The Presence of Greatness
Bob Wilson has earned a great deal of respect both as a keeper for the double winning side of `71, his subsequent career as a broadcaster and then as Arsenal`s goalkeeping coach for some time. Speaking at an event for his Willow Foundation Charity he has offered an insight into the current issue of the clubs present goalkeeping resources.
Despite a good relationship with Wenger they have never been at one on keeping issues as Wilson explains:
"I love Arsene, he is a hero and the greatest manager in the history of the club. But one area we never saw eye-to-eye about was goalkeeping. I wanted a bit of extra time with my goalies.
"I accepted he wanted them to train with the group and be involved with the entire squad, but I felt I needed a minimum time and I didn`t always get that.
"Arsene was also worried that I liked to embrace the young goalies with the senior guys. That`s how goalies come through the ranks ; they see what they have to work to and the level they need to be."
Wilson wasn`t ever the most technically gifted of keepers himself, the near post error which conceded the first goal to Steve Heighway in the 1971 FA cup final wasn`t a unique aberration by any means. But he was amongst the bravest of his time and it was this quality that confirmed his place as the Number One.
On our present keepers, Almunia and Fabianski, he acknowledges their technical prowess but sees the missing ingredient as the indefinable quality of 'presence`.
"As a player, I learnt very quickly that, when you are at Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and now Chelsea, you have to be more than just a good technical goalie. You can`t really coach presence. It is an indefinable thing, but I believe in it so much" Wilson claims.
"Once you have passed the first exam to prove you can play - and Manuel and Lukasz have - then the bit you have to pass is that extra dimension. It`s the bit that marks you out from the rest. That is the one area that is lacking.
"Manuel and Lukasz are both technically sound but they have to get that extra dimension if they`re going to be the next generation."
If you can`t define it then how is presence acquired? Is it just there as a character trait or can it be generated? Perhaps like Shakespeare`s greatness some are born to it, some achieve it and others, like Wilson himself, have it thrust upon them.
Being a keeper at a club like Arsenal is to place yourself in a huge goldfish bowl. You need to be mentally very strong to survive under that degree of scrutiny. Many have failed under the yoke. Alex Manninger`s career is one example as was the passage of Richard Wright from international class to, at best a persistent bench warmer for clubs outside the top tier.
I suppose presence may come from belief. Not just self belief but also the belief of supporters and fans. That`s perhaps one of the more elusive commodities in football. Lehmann acquired it by virtue of his presence in the Invincible side of 2004, much as Wilson did with his role in the first double winning side, though Jens was if anything a far more flakey keeper than either Manuel or Lukasz. Being present in the right place at the right time may give you the 'presence` that Wilson finds so hard to define. It`s that which earns the confidence of supporters and provides the belief system necessary to become 'unbeatable'.
For either of them to be a great with 'presence` Almunia or Fabianski will first have to win something.
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