Thursday, 18 April 2013

Clean Sheet 21

Grand Final Countdown

Welcome to ‘Clean Sheet’, an inside look at the ‘Number 1’ position in world football… “Goalkeeper”
Well it is down to the last weekend of the A-League and the two best teams have made it through. The Western Sydney Wanderers will host the Central Coast Mariners at Allianz Stadium on Sunday afternoon and it’s also not surprising that the two best keepers in the league go head to head. When you throw the stats out there you will notice just how close these two glove men are in ability and performance on the pitch.

Ryan earned his inaugural “Clean Sheet” linen Manchester package this season although it is obvious that Covic’s gloves were more worn with almost double the amount of saves required. Both teams are deserving of their place in the final after viewing their respective for and against records. A very healthy 41-21 for the WSW compared to 48-22 for the Mariners. A record any manager would be proud of.
Here’s how the two keepers measured up.

Minutes Played
YTD Saves
Goals Conceded
Clean Sheets
Ante Covic
Matthew Ryan

There has been nothing more than a tally-ho paper between both keepers and their respective teams all season and the Grand Final may ultimately be decided by some brilliance from either Ryan or Covic to claim the coveted “Golden Toilet Seat” trophy. Good luck to both teams and I’m sure it will be a wonderful spectacle with plenty of red and black on show for the Western Sydney Wanderers debut appearance.

The season has showcased just how talented the goalkeeping stocks are in this country and it wont be too long a wait before we see more Aussie flags embroided on gloves throughout Europe and beyond. The likes of Mark Schwarzer, Brad Jones, Adam Federici and Dean Bouzanis must be looking over their shoulders proudly at the healthy pool of talent emerging from our local leagues and competition. Much of the praise should be squarely directed at the many specialist-keeping coaches continuing their great work in lifting the crossbar and widening the goal posts so our talent is always striving to improve their game.

To the EPL and this week I witnessed one of the most clinical performances from a keepers for many seasons. Alex McCarthy was lucky enough to get his first start since an early 1-1 result against relegation rivals QPR back in November.  Liverpool had 13 shots on target and dominated possession with 61% of the ball, but even with the likes of Suarez the Reds were unable to breach McCarthy’s line. His save from a sharp chance from Daniel Sturridge was the highlight of his clean sheet. In a game that showcased the awesomeness of the boys at the back, Pepe Reina was not to be outdone by his opposite number down the other end.  If you can catch the highlight reel of the match you wont see a match dominated more by a keeper than this one. Who says a nil all draw is dull and boring? For me it’s the almost the mecca for a keeper. Even Brendan Rodgers though disappointed with the result was honest in his assessment of the match. “That’s arguably the best goalkeeping performance I’ve ever seen, watching many games and being involved in many games,” Rodgers told Sky Sports. “Not just tipping it around the corner but actually holding onto the ball.”

Very fine praise indeed, and an effort that may draw some interest from other clubs coming into the warmth of an English summer. Although we’re not used to hearing anything negative from Rodgers in his first year at the Reds. Watch this space.

The misery continued for QPR against Everton but it was Tim Howard that shone like a beacon in the Toffees’ 2-0 win over a Championship destined Hoops outfit. Julio Cesar was brave in defeat at the back just couldn’t compete against Everton’s tall timber. Howard’s sharp stop from a Loic Remy bullet was one of my saves of the week.  It was Howard’s sixth clean sheet this season, but it has been Everton’s inability to close out games this season that has let them down. A positive run home could see them challenge for a top four spot but it could come down to the last round where they take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Spurs look to have the April/May wobbles again but can enjoy a small break after their Europa League woes to refocus on their clash with Manchester City at White Heart Lane this weekend. Their London rivals Arsenal have nudged ahead of them on the ladder in the all important Champions League qualification race but can City do the Gunners some favours in providing Arsenal with some mental ammunition for the final rounds.

I’d love to keep rambling on about football and my love of the goalkeeper but the quote of the week awaits. Good luck and fair play to your team’s chances this week.

Football Quote of the Week

"We must have had 99 percent of the game. It was the other three percent that cost us the match."
Ruud Gullit – Dutch Legend and mathematics honours student

Yours in football and “KEEPING it real”.

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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Clean Sheet: Eugene Galekovic interview

Eugene Galekovic is the goalkeeper and Captain at Adelaide United FC. He recently notched up his 150th A-League game and a highlight reel of his saves would easily fill up the largest of external hard drives. His “Red” hot form this season for Adelaide earned him selection in the Socceroos squad for the World Cup Qualifier against Oman in Sydney.

It is a wonderful reward for Galekovic, who continues to work hard at the back while possessing arguably the sharpest reflexes of the current keepers in the A-League. There is certainly no better-equipped keeper to face the daunting task of staring down the barrel of a spot kick with a nervous trigger-happy striker. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Eugene after learning of his call up to learn a little more about the man behind the gloves.

