Won't Somebody Think Of The Third-Choice Keepers

It must be wonderful being part of a World Cup squad, but what of the third-in-line to the goalkeeper's throne? Nick Miller examines the strangest of tournament 'participants'...

Last Updated: 12/06/14 at 09:10 Post Comment

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The World Cup is an incredible thing to watch, and it's even better if you can go to all your country's games, better still if you don't have to pay. Such a thing is a rare opportunity, confined to a select few such as journalists complaining about the view from their hotel on Twitter ("You promised me I'd be able to see Christ the Redeemer!") and 32 young men who, for the other 11 months of the year, call themselves footballers.

What an honour being called up to play in the World Cup must be. Your chest is puffed, your plume of feathers tingling, your ego suitably stroked, your parents giddy at the idea of their boy playing at football's finest fandango.

Of course, if you happen to be the third-choice goalkeeper for your country, then the edge is taken off things just a tad. You're not so much a player as a fall-back, a safety net that everybody keeps around but hopes they will never have to use - the footballing equivalent of a fire blanket on the wall of an office kitchen. For the majority of these strange creatures they are getting little more than a free trip to Brazil, with the obligation of doing a bit of training, giving Gigi Buffon some practice shots and trying to remember to bring your gloves to the game.

Goalkeeping on its own is a curious profession, the realm of the medically bonkers whose failures are magnified and all-but the greatest and most spectacular successes virtually ignored. But at least the first-choice keepers get to play, and the back-ups have to stay on their toes lest anything go awry. But where does that leave the third in lines? Basically, scratching their bottoms and half-hoping for a rapacious outbreak of food poisoning.

In total, 403 teams have played at the World Cup, and you know how many have used all three of their goalies in a single tournament? Four. That's it. That's all. In 19 tournaments. Those teams were France in 1978, who had to call on three goalies because first-choice Jean-Paul Bertrand-Demanes smacked his head on a post and replacement Dominique Dropsy suffered from an unfortunate case of nominative determinism, Belgium in 1982 who dropped japester Jean-Marie Pfaff after he pretended to drown in a swimming pool, Czechoslovakia the same year for whom Zdenek Hruska was useless and Stanislav Seman broke a finger, and Greece in 1994, who desperately tried anything to stop losing 4-0, which they did twice, before third-choice Christos Karkamanis stemmed the flow by keeping Nigeria to a 2-0 win in their final group game.

In short, the No.23 is hoping for a moment of slapstick, an utterly calamitous, soul and confidence-destroying performance or a manager who is so indecisive he can't get past the first name on his teamsheet before ripping it up and starting again. And preferably, all of the above.

Quite apart from being the proverbial spare prick at a wedding, it must be a very strange thing for the third-choice goalie of a team that wins the World Cup. In 2010 Spain basically took Pepe Reina along because he was a cheerleader, a good guy that everyone liked and someone who could pep the rest of the squad up if they did something cretinous like lose to Switzerland in the first game. Sure, it helped that he's a pretty decent keeper, but could he really, with a straight face, claim to be part of the success when his biggest contribution to the campaign was forcing a Barcelona shirt over the head of the then very much Arsenal player Cesc Fabregas at the post-tournament celebration? But still, there he is, sitting at home with that World Cup medal, on his shelf next to a framed picture of Rafa Benitez.

Third-choice keepers must feel a bit like someone who was nearby at moments of great historic achievements, but didn't really contribute to them - the bloke who brought Jimi Hendrix a Jack Daniels at Woodstock; yer man standing just to the right of Martin Luther King under the Lincoln Memorial; Ringo Starr. Think of a drummer joke (guy who hangs out with musicians etc) and you can apply it to this odd species.

Filling the time won't necessarily be more of a struggle than for the rest of the squad (training, Xbox, gurning selfie on Instagram, game), but it will be all the more forlorn, more pointless. For the thirdie, there's barely any hope of doing what he's ostensibly there to do. It's all of the work without any of the play.

Of course, some might think this is all a smashing deal. You hang about with your pals for a month, go to a new country and get to tell everyone you went to a World Cup. Lovely old job.

So spare a thought for Fraser Forster, for David de Gea, for Tim Krul, for these 32 well-heeled spectators. They're going to Brazil to watch football for a month and don't have to do a great deal else. Sounds hellish.

With thanks to the Guardian for the history of the third-choice keeper.

Nick Miller - he's on Twitter

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