‘The Goalkeeper’s Jerzy’

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This week’s “The Goalkeeper’s Jerzy” award goes reasonably enough to the man after whom it was named. It was instituted some three years ago as an occasional honour bestowed on the most unfairly maligned keeper of the moment. This followed Gerard Houllier’s impetuous dismissal of Sandor Westerveld from the Liverpool ranks after he’d made a blunder, and Jerzy Dudek was bought in his place.

He was the hot property of the moment after a couple of decent games for Poland but inevitably was soon making mistakes himself. That’s the way it is. The game, its rules, the ball, everything, is fixed to make the goalkeeper now look frequently stupid, and just occasionally heroic.

How good was his performance? His double save from Andrei Shevchenko in extra time deserved the winner’s medal in itself. Maybe it wasn’t quite “Montgomery ‘73” and if anything was even more instinctive. He didn’t know much about Shevchenko’s effort from the rebound but how he got enough of a glove on to what was a powerfully hit shot from a yard and a half was, literally, breathtaking.

He was fortunate to get away with his first penalty save, since he must have advanced by at least two yards to narrow the angle. But referees should be instructed to turn a blind eye to such bending of the rules by the keeper, if only to give the arts of defence their true place in the game. The day that all the emphasis and benefit of the doubt is applied to those engaged in scoring - and it’s heading that way - then we might as well give up football and just watch such generally empty thrill-a-moment games like basketball

Strangely, and while at what is certainly the peak of his career, the word is now that he will leave the club. Liverpool, like Manchester United, Arsenal, virtually everyone but Chelsea, are said to be looking for a new goalkeeper.

To digress momentarily, and since this is the FT after all, is it worth asking whether there is a message for the world of business here? Perhaps a few more CEOs should bow out when their profits hit record levels. At present you can barely get them out when they’ve failed without an enormous golden parachute and promise to pay their dental bills in perpetuity.

It’s a sad commentary. Goalkeepers once exemplified resilience and continuity. Our FT colleague Jonathan Wilson wrote recently that this remained the case in Russia, though mysteriously he seemed never to have been aware that it also once applied to Britain. Now they symbolise the throwaway society; all the rage one minute, rubbish the next.

There’s something weird about the way we use them as objects of our self-deception. It’s often the case that when a keeper makes a truly good save - one that depends on angles, positioning, good-handling - no one much notices. This includes most sportswriters who wouldn’t recognise good goalkeeping if it slapped them in the face with an old oiled-cotton glove. Yet when they make a fairly comfortable one, those watching can be easily fooled; this is especially the case if a dramatic dive is involved, which for a goalkeeper is often the easiest kind of save to make.

But, much-maligned these days, the goalkeeper takes what credit he can, where he can. As keepers collapse at the bottom of a heap of jubilant teammates after a penalty shoot out, they know that the saves they just made probably weren’t that good - take Jerzy’s final one from Shevchenko on Wednesday night - but, well, that’s what the punter thinks he wants.

Anyway, enough of all this. There’s a cliche straining at the leash to be used here: “timing is everything”. Jerzy’s was immaculate. Many better keepers might have done more amazing things, but in games perhaps that were lost or weren’t noticed, while reserving their errors for times when they were in the spotlight.

Dudek made a few blunders on the way there, but got it right on exactly the right night. He thus claims the award launched in his name and - like Liverpool with the European Cup - should be allowed to keep it.

peter.chapman@ft.com

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