When we think about other sports and their structuring to reflect and reconsider the status quo in a broader sense, loan deals are something we see a lot more often outside of hockey (to my personal knowledge and experience anyway). And when it comes to goalkeepers, loan deals are made use of to push along their evolution to becoming an inevitable starter at a prized; the crown jewel of accomplishments for a youngster dreaming of playing in the ‘big leagues’.
A young goalkeeper is not going to have any chance to evolve and adapt to the standard of the elite level simply by warming the bench. Sure, being involved in training sessions is going to help along the process and go a long way towards reaching the ability to play at the highest standard (getting used to the speed of shots, positioning and so on and so forth), but it is nowhere near the same thing or experience. Whilst a young goalkeeper can obviously benefit greatly from training with veteran goalkeepers to show them the lead and international players’ shots to stop, game time is the real difference and without the chance to start ‘between the posts’, can slow their development curve.
The best experience a goalkeeper can get is game experience, and bench warming is not particularly one of the best ways to go about improving. This kind of catch 22 situation leaves their mentoring management and selves in difficulty in relation to their next stage in evolution. Too good for the second team and not yet ready for the first team eleven, the coach and goalkeeper are stuck in a real quandary. Loan deals therefore offer a perfect medium for the blooming protégé goalkeeper. Not being tested enough at the training ground or U21’s appearances, often a league just below (to keep them being tested and ready to take the next step up), with guaranteed playing time, they can get the chance to spread their wings this way.
Trying to hold onto a player and timing it wrongly can affect any player in the long term as they actually slow down the prospect’s future and do more harm than good with over patience. Whilst it may be getting tiresome reading, it is at least topical to discuss the parallels in football (a suitable analogy due to regular transfer deals for young goalkeepers to get playing time) for the argument for pushing for loans for goalkeepers. With club rivalries and hockey league structures, there will very much be a fair amount of raised eyebrows at the idea. But, for one of the next stages in evolving the development of goalkeepers (seen in the Belgian model), hockey needs to learn off football.
Italy is one of the strongest and best examples for young goalkeeping protégés being loaned out to gain crucial game experience. And showing this amount of faith in their future has seen their goalkeepers raise the bar of standard right now. Aside from having five young quality goalkeepers fighting for the jersey behind long time hero Buffon, in the junior ranks nonetheless. Currently experiencing a bumper crop of shot stoppers, they have nonetheless properly managed the situation and more. And the impact of the decision to loan out these goalkeepers is huge.
Mattia Perin, Francesco Bardi, Nicola Leali, Antonio Mirante; sure, they’re not household names outside of Italy, but for goalkeepers in the know, they might as well be! Least of all (at the time), SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD Simone Scuffet and his breakout season (who has drawn plenty of parallels with Buffon’s rise to fame). All of these goalkeepers displaying great ability coming from their game experiences that the loan deals have facilitated.
Vivaldi on loan at Den Bosch in his time in the Hoofdklasse.
A loan deal for a goalkeeper is the equivalent of learning how to write at university and then becoming a writer after university! It is the application of the proper technique learnt in training, which is applied to the game. It is like a practical interview where the goalkeeper is proving they are capable rather than simply fitting the profile. There are certain things you just cannot learn on the training ground; too many variables and shots that have not been organised to fit a drill! And goalkeepers should be encouraged to play more to help adjust.
So, as can be shown in review, goalkeepers can readily development quickly in a short time span by the way of loans. For this to work in hockey vast changes would be needed to make it practical, but if we have enough capable goalkeepers ready, why can’t we facilitate it more? The Dutch Premier league of hockey, the Hoofdklasse has welcomed the likes of Juan Manuel Vivaldi and George Bazeley. So it’s not as if it is an impossible task to set up the occasional loan deal for an emerging young goalkeeping talent to get the chance to prove what they’ve got. Not forgetting the Indian Premier League which offers players a temporary season in between their normal season for financial assistance (the wage helping pay international commitments) and extra experience.
And if hockey coaches and national coaches want their systems to see goalkeeping standards be pushed to their highest point and stem the best goalkeepers around to push their game to the next level, then domestic hockey organisations may have to consider these kind of interlinking for pushing young goalkeepers onwards and upwards to the highest levels of the game. The thought out administration of organisation can then be followed. This of course requires time and effort, with the need to plan ahead and scout around for the talent pool, but will pay off in the long run.
Sure, goalkeepers are a tricky breed to predict, but without such focus, what else can be done to offer this kind of game exposure? And is definitely an option to consider, with the benefits proven time and time again around the world in other sports whose systems we can learn off.