Galekovic Adelaide

Firstly a big congratulations on your recent selection in the Socceroos squad! I know it wasn’t the result the team was looking for, but how was the mood in the camp? Do you tend to learn anything new that you can bring to your game by being with the likes of Schwarzer and Ryan?
Thanks! The result was disappointing for the team on the night but given that we were down 2-0, the team showed plenty of fight and courage to come away with a very important point towards qualifying for Brazil. The experience of being part of a Socceroos is tremendous and it certainly improves your focus. The increased intensity of every session is what you notice the most as you’re amongst the finest Aussie footballers playing both here and abroad) and their professionalism and experience just rubs off on you.
Not many Aussies know of or are aware of Ali Al Habsi, captain and goalkeeper for Oman, but he’s had fine year for Wigan in the EPL. The Socceroos weren’t at their best on the night but I felt he was the difference between a draw and getting the much-needed three points. Do you agree?
He’s certainly a fine keeper and pulled off some wonderful saves throughout the game. It’s certainly not surprising given that if you’re playing in the first team in the EPL you definitely need the talent and skills he possesses. He and Schwarzer had a good yarn after the match in the middle also which always builds the union between keepers.
What’s your first memory of playing football as a young lad?
It was my young junior playing days and is something that you never forget as the mates you made then are your mates forever. I certainly have very fond memories of playing in the park in many positions but the game was all about fun and spending time with your mates.
Was it always football or did you experiment with other codes?
I played most sports growing up in Victoria, but my parents were against me playing AFL as they felt it was a little rough. When I was 14 I had to make the decision between football and cricket…thankfully I chose the later! 
Who has been the most influential person/s in your football career?
Definitely I would say my parents. They have been my biggest supporters and never grizzled or complained when I had to be driven to training or games all around the state. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
When standing alone in front of a striker taking a spot kick, do you have any strategy? Or is it pick a side and hope for the best?
I don’t really have a strategy as such, but before the striker steams in towards the spot I try and stand as tall as I can for a long as I can. Then as soon as the ball is struck I throw myself as hard as I can to the side I choose. I also try and watch the video of the dedicated spot kickers in League to gauge their process. Unfortunately it simply comes down to luck, but you always have to give yourself the best chance possible.
Apparently rumor has it that Mark Schwarzer still wears his old favorite shin pads from his early days at Marconi? Do you still hang on to treasures from the past?
I didn’t know that about Mark! But it is really funny because I still wear the same shin pads I had from my early playing days. They are that worn and old that there is no more foam padding left and just two bits of plastic. Still I’d feel strangely uncomfortable if I didn’t wear them on every match day.
Your nickname and how and when did you get it?
Sadly I don’t have a nickname that too much thought went into, but all the boys call me “Euge” as in short for Eugene.
Any strange superstitions pre game routines? Have you ever noticed how Buffon always marks out the box before each half? Very meticulous and professional?
A lot of keepers used to do it back in the day like [Gianluigi] Buffon, but as you can receive a yellow card from the officials it’s generally frowned upon so I don’t do it. I used to always have a shave the night before game day but on one occasion I didn’t and we had a good win, so I don’t really stick to the routine anymore. It’s a strange thing but most superstitions exist from either coming off a win or a heavy loss.
Many pundits say you end up a keeper because you couldn’t make it out on the pitch. Did you start as a keeper or fall into by chance by a desperate manager?
As a kid I tried playing in all the positions from up front, mid field, defense to keeper but always gravitated ended up in the goals. My teammates always thought I was the best choice and that it was I should be. I always enjoyed it so it wasn’t a case of being lumped with the role but rather being the best man for the job.
Who was/is the keeper you looked to learn from when you were learning your craft?
I guess growing up I always enjoyed watching Peter Schmeichel and Mark Bosnich. They were incredibly gifted but hard working keepers, but in saying that they also possessed that flamboyance and confidence on the pitch that makes them very attractive to watch.
The proud thing about football is the many links with so many diverse cultures and backgrounds. How important is your cultural background to you and the game of football in general?
I am extremely proud of my Croatian background. In Croatia football is number one! The friends I made when I was younger playing football for Chelsea Hajduk and even before then are still my friends today. Football is one of those games that brings people together and is the great leveler and a common ground that everyone can relate to and talk about in any social situation.
What’s the worst football blunder you’ve made in your career to date?
It would have to be the goal I let in last season in our Asian Champions League game. It was a real howler, but it’s important to always shut it out quickly, refocus and move on.  You will always have a bad day from time to time but the more work you put in off the pitch reduces the chances of that happening.
Who is the best former defender you’ve played behind?
It would have to be Sasa Ogenovski. He’s very imposing and physical player who never lets the ball through to the back without a fight. Sasa is an extremely tough customer and was wonderful defender to play alongside when he was at United.
Who do you rate as the best keeper in world football today?
Gianluigi Buffon. He’s been at the top of his game for so long. Also you cannot go past Iker Casillas from Real Madrid and Spain. He’s just about done it all Captained Spain to win their first World Cup; two European Championships and five La Liga titles. Both are sheer class in keeping.
Who has/had the toughest shot to stop at Adelaide United?
Sergio van Dijk (when he was with Adelaide), Bruce Djite, Tomi Juric.
Who do you usually room with on the road?
I room on my own. Captaincy certainly has its benefits sometimes.
What was the last movie you saw?
“The Next Three Days”
The best and worst pitch you have played on?
Best: Toyota Stadium Toyota City in the Club World Cup in 2009.

