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08/08/1939: Great goalkeepers of the past
Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-10-11 15:31:32
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WHO WAS THE BEST GOALKEEPER IN THE WORLD?
— Unknown | 08/08/1939 —
Whenever the topic of Sunday's match is brought up in the comfortable confines of club cafés, sooner or later one of the fans will inevitably interject into the discussion, "Gosh, my friend, if Csutak II hadn't defended that right-wing bomb, we would have lost for sure!..." The whole fanbase starts chanting the praises of Csutak II's sensational goalkeeping skills, and usually there are one or two more bloodthirsty club fans who will tell you that there is no better goalkeeper in the country, or perhaps even in the world, than Csutark II. Then the general debate starts: who was the best goalkeeper in the world?
The consensus is that Zamora, Spain's legendary goalkeeper, has almost rented his place in the Spanish national team for many, many years. Next in line is Plánička, another multiple Czech goalkeeper, who is widely regarded as the best goalkeeper of all time... Why? Because the fact that someone has been the uninterrupted guardian of the national eleven for a long time has a suggestive effect on public opinion and a certain legendary nimbus slowly grows around his head. In the light of this, the circumstances that might have strongly encouraged the emergence of such a goalkeeping star as a lone dominant figure fade away. It is well known, for example, that Hungary has always been full of goalkeeping talents of greater and greater calibre, who in the fierce competition at home could only make the national team once or twice, but if they happened to go abroad for a few years, the trade and daily press there would sing the praises of their unrivalled goalkeeping skills! On Hungarian pitches, such talents as Domonkos, Knapp, Varga, Knoll, Fehér, Fischer, Fábián, Aknai, Weinhardt, Zsigmondy, Alberti shone for a shorter or longer period, but as soon as they went abroad, they were immediately mentioned among the best in Europe and their skills were valued with gold. However, in some countries, goalkeepers of what we would consider mediocre ability could often be selected for years simply because no one better than them could be produced. So we can see that the fact of having been selected several times is not always a decisive factor in judging the actual knowledge of a great goalkeeper!
However, the real born great talent will always and everywhere assert himself and leave a deep impression on the minds of experts and the general public alike. And so, slowly, the ranking that most closely reflects the truth of the situation has emerged. In Hungary, the vast majority of football experts believe that of all the goalkeepers who have lived and seen the world's best, Plattkó, the world-famous goalkeeper of the Vasas, and later Vienna, MTK, Sparta and Barcelona, was the best! Plattkó was lucky enough to combine the great physicality and courage of Zamora, the wonderful lightness and flexibility of Zsák, the unbelievable safety of Plánička and the sharpness of Hiden! But on top of all this, he had an unrivalled sense of style, unrivalled by any of the other four world-famous Kapuyéd! Plattkó's touch was as beautiful, effortless and also deadly sure-footed as any goalkeeper has ever had. It was a real concept in those days! There was no greater praise for a young goalkeeping giant from Peltor than when & the critics wrote that this or that shot was defended by a Platıkó-style band. His superb homoritas, as well as his fantastic "air floats" from one goal to the other, created a feeling of the greatest aesthetic beauty in the spectator! All this was combined with a reflex that was so sharp that he was often able to pull off bombs of such power from 4-5 metres, in the split milliseconds of the moment!.. No wonder that all those who saw this truly brilliant goalkeeper in his prime defend him, without hesitation, consider him the greatest goalkeeper of all time! This is backed up by the undeniable fact that FC Barcelona let go of Spain's idolised national hero, Zamora, for him!
After Plattkó, the writer of these lines, who has had the opportunity to study the play of almost all the world's great goalkeepers from a "professional" point of view, would put Zamora and our own Karcsi Zsák in a tie for second place. As much as the Spanish goalkeeping giant was stronger and more daring, as much as Skaja was more flexible and more sure-footed, as much as Zamora was sharper-eyed, as much more flexible was Zsák. Besides, the Hungarian goalkeeping phenom's touch, even if not as elaborate as Plattkó's, was a much more bribing sight to the eye than Zamora's!
One thing is for sure: Plattkó, Zamora and Zsák were quite outstanding extra class. In my opinion, they outclassed the following foursome of Plánička, Hiden, Olivieri, Combi by at least one full class in absolute terms! For the avoidance of doubt, this is not to suggest that these four latter goalkeeping stars were not at their best. They are not the only ones who can lay claim to the title, but somehow their performances have been far from as bribing and impressive as those of the three real goalkeeping giants mentioned above.
Of the four, Plánička was the best: he was the epitome of a reliable, brave and, moreover, a goalkeeper who could perform unheard-of feats. His balls, with his characteristic forward throw, were, to our spoilt eyes, a little unstylish, but they were as daring and useful! It was almost unprecedented for Slavia's legendary goalkeeper to lose a ball already in his possession! Hiden, the Austrian wonder goalkeeper, amazed his many fans with his unheard-of daring: he threw himself at the feet of strikers rushing towards him in such a way that the crowd always put the striker up for the collision and not him! But he also possessed most of the qualities of an excellent goalkeeper, only in style he was not up to the greats... Olivieri, the best Italian Cerberus ever, has the almost panther-like agility and daring to keep out a goal from the most fantastic of situations in the hellish goalmouth scrambles of Italian league matches, even from a lightning-quick back-heeled dive! The other great Italian goalkeeper, Combi, on the other hand, was very technical and composed, but generally not one of the great goalkeepers.
They were of good continental class, even the famous German goalkeepers Lohrmann and Stuhlfauth, but their movements, like those of all German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, etc. goalkeepers in general, were characterised by a rather high degree of rigidity! This was the reason why we could not rank them among the truly great European goalkeepers.
Not to mention the goalkeepers of the two biggest footballing regions: England and South America. As the real home of football is the nebulous Albion, it is only natural that the first above-average goalkeepers developed there. But the English have always focused on safety when it comes to goalkeeping. For this reason, they have never developed any truly great goalkeepers. In the history of British football, there are only two goalkeepers who have been well above average: Robinson and Harper, Arsenal's all-time national team goalkeeper for many years. Robinson owes his legendary reputation mainly to being the first to throw himself full-length after a shot into the top corner. This method of defending was later christened the Robinson Hand. Since then it has been the most beautiful, exciting and glorious part of the goalkeeper's game! Harper was not so much the epitome of bravura as of perfect safety.
The best goalkeepers in South America are on a par with good Italian and Spanish goalkeepers. They have almost the same virtues and flaws. The most famous of them all is of course the world champion Mazali, who was the goalkeeper for Uruguay's team. He was a supple, brave and flexible goalkeeper, but he did not have the sophisticated defensive skills of the great European goalkeeping stars. The best proof that South American footballing nations have not yet produced a phenomenal goalkeeping talent is that while the South American forward or even half-back is a brand name and is being competed for by the wealthier European clubs, not a single goalkeeper has been called across the ocean! On the contrary, South America is trying to attract the best European goalkeepers, but so far without success...
Looking at the list of the great goalkeepers of the past, it is regrettable to note that there is no goalkeeper of their calibre in the present day who is truly great and outstanding in every respect. But this is surely linked to the general decline in the quality of football worldwide in recent years. Hopefully, however, this is only a temporary situation. As peace and better times return, the sport of football will once again emerge from the trough, when it is certain that the general upturn will produce the Plattkós of tomorrow from the army of enthusiastic lads still defending the grounds of European cities with a rag ball. Zamoras, Zsáks, Pláničkas, Hidens and Oliveries, and who knows — maybe even bigger, brighter goalkeeping stars.
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