Firstpost Masterclass: Mumbai City goalkeeper Amrinder Singh breaks down the formula for success between the sticks
'If you can’t control your mind, if you can’t get over mistakes, then that’s not a good sign for you as a goalkeeper,' says Amrinder Singh in Episode 5 of Firstpost Masterclass.
Editor's note: Professional sport is as much a scientific pursuit as it is a recreational wonder. What appears routinely mundane is a result of the hours spent honing the craft and deciphering the body mechanics till it becomes a monotonous muscle memory. In Firstpost Masterclass, our latest weekly series, we look at precisely these aspects that make sport a far more intriguing act than we know.
Amrinder Singh is one of the best goalkeepers in the country, and currently plies his trade at Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League. Known for his sharp reflexes, shot-stopping ability and a top-knot that just won't quit, the Punjab native has built a name for himself, and is currently second in line to the coveted No 1 jersey in the Indian national team.
In this edition of Firstpost Masterclass, we have him elaborate on the technicalities of goalkeeping, the mindset it takes to succeed in his line of work and much more.
How are you doing in these tough times?
Right now I’m absolutely great, I’m with my family, I’m safe and I’m trying to maintain my fitness, as much as possible.
Not a lot of people know this about you, but you used to be a striker before you took up goalkeeping. What was the most difficult aspect of adapting to life as a goalkeeper?
I took up goalkeeping when I was around 14 or 15. We were in an U-17 team, and I used to play as a striker. At that time, I just wanted to play, no matter what position, so that’s what inspired the change. In my opinion, goalkeeping is one of the hardest things to do on a football field, so when you jump from training as a striker to training as a goalkeeper, it can be very tough. I found the little things difficult at first, diving, training for crosses, all this was new for me.
As a goalkeeper, which goalkeepers did you look up to in terms of technical ability when you were younger?
When I started, I wasn’t really thinking about all that. At that time people didn’t really use the internet either, so we didn’t really have anyone in particular who we used to watch. Once I got a little older, and became more comfortable as a goalkeeper, I started paying attention to these things. I started following Gianluigi Buffon, I would watch videos of him training on YouTube, I’d pay attention to the type of saves he made in matches. I still do this, now you have goalkeepers like Alisson.
I’ve always tried to learn from whomever I was watching, it doesn’t really have to be an experienced goalkeeper. No matter if it’s the world’s best goalkeeper or a young goalkeeper, you can learn from anyone.
Footballers are considered to be amongst the fittest athletes in the world. As a goalkeeper, sprinting and running long distances is not something that is expected of you, so what type of fitness training do you focus on instead?
Goalkeepers have a lot of specific training, a lot of small drills here and there. One of the main things a goalkeeper has to do is remain calm in tense situations, and have the reflexes and agility to be able to stop any shots coming their way. Being calm is perhaps the most important thing, but then maybe you can’t really learn that from training, it has to come from within.
Football is a long game, it goes on for 90 minutes, and goalkeepers rarely have the ball for long periods. When the ball isn’t around you, how do you stay alert?
The thing is, it doesn’t matter where the ball is. When you’re a goalkeeper, you have the luxury of time, so you need to use that to constantly guide your teammates and tell them what to do. A goalkeeper should be able to read the game well, because they can see the entire field, and they should be able to see what their teammates are doing, and communicate with them in as few words as possible. I think this is one of the reasons goalkeepers are always so mentally exhausted after a match, because we’re constantly making these calculations throughout the game and trying to help out.
Brad Friedel famously said, “For a goalkeeper, there is no hiding place.” Do you feel that rings true, and that there’s a certain pressure on keepers that there isn’t on outfield players?
In football, there’s a different type of pressure on every player. Strikers have a lot of pressure to perform too, as do goalkeepers, because there’s no one behind us to cover us. And if you worry about that pressure too much, I don’t think you can be a good goalkeeper. You need to make the sport as simple as possible, because in the end, that’s what it comes down to. If you can’t control your mind, if you can’t get over mistakes, then that’s not a good sign for you as a goalkeeper.
Mistakes are almost inevitable as a goalkeeper. How do you recover from them during games, and have you always been good at moving past them, or has it taken a while to develop that ability?
I think a good thing about me as a footballer is that I don’t worry too much about things, no matter who I’m up against. I’m more concerned with what my job is. Even if I make a mistake in the first minute, I don’t really blame myself for it, because I tried my best, and that’s what important. I try to focus on how to motivate my teammates instead, to grab the ball and tell them that it’s alright that we conceded.
In one on one attacking situations, what can a goalkeeper do to reduce the striker’s chances of scoring?
