This happened today

Yes, that’s me with Juventus, Fulham and Manchester United great Edwin van der Sar.

That is all.

Off topic: NYT on Asian goalkeepers

2011 08 02 ali al habsi

Given my obsession with interest in soccer and goalkeeping, I would be remiss if I failed to point out a story in today’s New York Times on Asian goalkeepers.

From the lede:

Two years ago, Park Ji-sung grabbed headlines when he became the first Asian to play in a Champions League final.

Asian players like Park, a midfielder, and Atsuto Uchida, a Japanese defender with the German team Schalke 04, which United beat in the semifinals, are not the rarity they once were. They can be found playing in all positions in the major leagues of Europe, except one: goalkeeper.

That situation may be starting to change, albeit slowly.

A few thoughts:

  1. Ali Al Habsi (pictured above), of Oman and the English Premier League’s Wigan Athletic, is cited as one of the few Asian goalkeepers who is playing in one of Europe’s top leagues. And while Asian goalkeepers’ shorter height is mentioned as a factor holding some back, Al Habsi’s stature isn’t mentioned. He’s roughly 6’4″ tall, and is about as non-diminutive as you can get.
  2. I imagine that language is another a challenge. Non-English speakers playing in the outfield who can’t talk to their teammates aren’t as hindered as a goalkeeper who can’t communicate with his defenders.
  3. If memory serves, the authors of the excellent 2009 book Soccernomics1 point out that European soccer managers are not rewarded for making unconventional decisions regarding players and managers.

    Thus, suppose a manager were to recruit a Japanese or Korean goalkeeper who has all the tools needed to succeed. If the goalkeeper fails, the manager is likely to be blamed for trying something different. Better to stick with a British or northern European goalkeeper, then, since conventional wisdom says they’re better suited to the English game. That way, if the player doesn’t pan out, the boss won’t be blamed for his crazy ideas. It will simply be the player’s fault.

  4. Great to see the 21-year-old Thai goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, who plays for Bangkok’s own Muangthong United, getting a shout out. You can see him in action in this YouTube compilation.

(Image: Ali Al-Habsi, via Wikipedia.)

  1. The full title is: Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey–and Even Iraq–Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. []

RIP Robert Enke

RIP, Robert Enke

I didn’t have time to note this sad news yesterday, but wanted to point it out since I’ve blogged about soccer and goalkeeping in the past.

Robert Enke, the goalkeeper for the German national soccer team and club side Hannover 96, committed suicide on Tuesday. He was 32 years old. Enke was in the running to be Germany’s starting goalkeeper at the World Cup this summer.

He leaves behind his wife and their eight-month-old daughter. Enke had battled depression, his wife says. He killed himself by stepping in front of a train in Hannover.

The New York Times/IHT has a story about his death. There’s more from the AP and CNN.

“Goalkeeper Science” in the NYT’s 2008 Year in Ideas

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’ve been a soccer (football) goalkeeper since the age of 7. I can’t get enough of the game, and I absolutely love goalkeeping. (I still play regularly today.)1 So I was delighted to see that, according to the New York Times, one of 2008’s big ideas that begin with the letter “g” — along with topics like genopolics, gallons per mile, and the guaranteed retirement account — is goalkeeper science:

What’s the best way to stop a penalty kick? Do nothing: just stand in the center of the goal and don’t move.

That is the surprising conclusion of “Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks,” a paper published by a team of Israeli scientists in Journal of Economic Psychology that attracted attention earlier this year. The academics analyzed 286 penalty kicks and found that 94 percent of the time the goalies dived to the right or the left — even though the chances of stopping the ball were highest when the goalie stayed in the center.

If that’s true, why do goalies almost always dive off to one side? Because, the academics theorized, the goalies are afraid of looking as if they’re doing nothing — and then missing the ball…

(To read the rest of the entry, visit the link above and then choose “g” in the navigation bar. Sadly, there’s no direct link.)

For more on this subject, I recommend this blog post: “The Rationality of Soccer Goalkeepers23

This study illustrates the tension between internal(subjective) and external (objective) rationality discussed in my last post: statistically speaking, as a rule for winning games, to jump is (externally) suboptimal; but given the social norm and the associated emotional feeling, jumping is (internally) rational.

(Hat tip to B.L. for the NYT link. Image credit: Flickr.)

  1. A few of my favorite goalkeeper-related Web sites include The Glove Bag — an exceptional online community of goalkeepers — and the news blogs The Goalkeepers’ Union and JB Goalkeeping Blog. And if you’re seriously into the philosophy of goalkeeping, I recommend this manual: “The Art of Goalkeeping or The Seven Principles of the Masters.” []
  2. Insert joke about all goalkeepers being necessarily — and perhaps genetically — irrational here. []
  3. And if you want to see a photo of yours truly saving a penalty kick several years ago in Taiwan — and I apologize in advance for the tight goalkeeping pants, but it was cold and the pitch was terrible — click here. []