, if Stekelenburg has moved on, finding a new keeper will be no big deal. There are plenty more Maarten Stekelenburg quality keepers out there. Who knows, we could even do better.

Categories: Roma/Italian Calcio

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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