Sweeper Keepers Explained
For the majority of football history, the goalkeeper has been overlooked regarding its importance to the game. After all, they do stay in one area for most of the 90 minutes.
However, in today’s world, keepers are starting to gain more recognition, with clubs willing to pay monstrous fees for the men between the sticks.
So what’s changed?
Well, in short, quite a lot. Along with anything else in football, or the world, the role of the goalkeeper has evolved since its conception. Not only expected to stop shots from going into the back of the net, but they are also now needed to contribute to the team in multiple different ways.
Major clubs often judge goalkeepers on their ability to play the ‘Sweeper Keeper’ role, one that has come to the fore in recent years.
But despite the idea of the Sweeper Keeper being seemingly quite difficult to understand, it is quite simple once broken down.
11th Outfielder and Launching Attacks
The main difference between a Sweeper Keeper and your classic out and out shot-stopper is the contribution they make on the offensive side on the ball.
Sweeper Keepers would usually stick as close to the defensive line as possible to provide defenders an ‘escape pass’ out of trouble or even to be used as another outfield player to move around pressing strikers. This would allow teams to play out from the back much easier as they could exploit gaps in the opposition's first press.
In Johan Cruyff’s game-changing tactical ideology of ‘Total Football’ he states that in his teams “the goalie is his first attacker”.
This is where we can begin to see the early roots of the Sweeper Keeper, where a goalie must be comfortable on the ball in order for the team to take full advantage of all eleven players on the pitch.
These goalkeepers would be expected to start attacks, not only with short passes to the full-backs and centre-backs, but also with lofted passes over the top to running wingers in the channels.
However, the most prominent feature of the Sweeper Keeper remains on defence. After all, their job is to keep the footballs out of the net.
Their ability to command their penalty box and space behind the defensive line is of the utmost importance and is a telling factor of their ability to play the role.
Often called ‘keeper sweepings’, generally a Sweeper Keeper would collect or clear any balls played over or through the defensive line. These, however, are high risk / high reward situations - a successful ‘sweep’ would stop an imminent chance for the opponent and give the chance for a counter-attack to be initiated. A failed one would be a massive goal-scoring chance for the opposition because the keeper would be out of play.
The ability to perform these sweepings at a perfect rate is what separates the best Sweeper Keepers from the mediocre ones.
Sweeper Keepers have been around for a long time but have only started to get the attention they deserved in recent times - partly due to a rise in big teams utilising these special players’ skills.
They are the first attackers, the last defenders, and are integral to many successful sides, think Neuer and Bayern, Ederson and City, Alisson and Liverpool, and many more.
They provide that extra angle and option to make building play an easier task, and can allow their team to hold a high line to box their opponents into their own half - because should that line be bypassed, the GK can always sweep up the ball and clear the danger.
Going forward this role will become more and more prominent - in both number and importance - and will play a bigger and bigger part in the overarching game of football itself.
And that is why all future keepers will be expected to have the Sweeper Keeper ability in their locker.