Jordan Pickford has helped change the perception of English goalkeepers from “jokes” to playmakers, according to FIFA’s goalkeeping expert Pascal Zuberbuhler.
The former Switzerland international joined FIFA’s technical group in November after a two-year stint as Derby’s goalkeeper coach.
As FIFA’s goalkeeper expert, Zuberbuhler has been studying keepers at Russia 2018 to help improve coaching standards and he has discovered a significant development: nobody is laughing at England keepers anymore.
“Do you know why this joke has ended? It’s the first time England supporters have had no chants picking on their goalkeeper,” the 47-year-old said.
“It was always a fashion in England – in the stadium, in the pubs, wherever they watch the game – that every time the ball was passed back to the goalkeeper the fans would make a joke.
“Now they have no bad goalkeeping. They’ve got very good goalkeepers.
“Gareth Southgate made a fantastic decision to make Jordan Pickford number one. He had no past in the national team and he’s a young, fresh goalkeeper and the supporters can’t pick on him.
“He’s shown here what he can do with this new philosophy and I hope this joke about English goalkeepers – in the press, too – will go away.”
Zuberbuhler experienced a few “dodgy keeper” chants during his spell with West Brom and he then spent three years as a Fulham reserve until he hung up his gloves in 2011.
But English football never saw the best of him as he was 35 when he arrived and he had already enjoyed considerable success for Grasshoppers, Basel and Switzerland, most memorably when he kept five clean sheets at the 2006 World Cup.
Apart from the absence of chants about England goalkeepers, Zuberbuhler’s main lesson from Russia 2018 has been the rise of the “playmaker from behind”, a role Everton’s Pickford has played brilliantly.
“The distribution has been fantastic and you can see a lot of progress from the last two World Cups. In the past, keepers make about 25 passes a game but now it’s more like 40 to 45, a massive increase,” he said.
He explained that what fans first saw with Germany’s “sweeper keeper” Manuel Neuer has progressed. Pickford, for example, made 55 passes in England’s semi-final defeat by Croatia.
“The keepers are influencing the game from behind: ‘I play long, I play short, I calm it down, I speed up.’ This is the big change,” he said.
“If I was to do a training session and kick maybe 200 balls at your hands it would be fine, but this isn’t enough anymore. Goalkeeping is about making decisions, having a personality and being a playmaker from behind.”
As well as Pickford, Zuberbuhler was impressed with the passing range of Switzerland’s Yann Sommer and Denmark and Leicester star Kasper Schmeichel.
Despite this, FIFA’s Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper at the World Cup is likely to go to either Hugo Lloris of France or Croatia’s Danijel Subasic, both of whom have made key saves to keep their teams on track, most notably Subasic’s four saves in penalty shoot-outs.
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