La Liga: Valencia’s penalty guru Diego Alvés has earned place in Spanish football history books

The Offside Rule’s Alexandra Jonson takes a look at Brazilian Diego Alvés, the history-making goalkeeper building an impressive reputation as a penalty-save specialist.

On Sunday evening, Deportivo la Coruña’s Fajr Fayçal joined a special list of players, one which includes Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann — but one he’d preferred not to join. The long list of players that have seen Diego Alves stop their penalties.

It was the Brazilian’s fifth penalty save this season and his 24th since arriving in Spain in 2007. Having faced a total of 50 penalties during that time he’s saved 48% of them, 50% excluding the two penalties which missed the target.

It’s a stat no goalkeeper in Europe’s top five leagues can compete with. It’s also a stat no goalkeeper in the history of Spanish football has ever reached before too.

The Valencia keeper, once a chubby 11-year-old laughed at by his peers when he raised his hand declaring “I want to be the goalkeeper”, is now arguably the best penalty stopper the game has ever seen.

Having developed a facial condition that was treated with steroids, Alves gained a lot of weight as a kid, resulting in him taking the spot between the sticks. “I got very fat. So I started playing goalie” he told the Financial Times over 20 years later.

Record breaker

The laughs quickly stopped as the young Alves made save after save, instead “after the game, everyone would congratulate me.”

He arrived in Spain a decade ago signing for the, then, newly-promoted La Liga side Almería, having first started his professional career at Atlético Mineiro in his home country.

The first penalty save on Spanish ground came on the 19th of April 2008, when Frédéric Kanouté stepped up to the spot. Just eight days later, Alves denied Real Valladolid’s Victor’s attempt. There’s been no stopping him since.

His reputation has grown to the point that even world-class players like Ronaldo and Messi get nervous as they step up to face a penalty against the Brazilian keeper. According to Alves, both the Portuguese and the Argentinean have asked their Brazilian teammates, Marcelo and Neymar, for help, but “they don’t know my tricks”, insists Alves.

Reaching his fifth penalty save in one season last Sunday, Alves broke yet a new record. However, it’s not just the number of records he breaks but how superiorly he does it.

In La Liga alone he’s stopped 21 out of 45 penalties (46.67 %), that’s five more than second placed Andoni Zubizarreta who saved 16 out of the 103 he faced (15.53%). While the goalkeeper with the best percentage after Alves is Elizaguirre who saved 13 out of 46 (28.26%).

Physical prowess

No one is even close to the numbers the Valencia goalkeeper is recording. While many might argue penalties are all about luck, Diego Alves is showing us all that might not be the case.

He himself calls it a “psychological war” and he enjoys messing with the penalty taker’s head. Still, what’s most impressive with Alves is not the psychological aspect but the physical.

Saving a penalty is not only about diving the right way, actually on average, 60-70% of penalties are still scored after the keeper does so. However, those numbers do not apply to Alves — only three times has he not saved a penalty while diving the right way. His saves are rarely the result of a badly taken penalty, rather of an impressive save.

In most football matches a penalty equals to a goal. But then most football clubs don’t have a Diego Alvés in their goal. Valencia do. Had they not, things would likely look a lot darker than they currently do for Los Ché.

Follow Alexandra at @AlexandraJonson

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