Worst: Probably Newcastle…the surface can make it tough for keepers.
Your three ultimate dinner guests?
My lovely partner; Michael Jordan; Lionel Messi.
Shootout from the Spot
Pre-game meal
Fruit Toast with butter
Favorite overseas team?
Leeds United
Favorite TV show?
My Kitchen Rules (MKR)
Best holiday destination?
Follow Adelaide United Football Club on Twitter: @adelutd_FC

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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Clean Sheet 20

Clean Sheet – Covic a mainstay as Wanderers finish top

With the International duties done and dusted for the time being, it was back to the A-League final round, EPL and a FA Cup replay. As good as the battle for World Cup qualification is on the football calendar, the week in week out battle for the top four or avoiding relegation is far more entertaining in my humble opinion.

Turning to the A-League for a moment, and the sun has set on the regular season. Despite the tabloid papers continuing with negative stories on crowd behaviour and the like, the game has grown in popularity with the marque signings Alessandro Del Perio, Shinji Ono, Lucas Neil and Emile Heskey arriving on our shores from abroad. What has really impressed me is the number of young local players who have cut their teeth and are becoming household names both here and abroad in a market dominated by rugby league, union and AFL. All codes strive to claim the crown of the “greatest game in the world”, but to be honest they can all happily co-exist by working alongside each other to schedule games to ensure each sport grows or even cross pollinates every summer or winter.

Here are the interesting statistics for the lovers/admirers of the men in the six-yard box. Being in the unashamedly former category, I marvel at the talents of the often lonely and much maligned keeper so the figures don’t tend to surprise as much as raise my admiration after the hours of work put in plying their craft. A total of 20 keepers took to the pitch for over 24,208 minutes, making a combined 866 saves, conceding 369 goals while 14 of them managed 65 clean sheets between them. Most impressive stats, however if you asked most keepers they would tell you that it can always be improved on.

Ante Covic has been one of the standout keepers this season after heading back to the Western suburbs of Sydney to play his part in history with the Wanderers winning the Premiers’ Plate in their inaugural year. Covic has played every minute of every match this season and finished equal on top with 10 clean sheets with the Central Coast Mariners Matthew Ryan. As mentioned in an earlier edition of 'Clean Sheet' if the tally was tied at the end of the regular season, the prize will be awarded to the goalkeeper who has had the fewest goals conceded for the year. In retrospect given that Covic played four more games than Ryan I will be awarding him a consolation prize for his service to the #keepersunion. Congratulations to both keepers and I look forward to getting in contact to award your prizes. The winner Mathew Ryan will proudly receive a quality set of Manchester with the highest of thread counts. Look forward to posting a happy snap with Maty in receipt of one of the highest goal keeping honours in world football!

Good luck to the teams competing in the first week of the finals with the Melbourne Victory hosting the Perth Glory in the first of the elimination finals at Etihad Stadium. Perth’s momentum has been steady of late and their recent win over the Victory only a fortnight ago will give them plenty of confidence in causing an upset.

In the other clash Adelaide United takes on Brisbane Roar at Hindmarsh Stadium. The two teams met back in early March and it was the Roar who ran away with the points after a late Ben Halloran strike. The worrying sign for the Reds is that they have only won one of their last five matches while the Roar have only lost once. I know I’m little biased but momentum is a big card to carry into the finals and the experience of the Roar is well documented and could be the difference. The Wanderers and Mariners both earn a week off but both sides will be keen spectators to analyse their potential opponents for the following weekend.

A quick look at the EPL and I managed to get up early to watch one of Australia’s living legends, Mark Schwarzer play a massive role in putting the sword to relegation favourites QPR. His penalty save off Loic Remy was vintage Schwarzer as well as his “Inspector Gadget” grab later in the match.  Chelsea keeper Petr Cech’s amazing form continued in the FA Cup reply with one of the saves of the year. His giant hand helped his side to move one match closer from a return to Wembley.  David De Gea recorded his ninth clean sheet in Manchester United’s win over Sunderland, while City’s Joe Hart streaked ahead of the competition with his 14th clean sheet in 30 games.

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll will take a look at the Champions League keepers and how the cream is rising to the top, A-League finals action and then round it out with all the keeping news in the English Premier League.

Football Quote of the Week

"I couldn’t settle in Italy – it was like living in a foreign country."
 Ian Rush, (ex-Liverpool) when asked how he enjoyed his time at Juventus

Poor Ian could really have used Google Maps back then!

Yours in football and “KEEPING it real”.

This article appears courtesy of the ongoing support and encouragement of

Check them out and follow their Twitter handle: @bpfootball