It depends on a lot of factors really. You need to assess the situation, where you are on the field, whether you’re in the box or not. I try to stay on my feet and let the striker decide what to do, because that puts the pressure on them. They’re worried about where they should shoot, so that helps the goalkeeper.
Goalkeeping often demands bravery, especially in situations where a collision is possible. How do you train yourself to go headfirst into tackles where most players would look to get out of the way?
I don’t think goalkeepers are ever worried someone might get hurt during a 1v1 situation. It’s very important for goalkeepers to be brave, and most goalkeepers are indeed brave, because we have to be. And strikers should be a little more worried honestly, because they’re probably thinking, 'something could go down here, I could get hurt too.'
How important is your strong hand? Does it make a difference or do goalkeepers learn how to use both hands equally well?
I don’t think that matters a lot, especially since most of us have been training for most of our lives. When it comes to saves, both our hands are almost as good. In fact, maybe your less dominant hand is fresher, because in training you practice with your dominant one a lot. A good goalkeeper should be able to use whichever hand is required in the situation.
In modern football, goalkeepers are expected to be good with their feet. Is that something you work on regularly, and if so, how?
Of course, in modern football, the role of a goalkeeper has completely changed. In earlier days, goalkeepers had just one role, which was to stop the ball going into the net. Now, the attack begins with the goalkeeper, it’s a position from where you can dictate how the build-up is going to be. If your team is the type of team that wants to retain possession as much as possible, a goalkeeper who can pass the ball is vital.
The goalkeeper is always watching everyone, so we train that way, to make sure we know how to help outfield players. And to a certain extent, it’s also the responsibility of the right-back or left-back, to be in a certain position when the keeper has the ball. When you want to keep the ball, each player needs to have at least two or three options available.
With regard to keeping the ball, how important is your communication with other players?
The more I talk to my team, the better it is for me, because it helps me stay focused in the game. Like I said before, it’s really important that goalkeepers read the game well, and we have to tell other players as much as possible in as few words as possible. In the end, this makes life easy for me, if my defenders listen to me when I tell them to fall into shape.
When you’re facing a free-kick, the goalkeeper has the responsibility of setting the wall. How do you decide where you want the wall to stand and where you position yourself?
The first thing is, you need to have an idea of what they could do. You have to be as calm as possible, make sure you’re focussed, and then you can worry about how many players to keep in the wall, where you want it, whether you need them at your near post. To an extent it also depends on how clever the players in the wall are, because they need to know when to jump.
Like I said before, it comes down to one thing, you need to let the person taking the shot make the decision. As a goalkeeper, you need to react to what they do, instead of having a pre-determined idea of what you’ll be doing.
When it comes to taking penalties, a lot of penalty-takers say that they decide which direction they’ll be going beforehand. Is that also true for goalkeepers? Also, how do you prepare for penalties before a match?
Penalties are a bit of a different situation, you can’t really compare it to other set-pieces. In that scenario, 90 percent of the pressure is on the striker, because they need to score. Of course, there is some expectation from the goalkeeper to save it, but mostly it’s on the taker.
We do study the opposition’s penalty takers before the match, we try to figure out who could be taking it, what their run-up is like and which side they usually go when they take penalties. It’s good to be informed of all this, because that helps you to decide what you’re going to do. In these high-pressure situations, goalkeepers need to decide what to do before the kick is taken, because you need everything to be perfect if you have any chance of saving the penalty.
A corner is a tricky situation for keepers, mainly because your path to the ball can often be blocked by opponents, or even your own players. How do you approach defending a corner?
When it comes to a corner, you have to wait. It’s impossible to decide beforehand what you’re going to do in a situation like that, because it’s very complicated. The most you can do is to make sure that you’re in the best position to face it, and a very important aspect of that is to ensure that you’re not being marked.
As I’m sure you’ve seen, teams often try to put one man on the goalkeeper, so I’m always trying to keep the area around me clear. I try to talk to my defenders, ask them to cover me a little, so I’m free to go out and claim the ball. And then when the kick is taken, you need to decide if it’s your ball or not. If there’s any doubt, don’t go out there, because your defenders are there to help you. But yeah, if you’re sure it’s your ball, you need to be brave and claim it.
And lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring goalkeepers?
For any player, not just goalkeepers, I just want to say that professionalism is not just limited to your training. The 22 hours of the day, apart from training, are so much more important than those two hours of training. You need to try and learn the importance of diet, of a full night's sleep, of everything that’s happening around you. Working hard is important, sure, but you also need to think about all the other stuff, because that is what makes or breaks your career.
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