By John Cartwright

Recently I wrote a ‘blog’ about changes to defensive tactics at Free-kicks against around the penalty area. I have received several readers who have experimented with the method(s) I proposed and all have said, “it works a treat”. So here is my next so-called outrageous suggestion; it applies to Goalkeepers.

Our obsession with ball possession has brought about a trend in the game for fast closing-down by opponents in order to win the ball early and close to the oppositions goal. Teams who are attempting to keep the ball and start offensive play close to their own goal are having difficulty in moving the ball upfield in a safe manner. Too often, for safety reasons when under pressure, the ball is played long by either a back player or goalkeeper and possession is lost. In my opinion, there is often opportunities for Goalkeepers to bring the ball forward themselves.


Before you fall over laughing at the suggestion of a Goalkeeper taking the ball upfield like any other outfield player, let me explain in more detail why and how this can be achieved.

Goalkeeper’s look to play the ball to their unmarked players – either close to their own goal or to colleagues positioned further away (note: Bravo and Ter Stegen, of Barcelona FC who are exceptional passers and kickers of the ball.) However, there are times when opponents have closed-down quickly and possession from deep positions is not possible. It is these situations that Goalkeepers can become an ‘overload player’ and bring the ball forward. These situations occur frequently in games but are not exploited and go to waste with a long kick forward generally the outcome. I AM NOT SUGESTING THAT KEEPER’S DRIBBLE WITH THE BALL IN THESE SITUATIONS, but there are often large gaps through which a Goalkeeper can run with the ball without hindrance and deliver a positive pass to his forward players. But the goal is uncovered you are shouting! No, not if one of the back defenders moves into the goal as a cover(no use with the hands of course and  remember, the offside rule requires two defending players to secure a positive offensive result and the goalkeeper has become an outfield player and use of the offside rule is possible). The goalkeeper is now, for a short period, an outfield player and can involve him/herself in attacking or defensive play as is necessary(Not with the hands of course). On completing the short or longer ‘journey’ upfield the Goalkeeper can return from the ‘overload’ situation to normal goalkeeping duties.


Yes, something to think about; something to ignore or something to experiment with. Coaching and the future of the game will require courage to try different things. Using all players in attacking play, including Goalkeepers needs to be examined and used if we are to disturb and overcome the closing down and space denial tactics that are becoming so prevalent in football world-wide.

I believe the time will come when a Goalkeeper will break forward from the goal area with the ball at his/her feet, combine with colleague(s) and go on to score a goal. What do you think?




  1. John has always emphasised in the Practice Play work that young keepers are involved in decision making with their feet as well as saving shots at goal.He foresaw the modern role of the so called “keeper sweeper”.

  2. Yes! Quite often the goalkeeper is standing around waiting, this is also a good way of getting involved in the game. Gaps do appear, its about recognising where they occur and how much time have you got to make the next move (playing in the future)The goalkeeper is not only a shot stopper, but an important player in the team whom you can pass to if there isn’t a forward/penetrating play to be had, and quite often the goalkeeper is unmarked, so why not pass!? So simple!(Start again)

    • Hi David. The GK is often on the ball with large gaps between opposing front players. It is possible for GK’s to penetrate these gaps and deliver accurate passes etc to more forward areas and players. The closing-down on back players has become more pronounced over recent years and defenders are either receiving the ball under pressure near their own goal or resorting to kick the ball long. Gk’s must become more comfortable with the ball at their feet(left and right) for they have multiple opportunities in games to deliver safer and more accurate passes their outfield colleagues.

  3. Similar idea to using a fly keeper in Futsal to achieve an attacking overload. If we can get more young kids playing Futsal this concept will feel more natural to them when playing football

  4. Hi Franco. In the days of street football it was expected that the nearest player to the goal would become the Gk. It was called ‘Rush Goalkeeper’. The position as a GK in street football was not one that was usually taken up with great enthusiasm; the surface was hard to fall on, one had to fetch the ball should it have travelled up the street and standing about was seen as a waste of playing time for most. The ‘Rush Goalie’ method proved the best way to resolve the GK problem and kept all happy and the game continued for hour after happy hour.!

