With the breaking news of Beeston’s prized goalkeeper George Pinner leaving behind his long term team, debuting for them in his university years, England’s first choice has made a strange decision at what is a key time in the build-up to the Olympic calendar and in fact in his very own career. After making all the effort to get to the stage of international selection, he has made the curious choice to drop down a step to help Holcombe’s promotion hopes (which haven’t been going to plan, no matter the players they bring in, being pipped to the post by Wimbledon and then Southgate) and stepping away from the side that helped him grow to a point where he could have impressed enough in the EHL to get Dutch clubs interested, as David Harte did with Pembroke Wanderers.
Beeston have moved quickly to bring in a capable replacement, enlisting the services of Scotland’s Jamie Cachia, making light of the matter with a few jokey comments in interview. With the door closed (slammed almost it would seem), if Pinner doesn’t have the impact he hopes for immediately, then things could go a little awry. Rather than pushing on at an incredibly crucial point in his career going forward, he is almost shooting himself in the foot when staying at Beeston would have paid dividends. When a player goes down with injury or drop levels out of choice, they go down in stock since those analysts and coaching staff scouting their potential see a drop in value or form; especially so with goalkeepers (with a slower development curve and difficulty in analysis versus say a drop in goals scored).
At the core of the move, is the big question mark concerning Pinner’s ability to perform at the expectations of representing his country whilst playing in a lower division. Not facing the likes of Ashley Jackson every weekend for a season, he would be likely to be more than a little rusty when called into action by England. Holcombe’s goal difference has suggested that they can simply outscore their East conference opponents (as Beeston did out of the blocks this season just gone), so why bother to bring in a goalkeeper? From an alternate perspective, I feel they should be working on their outfield options; and on getting the team to play as a team.
Should he have done is the main query? Will the move prove foolish or will he prove me and other detractors wrong? The question here is not of ability, more like that of commitment to the cause and politics/choice of selection by England’s coaching staff. If this was another sport, Twitter and public opinion would be up in arms if Joe Hart decided on a move to Scunthorpe, Leighton Orient or Portsmouth (not meaning to insult Holcombe or to over egg this; who knows, there’s always personal reasons?!) and with hockey wanting to be taken seriously in order to grow over here, should this be happening?
Whereas players can be subbed on and off, given the responsibilities of a first choice goalkeeper and the value to their team, it doesn’t speak volumes of competition for the spot or the selection process. In considering this, in anything in life, to push yourself to be your best, you need competition so that you don’t get sloppy or lazy; the counter effect of better productivity as a result of all that hard work. And after waiting all this time to be given the limelight for his international career, waiting behind Allan McGregor stealing the show at Beijing, having been involved with the training programme, before James Fair taking over for the London Olympics.
To make parallels in goalkeeping terms, it would be like Joe Hart (in his debut season beating out Given rather than the commentary on his speed bump season this year) going to play for Charlton perhaps. And England is already pretty thin on solid goalkeeping options in hockey (no mind football) and with young untested, inexperienced goalkeepers thrown into the fray, how do they expect to be taken seriously and push up the ladder of hockey? Where do we draw the line (or at least, those in power!)? And the coaching staff and system, shouldn’t be allowing this move?
Imagine what would have been the reaction had Vogels gone off to the second division in a build-up to the World Cup or Olympics! If this was happening to another hockey nation, what would the response be? And how does Pinner’s move look from an outside viewpoint, especially with foundations being set in place to push hockey’s following in England right now?
And to make a more suitable analogy, in goalkeeping terms, it’s like what is happening with Brazil and Julio Cesar, or Spain and Casillas. With Cesar frozen out of QPR by ‘Arry (Redknapp), a loan move to Toronto was needed to ensure he wasn’t going in absolutely cold at the World Cup, but has been struggling with playing issues due to ‘rust’. Neto was injured recently, causing call-ups for Brazilian local league goalkeepers, rather than players with higher level and overseas experience, putting the team and their goalkeeping depth (and its confidence) at risk. Or even Holland, being without Vorm and Krul at crucial times due to injury.
For England to be strong going forward, they need a goalkeeper they can trust in to get the job done. And being untested, Pinner could struggle with reaction speeds or decision making by placing himself in this position. The goalkeeper has an important and crucial position. Goalkeeping is the ‘game within the game’; it’s a crucial position that has a huge impact on the game and the team structure. Changing up the goalkeeper constantly causes confidence in the back four as does the way the team plays if they are worried about conceding and therefore not pushing on up the pitch.
If England wants to be taken seriously, and if it honestly wants to compete with the likes of Belgium and others with their support and talent base, it needs to ensure certain standards don’t slip. What use is it if Pinner is playing games where his team rolls over the opponents easily, only to suffer from a lack of pressure during times when he does get called up internationally? What good is not pushing yourself? If a goalkeeper (or any player) wants to improve, then they need to test that against the best players around.
A lot of goalies (in other sports like ice hockey) say that the time they stop wanting to improve and get better they may just well hang up the pads. As a player, you want to test your mettle against the best around; otherwise you are not on a constant upward developmental trend. And if you want to be the world’s best, than one of, or dreaming of being, the most talented goalkeeper, then you have to be making a conscious effort to push yourself against the best.
