As another international break has come and gone, despite six more points being in the bag the questions about English talent and the future of the national team are as prominent as ever. Rebecca Coles investigates the issue.
The recent debate surrounding goalkeeper rivalries and the lack of talent competing for England’s No. 1 shirt, prompted me to try to find out what the future really holds and whether we are in safe hands or in the midst of a crisis.
I interviewed Bristol City goalkeeping coach and former Birmingham, Brighton and Yeovil Town player, David Coles – my dad! – for The Offside Rule (We Get It!).
We discussed current English keepers, academies, coaching and the psychology of being an England goalkeeper, along with what the future holds for the next generation.
Over the years there has been a clear change in English goalkeeping standards – would you say standards have improved or worsened over the course of your career?
It has not worsened altogether; there are certainly some good English goalkeepers around, but just a lack of them. But lately it seems that we have stopped the production line. We should really be addressing grassroots through to Academy level.
With more and more Premier League clubs favouring having two world-class keepers instead of an established No. 1 starting every game, could this work for England with the likes of Fraser Forster sharing the role with Joe Hart?
I actually think Forster should play for England; otherwise we only have one international goalkeeper that has been tested at that level. It’s very different from playing Premier League football because you can be involved less and therefore there is a massive swing to concentration skills through their psychological make-up.
The other contributing factor presented itself last season when Joe lost his form and wasn’t playing regularly for Manchester City. Also, what happens if he has a long-term injury? We could then regret not making better use of our goalkeepers by giving them valuable game time and experience of playing at the highest level.
With Hart, Forster, John Ruddy and young prospect Jack Butland being the top four current England keepers, who else could challenge for a squad place?
Butland will be an England goalkeeper one day, but he should be aware that all the time he is not playing regularly, other goalkeepers are catching him up by gaining more game time than him. Ultimately, being content only playing now and again could be his downfall. We have some good goalkeepers in his age group with the likes of Alex McCarthy, Declan Rudd and there also is the emergence of Daniel Bentley at Southend and Jason Steele at Middlesborough.
I really like McCarthy at QPR. Having been lucky enough to watch him and I think he has everything you want in a goalkeeper. His first big test is to replace Robert Green, which will be difficult.
Bentley at Southend could play at a higher level now – he has already amassed over 100 appearances. There are others that have come through academies and are now playing in first teams, which will only enhance their CVs to travel up the leagues in time, such as Sam Walker at Colchester and Jordan Pickford at Bradford.
It is becoming clear there are now fewer experienced English goalkeepers than in previous years, so what has changed?
We had a reputation of producing the best goalkeepers in the world at one time, but the game has changed and so have the skills of the goalkeeper, even more so at international level. The requirements now are not only technical, they have also moved into the psychological side and this is where the thick-skinned goalkeeper comes in.
David James is a very good example of this. The one thing I have always said about James is that he dealt with making mistakes in a very unique manner, dismissing them quickly to move on to the next task in hand. That’s not to say he dismissed them completely though – he worked really hard on correcting them in training.
It’s always difficult to piece together when a player is ready to make his England debut. What traits make an England goalkeeper?
Focus and concentration play a big part, not so much in dealing with pressure, but when the ball is up the other end of the field. In other words, is the goalkeeper anticipating what could happen next?
There is also the small matter of keeping the ball out the net! After all, that’s what the best English goalkeepers should be able to do better than anyone else in all the divisions, as we are judged on the mistakes we make and not how many fantastic passes we can hit in the game.
Do you think English goalkeeping is in a state of crisis?
I don’t think its English goalkeeping as much, but I do think coaching goalkeepers is in crisis with more players coming into the game with little or no game time themselves. Most of these coaches will put on drill after drill without the knowledge of what they are trying to improve and develop. If we are not careful, we could end up with robotic goalkeepers rather than ones that are natural and can actually keep goal.
Lastly, how will England move forward with this current dilemma?
At the top-level, managers tend to think more towards foreign goalkeepers now rather than English. In the Championship and Leagues One and Two, clubs mainly have English goalkeepers. Academies are bringing younger ones through, which is starting to produce tested goalkeepers at decent levels of football rather than our young talent sitting in youth or reserve teams.
In order to move forward, we need to produce better-equipped goalkeepers in all departments, not just technical and tactical. There are physical, psychological and social aspects to consider as well now.
Read more from Rebecca Coles here