  5. In certain parts of the world, the use of the goalkeeper as an extra outfield player is nothing new. When West Ham played TSV Munich 1860 in the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, one of the features of the match was the performance of Munich’s Yugoslav keeper, Radenkovic. He constantly left his penalty area to take passes from his colleagues and strike superb passes to attackers attempting to break through the West Ham defence.
    He was the first sweeper-keeper I ever saw but research revealed that Yugoslavia had many keepers playing in this manner, even going back before the Second World War. Our natural conservatism in England has prevented us from developing our keepers in his way until relatively recent times.
    If we do see a goalkeeper breaking forward through space with the ball then almost certainly it will be at Barcelona because they are the only club with the courage and invention to do this. But next season it will be interesting to see if Pep Guardiola improves Joe Hart as a sweeper-keeper because this aspect of his game seems very weak to me.
    I never saw Frank Swift play, but I have heard that he was confident in starting attacks from his penalty area and came out to deal with opposition through balls before they reached his area. I would assume that he worked out for himself how he could be more effective and improved his game by his own initiative.

  6. Hi Steve. I think that GK’s must be more offensive minded. There are numerous occasions in games in which a GK can produce a much more positive option than a long pass forward. The importance of ball possession becomes a clouded issue when it relates to GK’s; why can’t they become better players with the ball at their feet and make ‘safe’ decisions when bringing the ball forward? The recognition of space in which to move forward with the ball should not be something beyond the capabilitiy of GK’s. Dribbling in theses situations is NOT an option but positive passing and combiations should be used. The rotation of players within normal playing situations should be extended for rotations involving player(s) prepared to cover for a GK once he has left his goal. Overcoming ‘heavy’ closing-down by opposing teams must be a necessary consideration for coaches in the future or ‘hit and hope’ football will be the negative consequence.

  7. Clever rotation with the keeper ,back players and some mid field players is a great way of getting players on the ball going forward.its almost the ‘false 9 ‘ in reverse at the back.A keeper who can really play with their feet gives you so many extra options.

  8. Hi Brazil94. GK’s should not dribble. Running with the ball and dribbling with the ball are two different skills.If GK’s are to be used in offensive play they must not be reckless but reliable additions to attacking play.

  9. I thought that Real Madrid deserved to beat Barcelona 2-1 last night in the El Clasico La Liga match. It is rare that Messi, Suarez and Neymar are kept so quiet. But Madrid defended with great discipline and know how. Ramos was extremely fortunate not to be red carded much earlier than he was, but the Madrid back four snuffed out the Barca danger almost as soon as it appeared.
    It was also remarkable how much effective tracking back Ronaldo did. This clearly reflected well on the management qualities of Zidane. This meant that Madrid’s back four were always able to maintain a shape the width of the penalty area because they knew that Ronaldo on one side and Modric on the other, would always track back to pick up any raiders attempting to get down the outsides of the Madrid defence.
    It is often said that great players rarely make great coaches. In the week that Johann Cruyff died, he was the exception that proved the rule. However, perhaps Zidane is about to stake his claim to join this exclusive category.
    Although good defensive play does not thrill the crowds as much as spectacular attacking play, nevertheless we should applaud clever, intelligent defending when we see it. At the heart of good defending is effective communication and the standard of defending in the Premier League appears to have declined as the number of good talkers in the game have decreased. There are constant calls for John Terry to be reinstated in the England team simply because he grew up in an era when talking to your defensive colleagues was considered of massive importance. Unless we reintroduce this into our defending then we are going to continue to struggle to produce defenders who are effective at the highest levels.

  10. Hi all. It seems that this ‘Blog’ has hit its peak in terms of replies.I must say that this surprises me somewhat in two ways; a lack of comments in favour of more GK attacking involvement; and comments that are decidely opposed to the idea.
    Like most things that are generally not used or seen there is a need to experiment with ideas to establish a preference for or against. I have had replies from coaches who have practiced and are using the defensive strategy at free-kiicks that i mentioned a couple of months ago —– the results are very positive ! Unless coaches have the courage to try new ideas the game of football will continue to condense into a boring, repetitive ‘fightball’ spactacle instead of expanding constantly to fashion a more exciting game for this century .

