Goalkeepers — Ready or Not

Marc H, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

When a free kick is given and the kicker asks for the Referee to give him the required distance for defenders (10 yards in a regulation match), does the Referee take into consideration the goalkeeper setting up the wall and being ready before the Referee blows the whistle to put the ball in play? I’ve seen circumstances where the Referee blows the whistle and the keeper Is still setting up his wall. Is there any consideration to the keeper in this case?

Answer:

Short answer – none whatsoever.

Goalkeepers think they are special – and in some respects they are (it is a dangerous job after all) – but in this case the goalkeeper is taking a risk by his involvement.  Here’s the main point.  Asking that the minimum distance be enforced converts the restart from a quick to a ceremonial event.  By definition, the referee is the only person who must be involved and her only function here is to signal the restart when she is satisfied the minimum distance enforcement task is finished – i.e., the 10 yards is achieved.

The referee is not and cannot be concerned about any opponent not being where some other opponent thinks is not optimum.  In other words, it is the Referee who sets the wall, not any defender (much less the goalkeeper).  It is a simple matter of applying the Law and the Law is only concerned about a minimum of ten yards in every direction.  If there is any opinion by a defender that a teammate, while not closer than ten yards, isn’t in the “right place,” the problem is not the referee’s.  If a goalkeeper is sufficiently concerned that teammates are not where he wants them that he is prepared to be out of position to defend against a free kick, that’s his problem.

We feel safe in observing that the first time such a goalkeeper is scored against because he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, his coach will make the lesson clear.

Goalkeeper Tactics

Jeff, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

When the goalkeeper is challenging for possession of the ball, are there restrictions on bringing his/her knee up when they are jumping to grab the ball?

Answer

No … and yes.  Perhaps not a very helpful response so let’s explore below the surface.

Can goalkeepers raise their knee during the process of gaining possession of the ball?  We know, that’s not exactly how the question was posed … stay tuned.  Of course, why not?  Add in the phrase “while challenging for the ball” and there is now a significant dimension that has been added; namely, the presence of someone else (an opponent, presumably) who is also attempting to gain possession of the ball.  The big difference, of course, between these two — the goalkeeper and the opponent — is that one can legally handle the ball inside his/her own penalty area but the other one cannot.  Put them both outside the penalty area and they are on exactly the same level, at least legally.

So, let’s assume we are talking about all this happening inside the goalkeeper’s penalty area.  We can tell you that virtually all goalkeeper camps and trainers include the “raising the knee tactic” in their programs.  These camp trainers also provide (by example and implication — wink, wink) two standard explanations that they encourage goalkeepers to use if asked : to protect themselves or to gain height while reaching upwards for a ball.  Actually, the reason is very simple.  It is to help create a space around the goalkeeper into which it is dangerous for the opponent to enter, thus encouraging opponents to stay back to avoid being contacted by the raised knee.    By the way,  we encourage doubters to simply visualize approximately where that knee winds up when raised.  In short, it is done to intimidate.

Would we as referees look askance at field players raising knees to intimidate opponents who might wish to challenge for possession of the ball?  Would we perhaps be inclined to punish a player at midfield trying for a descending high ball who raised a knee to back an opponent off?  If “I’m just protecting myself” is good enough for the goalkeeper, why not for any other player elsewhere on the field?  The answer, unfortunately, is that this has become one of those “urban legend” things that got started long ago and has become ordinary in the minds of many officials who haven’t thought more deeply about why this behavior occurs.  Further, it involves goalkeepers who continue to benefit from their favored status as “special.”  We like goalkeepers — they are brave, interesting, funny, and as egotistical as anyone with a whistle, but sometimes this can be carried to extremes.

Accordingly, what this issue boils down to is not the fact of a knee being raised but why it is being raised.  Seriously, think back over the many games you have officiated and ask yourself how often you have seen a goalkeeper raise his/her knee when there is no opponent around.   Actually, if you do see this, more often than not the goalkeeper is trying to establish it as a routine action so you will be less likely to question it when they do it for the real reason.

