Until 1892, players were allowed to charge the goalkeeper even when he did not have possession. Because they were allowed to hold the ball, goalies were seemingly punished for their ‘privilege’. Only in 1892 was the rule changed to allow the ‘keeper some respite. You could charge the goalie only ‘in the act of playing the ball or while obstructing an opponent.’
Ever since, ‘keepers have had it a bit easier. Injury is no longer an obvious threat. But what of the gremlins that reside in the mind? Laxmikant Kattimani is probably more aware of them now than before. For how does one explain the blunder that set his side on the way to a 0-2 defeat against NorthEast United FC in Guwahati on Tuesday?
It was a team to which FC Goa had not lost before in the, albeit short existence of, the ISL. But the preparation for the season opener had experienced rough weather. Injuries to key players, lack of pitches for practice back home, an indifferent pre-season in Brazil and a long flight to Guwahati. Not the way you would want to start a new season.
Despite the wobbly path that led to the game, Goa made a serene start. Some neat passing combinations were on display. Zico’s side felt its way into the game and was not rushed in its efforts. But in the 20th minute, something incredible happened.
Lucio won an aerial duel with Emiliano Alfaro and passed the ball back to the ‘keeper Kattimani. It was supposed to be the most routine of acts. Kattimani needed to control the ball and send it back to one of the defenders. A calm head would accomplish the task with an unruffled demeanour. Kattimani, though, looked confused from the moment he readied himself to receive the ball.
It was as if his muscle memory had failed him. A task so routine that it became incredibly hard to fathom. Let alone actually accomplishing it. There was a sense of unease as he dallied on the ball. Alfaro was running towards him. He took a few touches too many. Alfaro was running. Kattimani contemplated what to do next. Where to pass the ball, from which foot? Alfaro was running, close now. Kattimani’s faculties of reasoning had collapsed. Alfaro neared the goalkeeper and the latter finally decided to make the pass.
But of all the possible passes he could make, he made the one that was certain to touch the onrushing striker. The ball hit Alfaro’s knee and was carried into the goal by his forward thrust. 1-0 to North East United. Disaster for FC Goa.
It was not just any goal that Kattimani had conceded. It was a blunder one would find tough to recreate even on a console gaming platform. It did not help matters that Kattimani was also responsible for Chennaiyin’s late equaliser in last year’s final that eventually ended in defeat for Goa. For the second competitive match running, spread over ten months, Kattimani found himself at the centre of attention. For all the wrong reasons.
Subhasish Roy Chowdhury may replace him once he’s fit but, for now, Kattimani will have to carry his damaged belief onto the pitch. It would not have helped him to see his opposite number Subrata Paul deliver an exceptional performance in North East United’s goal. The experienced custodian denied the opposition on numerous occasions, sometimes in spectacular fashion.
Goa grew into the game but the contest was killed off by a swift move in the 62nd minute. Another moment when Kattimani was found wanting, although it could not be classified as a mistake. A clever passing sequence had Alfaro bearing down on goal but the angle was tight. The situation demanded that Kattimani spread his body so as to deny the striker little room to shoot. However, he remained uncertainly positioned and the ball was slotted home between his legs.
The life of a goalkeeper can breed solitude. Kattimani’s display would have left him feeling bereft on the pitch. There was no respite for him. Zico changed the formation from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 and then to 4-4-2 but none of them could bring the fruits that were desperately sought. Goa came close but decisiveness remained out of its grasp.
Kattimani’s display was not representative of the side’s effort overall, though. Jofre once again was in the thick of things, driving his team forward especially when he moved to the number 10 position in the second half. Mandar Rao Dessai showed the occasional glimpse of the havoc he could wreak. But there was not much to speak of otherwise. Goa very much seemed like a side that needed a longer pre-season.
Perhaps, a return to full fitness would change that. Goa had recovered from a slow start in the first season to qualify for the playoffs; a defeat in the opening game does not change much.
But the questions surrounding the goalkeeper will germinate. Kattimani has given Zico few reasons to persist with him but if Subhasish Roy Chowdhury is out for a while, the former will keep his place. If he does, Kattimani will hope the gremlins decide to take a holiday. For Goa cannot afford another collapse of reason.
But how can Kattimani kick the demons away? You are tempted to say, by not thinking about it. But surely, that is the worst advice to offer. Fear will thrive when one seeks to ignore it. Frankly, the solution remains a mystery. One can only hope Kattimani will not be subjected to the brutal devil that is fate when he turns up on the pitch next time. If he is, all hell may break loose.