  11. I think that as with many things in football, if we want to revolutionise the goalkeeper position, then this must begin at a young age. With the youngest age groups the position must be introduced in the format that children have used for generations, i.e. ‘rush keeper’. So whoever goes in goal knows from the outset that they will be a half and half player: half orthodox keeper and the other half playing as an extra outfield player, joining in the play outside the penalty area whenever possible. This will also, of course, stand a young child in good stead if at some time in the future they decide not to pursue a career in goal, perhaps owing to physical/height disadvantages, and they will then hopefully have acquired outfield qualities by having played in areas a long way from their goal.
    I think at the moment there is a definite decline in the standards of goalkeeping in the senior levels of the game and I think that this is perhaps consistent with the equally poor standards of general defensive play. This is perhaps due to lack of communication in the defensive areas, owing to language difficulties through the large influx of foreign players in major European leagues, especially the Premier League. I think that perhaps goalkeeping coaches, working with senior keepers in the League, are concentrating on eradicating what have always been basic flaws in the game of their 1st team keepers. Even England’s first choice, Joe Hart, is vulnerable to more lapses than I think is acceptable, his part in the two goals scored by PSG last night being a case in point. It is rare for Hart to venture far from his penalty area and he shows little imagination or invention in this respect, either for Man City or England. Maybe this is due to his goalkeeper coaches, both for club and country, concentrating on the basics of his game inside the area, in order to reduce the number of unnecessary errors as much as possible.

  12. Hi Steve. The tactical rotation of players in outfield positions is of moderate quality here. I fully realise that introducing GK’s into tactical rotations is indeed a big step forward — but it is a step coaches must be prepared to look at if possession play from back areas of teams is opposed by heavy closing down by opponents. I see so many opportunities for GK’s to take the ball forward and deliver quality passes to their mid-field or front players. The rotation into the goal to cover the GK’s forward movement should be automatic by a nearest defender. In the majority of situations the GK would create an overload and deliver his pass and return to his goal. The GK who is comfortable on the ball and sees an opportunity to go into advanced attacking areas with the ball should support an attacking situation. As i said in the ‘blog’,i fully expect that in the future we will see GK’s scoring goals!

  13. Hi John. As a ‘lay person’, without football coaching knowledge I fully agree with this innovation. Essentially it sounds like the extension to what should have been made to Liverpool’s and Bruce Grobbelar’s tactics from the the 80s. Once the offside law was changed I was surprised by how conservative teams became and why all the goalkeepers almost regressed to being just shot stopping specialists. Despite the success of Valdes, Ter Stegen, Lloris in recent years the dynamic, mobile keeper is still very much a minority figure. Why is this so? I was humoured to see even the relatively static Simon Mignolet try some impressive footwork the other night against Dortmund! As a passing nod to the late Johann Cruijff it is imperative that modern coaches encourage their goalkeepers to create overloads. I would very much like to see this much earlier, even when transitioning from defence as long as the defensive midfielder or centre-back steps into the space left behind….

  14. It will be interesting to see if Joe Hart develops as a sweeper/keeper when Pep Guardiola takes over at Man City. At both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola had keepers who were already adept at playing out from their area constructively. But with Hart it is a case of starting at square one.
    In many ways I can see Man City being Guardiola’s biggest challenge during his coaching career so far. Their defensive work is often very unimpressive and they seem to rely on their exceptional individuals hitting form on any particular day. But they do have some very talented young players in their FA Youth Cup squad, which has been in evidence during their run to this season’s Final. Maybe Guardiola will fast track some of these players into the first team squad.
    City’s defenders are often weak in covering each other in normal defensive situations and so with the added responsibility they will have of providing cover for the keeper on the occasions he steps into areas to create overloads to initiate attacks, then I think there will be much work for Guardiola to do.
    Let’s hope that Guardiola is given sufficient time to both introduce his ideas and put them into practice.

  15. In reply to John, I must disagree slightly about goalkeepers not dribbling. Surely it depends on the speed and skill level of the player/opponent and also the match situation. I am certainly not advocating recklessness but I feel that there needs to be a total change of mindset, The ‘fullback’ in Rugby Union is a multi-faceted, super talented player with great speed, vision and responsibility who is expected to take some risks as well as be solid. Clearly there is a difference in the relative positions but for John’s philosophy to take hold then the ‘big lad’ between the sticks mentality will need to change.

  16. Hi Kramekosum….If you look at the film of the old Colombian keeper, Rene Higuita, which Brazil94 referenced in a previous post, then you will see that this keeper was just showing off. At any moment he was risking putting his team in trouble because nobody, neither his own players nor those of the opposition, knew what he was going to do. Most of the time he was not gaining any advantage for his team. The ‘scorpion kick’ at Wembley was spectacular and memorable in its execution and audacity , but achieved nothing for his team.
    Using the keeper as an additional outfield player to create overload situations must be coached and planned and is not an excuse for an extrovert like Higuita to grab the publicity and headlines.

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