Modern goalkeeping: Sweeper Keeper

The goalkeeper has got to be the position that evolved the most during these past few years in football. Being good at stopping is not good enough anymore (Hello Joe Hart!), there are a load of things a goalkeeper (Sweeper Keeper) should master at this time and this article will try to breakdown each and every one of them.

A modern goalkepper, also commonly known as “sweeper keeper” controls the space behind the defensive line by pushing up and staying as close to it as possible and actively participates in launching attacks acting as an eleventh outfield player.

The first sweeper keeper in history was Leigh Richmon Roose. The welsh goalie was known for taking advantage of the FA’s rule 8 which stated that: the goalkeeper is allowed to handle the ball inside his own half, provided he does not carry it. Roose often bounced the ball till the halfway line before launching attacks.

Leigh Richmond Roose
Source: Roker Report

Rule 8 was restricted only to the penalty area in 1912. By that time, Roose had already retired from football. Lev Yashin and Gyula Grosics, two of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, were genuinely good with their feet. Yashin was also known for long throws that used to kickstart counter attacks.

The sweeper keepers role is to “sweep up” any balls that are played through or over the defence that a striker aims to run into.

Manuel Neuer vs Luis Suarez, 2015.
Source: Eurosport

The most famous examples are Ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer Both are great at shot stopping, had the physique and the communication to dominate their area.

A sweeper keeper is known for acting as an eleventh outfield player. Someone who isn’t scared of running head-first into battle whenever the situation calls for it, yet a player who is equally well-versed in maintaining only the highest levels of concentration for each subsequent ninety minutes of football.

Neuer’s heatmap against Algeria, World Cup 2014.
Source: L’Obs

They have to be technical, remarkably self-aware, and above all else – wholeheartedly confident when saving their team from the brink of a defeat.

The goalkeeper’s teammates, especially defenders, have to ensure that they make things easier and comfortable for him to carry out. When passing the ball back to the goalie, the team has to disperse so that it allows the man to play a variety of passes while restarting the attack:

  • Penetrative passes through the opposition.
  • Just move the ball around while preparing to penetrate.
  • Passing the ball directly to his teammate.
  • Throwing or kicking the ball upfield where there is a good chance of winning an aerial battle.
  • Playing the ball beyond the opposition backline.

The role of the sweeper-keeper becomes all the more crucial when the team has lost possession. His duty is to protect the area against high crosses, low shots or threaded pass into the box; defend the space behind defenders to nullify any through balls played beyond the backline and also defend the goal from sudden shots. Also, effective communication with his defenders is of astute importance.

During the transition period, on regaining possession, they look to support play as quickly as possible by offering support in wide/deep areas to the player on the ball, whilst simultaneously maintaining team balance.

As a conclusion, let’s not forget this Johan Cruyff quote:

“In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker and the striker the first defender”



Leigh Richmond Roose:

Neuer vs Suarez:

Neuer heatmap:

5 thoughts on “Modern goalkeeping: Sweeper Keeper

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