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The Presence of Greatness

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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Date:Thursday April 29 2010
Time: 9:20AM


You really don't rate Lehmann do you Amos.
29/04/2010 09:33:00
I don't think there's anything controversial in sayign Jens was flakey. I can think off the top of my head of a plethora of mistakes he made- Viduka's goal at Elland Road, the Spurs penalty in 04, Queudrue's goal in the 5-3 win v Boro, the Healy and Dunn errors in quick succession, his little dribble outfield against Kyiv in 2003. All of which were far more glaring errors than Almunia punching a cross thirty yards away from his goal in a North London derby. All except the Healy and Dunn ones that got him dropped occurred in seasons when we won silverware. He was an excellent keeper, but he also made more glaring errors than Almunia and quite regularly too.
Little Dutch
29/04/2010 10:35:00
The critical thing with Almunia and Fabianski, is, I think, confidence. Neither if them are exactly Pat Jennings reincarnated, but they're now reduced to making the kind of mistakes ou just don't make if you're confident. For example, Gomes in November 08' was terrible, his performances got progressively worse, and rumors of a swap deal with Wolves for Hennessy abounded. Now, he's probably the reason we won that derby. The key is confidence, and though you may not rate him on a technical level, that was something Lehmann had in spades.
29/04/2010 10:56:00
I think everyone would rate Lehmann on a technical level. He was also a big game player, which I suppose added to his presence. Probably his greatest game for us was the F.A. Cup Final in 2005, last minute semi final saves, great saves at Anfield and Old Trafford stick in the memory. But he did have more brain farts than I recall Almunia having, but with one exception, I can't recall Almunia performing out of his skin in a massive game. That's the dichotomy between the keepers.
Little Dutch
29/04/2010 11:48:00
Makes sense. But this has me thinking: how do we break the cycle though? As long as we don't win things (or big games at least), the keepers can hardly build their confidence. As long as their confidence is a lingering issue, we can't hardly win. Do we go for something smaller (e.g. many Gooners are saying it's time we take the domestic cups more seriously to start a winning habit)? Do we buy a keeper who's won things?
29/04/2010 12:34:00
Interesting article, great quotes from Wilson. I've always been fascinated by the unique nature of the keeper in football. A keeper to me always stands apart, he's on the same pitch but it's like he's not really a teammate, he's almost a team of one. I agree that successful keepers have something that--for lack of a better word--we'll call "presence." It's critical for all successful keepers in top class teams--a sense of confidence and a presence that enables him to build an understanding with his defense. That understanding doesn't necessarily have to be a harmonious one. The keeper and his defenders don't need to like each other, they just need to understand each other and communicate effectively. Yes, Jens was flakey and made errors, some of them big ones. But--in comparison to Almunia--there always seemed to be a level of understanding/communication with his defense (which, btw, seemed to wane as this new team of younger players started to take over). I think that was partly due to Jens' "presence," or, rather, his authority, arrogance and confidence. Almunia and Fab aren't arrogant enuf, and that inhibits them from building an understanding with their defense. It's the same charge we often hear about this Arsenal team: lack of authority, lack of leadership, lack of strong character and personality. (Tho for me, RVP is growing into a strong leading personality in the team). There were outstanding personalities in AW's previous teams. Jens was a powerful, demanding character on the pitch, but he wasn't the only one in that team. This current Arsenal team are lacking in those qualities.
29/04/2010 14:31:00
Jens greatest strength was that no matter how flakey he was nobody could convince him that he wasn't the greatest keeper in the world and as consequence he could at times perform as though he was. If Wilson's idefinable presence can be defined in any way it is in Lehmanns unquenchable ability, irrespective of his many cock ups, not to allow his mistakes to undermine his confidence and belief. A sign of true greatness.
29/04/2010 14:37:00
In my mind, there are two components to having the presence. One is confidence borne out of regular starts and consistent performances. The other is a personality that strong enough to deal with the pressure of being a goalkeeper. Jens was mad so he was going to dominate his area anyway and Seaman seemed unflappable and was completely focused. Wright, Maninger, Almunia, Fabianski, Manone all exude indecision and uncertainty because they are too aware of the pressure.
Sir Henry
29/04/2010 14:41:00
Interesting and yet sad to note 'the passage of Richard Wright from international class to, at best a persistent bench warmer....'. Arsenal's Proctologists-hang your heads in shame.
29/04/2010 17:08:00
Thus spoke lordjohnny - our neigbouring not so friendly glue sniffing spud.
29/04/2010 19:03:00
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