The World Cup isn't the only place where goalkeepers are experiencing trials and tribulations.
Swedish football fans don’t need the 2010 FIFA World Cup to provide goalkeeping drama. They have more than enough of it right in the Allsvenskan to keep the occupied, from goalkeeping errors to rival that of England net minder Robert Green to goalkeeper controversies.
Four teams made goalkeeping changes during the World Cup break, and three of them can ill-afford more mistakes between the pipes. AIK pulled the plug on using young Finnish goalkeeper Tomi Maanoja as the No. 1 even though Maanoja finally recovered from a shoulder injury that plagued him throughout the first half of the season.
Despite his potential, Maanoja earned the enmity of the Gnaget faithful as he made a series of blunders in goal that contributed to AIK’s horrific first half.
AIK currently occupies the relegation playoff spot and has a minus-8 goal difference (11 goals scored, 19 allowed). Although the need for offense was glaring, AIK went out and signed Croatian national team goalkeeper Ivan Turina to a three-year deal. The 6-foot-6-inch Croat played for Serbian powerhouse Red Star Belgrade before agreeing to the deal to move to Sweden.
“He’s big and he’s agile,” said AIK goalkeeper coach Lee Baxter. “He’s a good addition.”
Still, Maanoja doesn’t plan to go quietly. After assuming the No. 1 jersey when Niklas Bergh tore a knee ligament, Maanoja never seemed to step into the position. His propensity for allowing soft goals forced the club to look for another answer. One of them was Baxter who played in a pair of Swedish Cup matches and also dressed for a handful of league matches.
“We got a little thin for a while,” he said, “but now at least our goalkeeping situation is a lot stronger.”
IFK Göteborg in a similar dilemma
IFK Göteborg, one spot above AIK in the standings but in the same cellar of expectations, is going through its own goalkeeping dilemma. IFK lost its No. 1, Kim Christensen, when FC Copenhagen lured the Dane back to his homeland. In stepped 19-year-old Marcus Sandberg, who faced Kalmar in a Swedish Cup match, Sandberg allowed four goals, including an ugly drop that gave Kalmar a 4-3 win.
Sandberg was up against another goalkeeping rookie, Etrit Berisha, who replaced veteran Kalmar net minder Peter Wasta when Wasta picked up a back injury.
Despite the shaky start, IFK head coach Jonas Olsson insisted the club would stay with Sandberg. However, rumors linked Göteborg with making a possible move for one of five goalkeepers now on the roster at Elfsborg.
The Borås side started the season with Australian national goalkeeper Ante Covic in net, but after Covic received a red card in a match against Göteborg, Joakim Wulff stepped in and quickly supplanted the Aussie. In addition, former Sweden national goalkeeper Abbas Hassan returned from a long injury during the World Cup break.
The trio of goalkeepers created an instant controversy as Covic vowed to win the position back, despite an apparent break with head coach Magnus Haglund. Before the Aussie even had a chance, however, Elfsborg signed Danish national goalkeeper Jesper Christensen while the Dane was in South Africa at the World Cup. Christensen immediately became the Elfsborg No. 1, putting Hassan, Covic and Wulff out to pasture. Elfsborg also signed a young goalkeeper to its reserve team, giving the club five potential net minders.
Hassan left the team, signing with Superettan sided Norrköping. Covic’s position was less clear. The Aussie has a three-year deal with Elfsborg but it’s clear to everyone he played his last game when he took on Göteborg back in April.
“I really don’t know what I am going to do,” Covic said. “I would like to stay in Sweden, but I don’t know what’s happening. No one is really saying anything, so all I can do is keep my mouth shut and try to win back the job.”
As of July 6, Covic was still in Sweden, essentially without a team. He said he planned to head back to Australia if he didn’t switch teams, which created the potential for him to move south to the team that he faced when he lost his job.
“..blackouts” were endemic for some time
Goalkeeper moves, however, were only part of the story, both in Sweden and at the World Cup. Bad goalkeeping – soft goals, sloppy technique and “blackouts” as Lee Baxter called them – were endemic throughout the first half of the season and the break as Allsvenskan sides playing training matches.
Whether it was Dime Jankulovsky at GAIS allowing a shot to pass right through his legs, Wastå dropping a routine cross in his own net or Maanajo literally throwing the ball into his own goal, mistakes made headlines in Swedish goalkeeping.
“That’s the way it goes,” said Covic. “When a striker makes a mistake, the score doesn’t change. It’s bad luck or the pitch or whatever. When a goalkeeper makes a mistake, your team loses.”
Goalkeepers throughout Sweden shared a collective cringe when they watched the United States-England match in the World Cup. England goalkeeper Robert Green flubbed what was otherwise a routine, easy save, literally fumbling the ball into his own net for an equalizing goal. Covic said he could certainly sympathize with the West Ham net minder.
“When something like that happens, you just want to dig a hole and crawl in,” he said. “I don’t wish that on anyone.”
Still, Baxter said standing between the pipes remained the best place to be on a football pitch.
“What I love about goalkeeping is the pressure,” Baxter said. “There are 5 million ways to settle a ball and every one of them could turn into a mistake. There are only a handful of ways to win, and good goalkeeping is the most important.”
by Chipp Reid