What Is a Goalkeeper in Soccer?

The goalkeeper is the most specialized position player in soccer. In basic terms the goalkeeper is tasked with stopping opposition players from scoring a goal, and when inside the penalty area they may use their hands to stop the ball or catch it. If they touch the ball with their hands outside of the penalty area it is dealt with as if any outfield player did so and results in a free-kick for the opposition with possible further punishment from the referee by way of a yellow or red card.

What physical attributes do you need to be a Goalkeeper?

Most goalkeepers tend to be over 6ft tall and well built as the role is a physical one where they can expect to be pushed around and banged into by opposition players. Goalkeepers also need natural agility to be able to quickly change direction and propel their bodies in the way of shots towards the goal.

For a great proportion of the history of soccer, goalkeepers tended to stay as close to their goal line as possible and command the 6-yard box rarely coming out further than the penalty spot. These are known as line goalkeepers. The main skill requirement of the line goalkeeper is shot-stopping and being able to catch high balls and crosses into the penalty area.

What are the main responsibilities of the Goalkeeper?

In addition to the primary duty of stopping the ball from going into the goal, the goalkeeper should also be very attentive to developments on the pitch and communicate with his defense and midfield as to where they see threats developing. This is of particular importance when defending corners and free-kicks. The opposition will look to unsettle the goalkeeper as much as possible by blocking their view of the ball and their attempts to get to it. Defenders will use either zonal or man marking to defend such situations.

Goalkeepers also often take goal kicks, although it is not mandated in the rules that they do this. Any outfield player is entitled to take the goal kick, but it is most often the goalkeeper due to them being the furthest player back towards the goal line. The goal kick can act as an opportunity to effectively get the ball further up the pitch towards the opposition goal and often goalkeepers will kick the ball directly into the opposition half from a goal kick. Exceptions can occur when a goalkeeper has picked up an injury during the game and is no longer reliably able to kick the ball with accuracy, and usually it will fall to one of the defenders to take it in their place.

What is a Sweeper Keeper?

For the majority of the history of football, all goalkeepers were considered line goalkeepers, but developments in the past 30-40 years in soccer have put more emphasis on the goalkeeper having the ability to control the ball at their feet and pass the ball over short and long ranges. The sweeper keeper pushes forwards when their team is in possession, sometimes outside of the penalty area to control the space behind the defense, which in turn allows the defense and midfield to push further up the pitch. The term sweeper keeper comes from the outfield position of sweeper who is named as such due to 'sweeping up' the danger when defending.

The earliest example of the sweeper keeper is thought to be Hungarian Gyula Grosics who played from 1945-1962. Eccentric goalkeepers Bruce Grobbelaar and Rene Huguita brought attention back to the role in the 80's and 90's, but it wasn't until the success of Manuel Neuer's career that the role was shaped into what it is today and popularised in top-level football.

Do Goalkeepers ever play outfield?

It is rare for goalkeepers to function as outfield players due to the different skills required for the roles. When a team is losing by a single goal in an important game, and there is only a small amount of time left, it is not uncommon for a goalkeeper to push forward into the opposition box when there is a corner or free-kick to try and get a decisive touch on the ball.

This was the case in dramatic circumstances in 1999 when Carlisle United were seconds away from being relegated from the English Football League for the first time in 71 years. They sent their on-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass into the box for a corner, and remarkably he scored and saved the club from relegation.

An example of a goalkeeper scoring a goal.

Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos began his career in 1988 but having been unable to break into the first team he asked to be used as a striker. He performed admirably in this role scoring 14 goals in his first season before eventually breaking into the team as first-choice goalkeeper. Again later in his career he found himself out of the first team and was used as a substitute striker for Cruz Azul in their Championship season. Campos went on to great success as a goalkeeper and represented Mexico 129 times, and in tribute to his former exploits as a striker, Campos would wear the number 9 shirt when playing in goal for Mexico.

Jose Luis Chilavert was a Paraguayan goalkeeper who was considered one of the best in the world. In addition to this, he was considered a free-kick specialist and would often take penalties. He scored 67 career goals including 8 at international level for Paraguay, 4 of which were scored in qualification for the 2002 World Cup.

Jose Luis Chilavert goal compilation.

On the final day of the 2004/05 Premier League season, Manchester City required a goal against Middlesbrough to qualify for the UEFA Cup and brought on substitute goalkeeper Nicky Weaver in place of USA midfielder Claudio Reyna. Weaver went in goal and 6ft 4in goalkeeper David James was used as a striker for the final 7 minutes of the game. Balls were hit long up towards James but he looked uncomfortable and out of place as a striker, committing needless fouls and showing poor touch and control. Man City did get their chance to equalize however with a penalty that was saved by Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

Goalkeeper playing as a striker.