Compare this to the similar change made by Vincent Vasasch to Oranje Zwart. Belgium is growing in quality, depth and ability in hockey over a five year goal plan with instant results, and with financial support injected to help things along, isn’t this a good point of comparison? The Hockey India League is starting to bring in players overseas with cash incentive. A lot can be said, and learnt off, the red lions’ (the Belgian ones, not the English version!) with the depth and quality of rotation between goalkeeping options for the Belgian men’s teams. Manu Leroy and Jeremy Gucassoff are talents in their own right that can be turned to. And let’s not forget that David van Rysselberghe was first choice for a considerable time before Vanasch took over.
And again, care to consider other hockey nations and their approaches. Australia’s main player base works around scholarships and an incredibly amateur status. And yet, they have great goalkeeper rotation, with four options being given their chance in the A team, as well as letting their goalkeepers evolve steady, without rushing them and destroying their confidence in a heartbeat. Canadian players often have to fund their own attendance in international tournaments (via Kickstarter etc.), as do Sweden’s players for the indoor internationals.
If you want to build a team to win, you need heart and devotion, so without being silly where is the heart of English hockey players and their love for the game? To make strides, that level of commitment is going to make a huge difference. A lot of criticism has been put in India’s direction and whilst they have struggled with different coaching styles, their players have been making great effort and they are starting to see things pay off. With that in mind, Pinner would be better off with a pay cut than Holcombe’s funding if he really wanted to go further in cracking the world’s elite goalkeeper rankings.
Hockey players can often supplement their playing careers through coaching and other means. And with their own training commitments, this is a sacrifice (from a typical office job) to allow dreams to be followed. But money is tight, especially in a time of recession, causing doubt and worry. But as hockey pushes for a more semi-pro status, how do players respond? Holcombe are the big spenders of English hockey (with a few other clubs helping out their talents financially, on the down low). With short term gain, there is no long term plan to sufficient stabilise the process. Not just about goalkeepers, this can affect outfield players greatly as well. Wouldn’t Barry Middleton be better off in Holland or Germany again than first division national league English hockey?
Following the approach they took to bring in Maddie Hinch and get their squad to the next level for Holcombe’s women’s national league team, Holcombe are going with the same model of format to bring in England’s first choice men’s goalkeeper to do the same. Just as Hinch shouldn’t be GB goalkeeper without European hockey, should Pinner? But of course, a busier goalkeeper could sometimes be a better goalkeeper as they are hard working and will fight for their team, making it difficult to gage.
No offence to the standard of women’s hockey in England (you don’t get a bronze medal without having quality players). Really basic mistakes like miscommunication (or lack of) with the defence, are on show here. In the first goal that could have changed their whole promotion campaign, Hinch goes for an attacking clearance with the defender going to get the ball under control, only to kick poorly without distance or a suitable angle of clearance, causing the first goal to be conceded.
And who’s to say Pinner won’t have similar struggles as he adjusts to a slower paced game and different shooting styles (having to be more patient and the potential for second guessing when decision making)?
This controversial move however did pay off for both Hinch and Holcombe, taking the team to the Premier league in Hinch’s first season and Holcombe women’s first season in the Investeq national league. But as an observer of goalkeeping trends and English goalkeepers, I can’t see this as a positive one. Taking a supposed Olympic medal contender and dropping them down a level isn’t going to have a positive benefit. If this was for outfield players, others would be up in arms over the paradigm shift. And I can’t see how the move by Pinner can be properly justified.
You don’t see football players in the top tier rushing off to sign for lower clubs. You actually see their agents doing the opposite; engineering moves where they can be playing at a level that challenges and tests them! Lloris could genuinely be on the move if Tottenham can’t give him European football in the next couple of seasons, being at a time in his career where this could help refine him into a truly elite talent. Courtois isn’t going to bench for Cech after proving his worth at Athletico Madrid either.
So why the move? Of course, money and worth reflected in that (self/qualitative) can reel in. But if a player is honestly serious about their ambitions at international level, something’s got to give. This brings into question the status of English hockey players, given how much high level performance training can affect their playing season (versus Holland or Germany’s approach). Without understanding employees, or money to pay for the chance to play hockey at this level, we don’t have a team in the first place.
For a goalkeeper to be at the peak of their abilities, just like an outfield player, they need to be regularly pushing themselves, not just at international training camps. And the centralised system working in England needs to reflect this. The temptation of the allure of supportive money flow is too easy. And I just can’t help feeling it isn’t for the better. Perhaps that money spent by Holcombe would be better off setting up a budget goalkeeping academy system to produce talents like Sweden and Finland’s ice hockey goalie depth, rather than a quick fix through new players being injected all the time? Sure, it sounds harsh, but these questions need posing in an open forum to work out how to balance hockey’s amateur status in specific countries and competing against other nations globally.
Where other English players have forgone other opportunities and taken up added commitments to allow for international selection, this turn of events causes a few ripples across the . Perhaps Pinner could take a leaf out of Beth Storry’s book (being the only English goalkeeper to play in Holland in recent years) and go abroad to not just push his playing ability but also maturity (which is so important for a goalkeeper). Or follow in the footsteps of David Harte, who is now at Kampong. For those goalkeepers, they have gone on leaps and bounds, and Pinner needs to do so too if he wants to be considered a top five goalie in the world of his generation.