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?


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.