Looking to prove himself as a formidable goalkeeper, Paolo Pascual actually started out as a striker—a young Cebuano player who managed to make it on the rosters of both the national team and Global FC. To be honest, I was a little skeptical and even mildly worried when I saw him play for the first time. Part of me felt like he was too young and inexperienced to represent the country or play for a club like GFC. But then again, Sir Alex Ferguson once described David de Gea as “a young goalkeeper, very quick, with good composure and presence. He’s an outstanding replacement for Edwin van der Sar.” Who am I to say what the guy is capable of?
A goalkeeper has a very special role—much different from the other positions on the field—yet this role is usually the most poorly understood and unappreciated. More often than not, goalkeepers take much of the blame for a loss and are quickly despised, especially when they make a howler. I think that one of the worst (albeit interesting) things that comes with being a GK is when your blunders become the stuff of legend in the football world, played over and over again on television.
During the ICanServe invitational, Pascual got a red card. As one of the youngest on the team, he was given a pass by most of the fans. After all, as in life in general, all of us simply learn from the mistakes we make. Still, kind comments were followed closely by scrutiny from those who felt like he was getting by unchallenged. Let’s not forget the early stages of the UFL Cup, in which GFC’s stuttering performance wasn’t exactly what the defending champions were known for. Was your finger pointed at Pascual? Then again, GFC was part of the infamous “group of death.”
When we made it to the knockout stage, I wished we could give Pascual a shot of experience, not only to keep our record untarnished but also to prove that we didn’t make it to the knockout stage on luck alone. Opportunely, with Coach Graeme’s arrival and Coach Oni’s supervision, Pascual received the much-needed boost that I first thought was just a figment of my imagination. If the UFL had a “Biggest Improvement” award, he surely would’ve bagged it. It’s as if he had instantaneously gone from being a boy to a man. The backbone of GFC’s defense was buttressed and the team was able to hush the hecklers before they could even open their mouths.
In retrospect, I don’t think his progress should have surprised me. He always had what it takes to be a goalkeeper in that he was persevering, courageous and driven. Perhaps he just had to find them in himself.
All serious goalkeepers continuously learn from mistakes made and accept criticism with an open mind. He is the last samurai on the pitch. True, there is such a thing as bad and incompetent goalkeeping, but before you chastise goalkeepers, think about how the ball got past the other players first. Surely they can’t be the only ones at fault. Maybe there was an absence of a resolute and organized defense to begin with. Moreover, we must never discount the string of saves from the match’s final results, because the goalkeeper might be the man of the match for all we know.
With Coach Oni on our side for one-on-one sessions, I am expecting Pascual to master the three fundamentals that an aspiring goalkeeper needs to understand, according to my football book: stance, body positioning, and shot-stopping. Sooner or later, Pascual will make more outstanding saves, read the game more instinctively (improved decision-making abilities!), and become more flexible. And because Coach Oni recently completed a goalkeeping course, the team now has someone in the right position to professionally oversee Pascual’s training when it comes to the usual footwork, handling, diving, hand-and-eye coordination, reaction saves, crossing, distribution, and marshalling.
Paolo Pascual is no Lev “The Black Spider” Yashin, but that’s only because he has the potential to make his own name for himself. Every goalkeeper is unique. Other players or positions may get most of the attention and praise, but we must never forget to thank the goalkeeper, for they are truly the last line of defense.
“The goalkeeper is the jewel in the crown and getting at him should be almost impossible. It’s the biggest sin in football to make him do any work.”