In a sport like football where the goals and points matter the most, a goalkeeper is a thankless position despite being the only required position of a team (only position a team can’t do without). A goalkeeper is also one of the most important in on-field strategy as they are the only players who have an unrestricted view of the entire pitch and coaches most times use them to convey strategies and information to other players.
An average team with a good goalkeeper is a competitive team, but an average goalkeeper in a good team makes the team average. They are the eyes of the defence and the marshal of the team’s defensive line.
With the evolution of football, modern day goalkeepers are not just expected to marshal the defensive line and keep the ball from crossing into the net, they are now expected to be involved in the play and start attacks by long balls, playing out from the back with the defenders and midfielders, and through balls. Some eccentrics among them even leave their boxes and play in the midfield with their team (Victor Valdes of Barcelona).
Here are our top picks from the goalkeepers of the teams in La Liga who have been leaders from the back and have contributed in no small regard to their team’s progress in the La Liga in recent seasons.
MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN
We start off with the Barcelona shot stopper, often referred to as “The Wall” by Barcelona fans on social media. Ter Stegen is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and has been improving with each passing game, racking up impressive stats along the way.
Being a Barcelona goalkeeper is not an easy task, as Barcelona is a team who thrives on the total football model where every player has to be involved – one of the reasons why football has become what it is today. Joining Barcelona in 2014 from German side Borussia Mönchengladbach, he is good with his feet, excellent with his ball handling, and possesses quick reflexes. At just 26 years old, he has won every trophy with Barcelona and is surely going to remain Barcelona’s number one for years to come.
Ter Stegen is particularly adept at speeding up and slowing down the pace of the game when necessary, as he is very fond of holding on to the ball and making passes to his defenders very close to the goal line while his team surges forward and takes up favourable positions. He also gets rarely beaten from set pieces as he directs his defenders well enough to provide defensive cover in the box.
Not the most vocal on the pitch, he makes sure to pass his message across with body language and signs as his defenders always have their eyes on him whenever he is with the ball and know where he wants them to receive it.
Another quiet leader from the back, Jan Oblak is La Liga’s and arguably the world’s best goalkeeper right now. The Slovenian, who joined Atletico Madrid in from Benfica in 2014, has been the most consistent league goalkeeper (across all major leagues), has won the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for the best goalkeeper in La Liga for three seasons running, and has conceded the least goals in European competitions since his debut for Atletico.
Last season, he let under 30 goals in all competitions past him and had the best save percentage in La Liga. He was also the major reason for their second placed finish behind Barcelona.
His reflexes are cat like, and he is very alert with or without the ball as well as being excellent in 1v1 situations. His distribution is okay, as well as his command of set piece situations. Although he has been the beneficiary of one of the best defences in Europe since joining Los Colchoneros, his alertness is what makes him stand out as a leader because he can be trusted to cover up for the lapses his defence may suffer during a match.
He is similar to Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao legend Andoni Zubizarreta in his phenomenal shot stopping prowess and his ability to close down angles when faced with an opposition player running through on goal.
The rise of Alaves in La Liga is due to a lot of factors, but also to the leadership qualities of the former Real Madrid youth team goalkeeper, Fernando Pacheco.
He quickly became the Basque club’s first choice after signing for them in 2015 at the age of 24, playing 40 league matches in the Segunda division and marshaling his defence to amazing efficacy as they achieved promotion back to La Liga that season.
Despite keeping only six clean sheets last season, Pacheco and his team lost less home games than the rest of the mid table teams and only conceded about 16% of the goals scored against them from set pieces. He was able to turn Alaves’home ground into a fortress with his expert control over his defence. He is a very vocal goalkeeper, as he is always seen barking out orders and jolting his players awake.
His biggest characteristic as a goalkeeper is his gruffness, which sees him ready to attack a forward and confuse them in 1v1 situations or otherwise. He will is proper captain material and will go on to be very influential for Alaves as they look to break back in to the top-half this season, following their 11th placed finish last season.
Diego Lopez is a prime example of a true on-field leader, as seen in all the clubs he has played for. The veteran is not the most vocal, but his large presence and poise gives fans and players of his club confidence, while intimidating the opposition.
His ball handling and ball distribution is top-notch. He is also one of the most alert goalkeepers out there as he can smell a 1v1 situation a mile away and prevent it before the opposition player even has the opportunity to face him head on, which places emphasis on his speed.
The 37-year old is as cool as they come, and is the model of concentration for not just his team mates, but his fellow goalkeepers. With him entering the latter stages of his career, he can be a big resource to Espanyol’s younger goalkeeping generation as to how to lead from the back.
The La Masia graduate learned from the best in his time at Barcelona, and this is what has shaped him into the goalkeeper that he has become today.
Having been an understudy to Victor Valdes, renowned for his ability to dictate the tempo of a game, he learned how important the goalkeeper is in a team and this has stuck with him since. He has made Real Valladolid into a competitive team since joining them and is one of the reasons they stayed up last season, with his saves denying earning them more points than they would have.
He has very good ball control and can play out very well from the back, and has an eye for spotting a through ball. He is always seen barking out orders and encouraging his defenders to get into positions he wants them to, while doing his job expertly between the sticks for the club. He is very much captain material.
Despite being a thankless job, these goalkeepers have found a way to make their presence felt on the field besides the saves and goal kicks. They have shown how important it is to the team when focus is kept and positional discipline is observed. The league, not especially known for defensive players (bar a few), would do with more of these types of goalkeepers.