So, keep a close eye on such encounters.  Obviously, if the knee is raised to intimidate and contact is made, don’t be so ready to give the goalkeeper a free pass.

The Plight of Goalkeepers

(Originally published on 10/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kaleb, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

Yesterday during my soccer game I was playing goalie.  I stopped the ball and started to get up so I could kick the ball up the field.  A person from the other team started running full force at me (note, I still had the ball in my hands) so I snapped one arm out in front of my body and the person from the other team hit my arm. The Referee immediately called a penalty on me for using my arm as a weapon.  I didn’t swing my arm at him I just put my arm up to protect myself and he hit my arm.  I would like to know if putting your arm up to defend yourself is a penalty.

Answer

Could be.  This is one of those judgment calls for which “you had to be there” in order to get some sense of what the Referee saw — the decision depends on so many variables.  We will say that, in general, the picture we get when you said that you “snapped one arm out in front of my body” is the classic football (American football) photo of a pigskin carrier running down field with an arm held out to fend off opponents trying to stop him.

Let’s just admit up front that the job of a goalkeeper is, as one observer noted, marked by “80 minutes of boredom and 10 minutes of terror.”  In other words, it’s not easy and every goalkeeper walks a thin line in situations like this between trying to stay uninjured and doing their job, a job which often requires the goalkeeper to get into positions on the ground or in the air which are inherently risky.  Having had some experience with serving in this position, we also understand that some goalkeepers take advantage of the quick, brief dust-ups that are a normal part of the goalkeeper’s life to respond in ways that are, shall we say, unforgiving of opponents.  Opponents, on the other hand, generally are not very forgiving of goalkeepers (except their own, of course) when it comes to a willingness to take their efforts to continue attacking the goal right to, and sometimes beyond, the edge of the goalkeeper’s safety.

All that said, it is the job of the Referee in situations involving challenges to or in the vicinity of the opposing goalkeeper to remember that the Laws of the Gamer require such challenges to cease immediately once the goalkeeper has control of the ball. “Control of the ball” is marked generally by having both hands on the ball or one hand on the ball against any kind of surface (ground, body, goalpost, etc.).  Keeping in mind the need to factor in the age, skill, and experience of the players, Referees should be proactive in safeguarding the goalkeeper where the flow of play appears to include one or more opponents acting recklessly despite the goalkeeper arguably having control of the ball.  In your scenario, the Referee should have begun closely monitoring the actions of the opponent who had “started running full force” at you, repositioning to warn the opponent that his behavior was being observed, and even providing a strong verbal caution against violating the Law, all in an attempt to forestall the impending offense.  At some point, the apparent intent to interfere by the opponent would warrant a preemptive whistle.

On the other hand, you are not warranted in taking actions which go beyond mere “self protection” — after all, a more effective way to protect yourself in a case like this would be to simply sidestep the onrushing opponent.  This often does not appeal to more macho goalkeepers whose mindset is, “it’s his job to avoid me so I will simply stand my ground and maybe get in a bit of mayhem on my own which will probably be ignored or justified by the Referee.”

In short, while we would have preferred to see the Referee in this case act in advance to prevent or stop a rapidly building momentum which, if left unchecked, is only likely to end badly for everyone involved in the likely collision, you had other opportunities besides snapping your arm outward in what could only be termed an aggressive manner.  Hence our answer at the beginning of all this — yes, it could be a penalty (i.e., determined to be “striking” and, since it was by a defender within his own penalty area, leading to a penalty kick restart).

Better for all concerned, however, would have been a whistle by the Referee to stop play as the opponent’s run brought him close enough to justify a decision that there was an intent to interfere with the release of the ball into play, resulting in a caution for the opponent for unsporting behavior and an IFK restart for the defending team.  Better yet would have been proactive officiating aimed at getting it through the opponent’s head that he needed to stop running at the goalkeeper once control of the ball was established.