Do outfield players ever play in goal?

On rare occasions, usually when a goalkeeper has been sent off or injured and the team has no substitutions left, an outfield player will take their place in goal for the remainder of the game. This was the case in 1991 when Manchester City played against Derby County in a top-division game of great importance. Goalkeeper Tony Coton was sent off for a professional foul on Dean Saunders inside the area, and striker Niall Quinn, who had earlier given Man City the lead in the first half, then went in goal for the resulting penalty and the entire second half of the game. Quinn remarkably saved the penalty and Man City went on to win the game and consign Derby County to relegation.

Niall Quinn playing as goalkeeper.

Other notable examples of outfield players going in goal and being successful are Steve Staunton and Phil Jagielka, both of whom kept clean sheets when being brought in to act as an emergency goalkeeper.

Steve Staunton playing as goalkeeper.

Who is the greatest goalkeeper of all time?

Perhaps the most successful and greatest goalkeeper of all time would be Lev Yashin. He is the only goalkeeper in the history of the game to have won the Ballon d'Or, however, some of the records attached to his name are dubious to say the least. He reportedly saved 150 penalty kicks and kept 270 clean sheets from 420 career appearances. This is highly unlikely to be true and likely down to a combination of poor record keeping and Soviet-era propaganda. Yashin himself said he wasn't a penalty specialist but did have this to say on the joy of saving penalties.

"The joy of seeing Yuri Gagarin flying in space is only superseded by the joy of a good penalty save."

- Lev Yashin

Yashin didn't regard himself as the best goalkeeper in the world and instead stated that Vladimir Beara of Yugoslavia was better when receiving his Ballon d'Or in 1963. Still, Yashin is the one remembered most fondly and France Football even named their association football award for the best-performing goalkeeper the Yashin Trophy.

Dino Zoff, Gordon Banks, and Gianluigi Buffon are notable examples of world-class goalkeepers from the past, but unfortunately, most goalkeepers tend to be remembered for their mistakes rather than the countless saves they make over the course of their careers.

Goalkeeper mistakes.

Why are goalkeepers crazy?

Goalkeepers often have a reputation for odd, eccentric and angry behavior both on the pitch and off the pitch, with players such as Oliver Kahn, Rene Higuita and Jens Lehmann noted for their antics. Goalkeepers are often somewhat isolated from the rest of their teammates during training and on the pitch and the role can require something of a singular mentality. There is a huge amount of pressure laid at the feet of the goalkeeper, and they can be blamed directly for defeat in a way outfield players rarely are. Loris Karius experienced this directly following the Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in 2018.

Loris Karius mistakes in the Champions League Final.

Perhaps the greatest example of all though is the story of Manchester City's German goalkeeper Bert Trautmann in the 1956 FA Cup Final who broke his neck with 17 minutes of the game remaining. Rather than come off the pitch and be replaced by a teammate, Trautmann played on and made crucial saves as they preserved their 3-1 lead.

Bert Trautmann plays 1956 FA Cup final with broken neck.


How many seconds can a goalkeeper hold onto the ball?

Goalkeepers are allowed to hold onto the ball for six seconds before having to release it, but most referees apply leniency in the application of this rule unless there is an obvious attempt to time waste. The referee is permitted to award an indirect free kick from the position the goalkeeper is stood in the penalty area as punishment for this infringement.

Do goalkeepers have to wear gloves?

No, goalkeepers are not mandated to wear gloves, and as recently as the 1970's it wasn't uncommon to see goalkeepers without them. However, the simple matter of protecting the hand from the ball, as well as the increased grip that modern goalkeeper gloves provide mean that it is an incredible rarity to see it in the modern game. Notably though Portuguese national goalkeeper Ricardo took off his gloves midway through the penalty shootout against England in the Euro 2004 Quarter Final. He saved the penalty from Darius Vassell before then taking his team's final penalty to advance them to the Semi-Finals.

Can goalkeepers wear hats?

Yes, in Law 4 of the IFAB Laws of the Game players are permitted to wear non-dangerous protective equipment, for example, headgear, facemasks and knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight padded material. Goalkeeper's caps and sports spectacles, such as those famously worn by Edgar Davids are included under this rule.

Can goalkeepers pick up a pass from a teammate?

The back-pass rule prohibits goalkeepers from handling the ball after it has been deliberately kicked to them by a teammate, or after receiving it directly from a throw-in.