Will he save it? Won’t he?
Will he catch the ball? Will it fall out of his hands?
Having a self-assured goalkeeper who emanates confidence means a great deal to the ten men in the field. They feel like they can take more risks, they don’t panic. And if they do make a mistake, they can remain calm, because they know that a man who can save the situation has their backs. Literally.
Petr has always been like that and I trust he will be for many years to come.
I remember when he came from Blšany to Sparta in the summer of 2001. A nineteen-year-old newbie? Not at all! He caught my eye right at the first training camp in Seefeld, Austria. We were finishing a training session and we tried practicing clearance kicks. I stood by the halfway line and told Petr to show me what he’s got. He put the ball at the edge of the penalty box and boom! The ball went flying and crossed almost the whole pitch. And then a second time. A third time. A fourth.
Some of the guys were still on the pitch, stretching after practice, and they couldn’t believe their eyes: “That’s impossible.”
A few simple clearance kicks and we saw his strength and power.
I knew he would grow up to be a decent goalkeeper, but back then there was no way of knowing that one day he’d be breaking records in the Premier League.
Being a goalkeeper means being an independent unit. If you want to be successful, you need to meet many requirements, a whole set of them. And Petr did, he had natural ability and a never-ending desire to learn and improve.
Physique? Perfect, no doubt about that. Tall, agile, fast.
Great at shot-stopping, catching the ball, but also great on his feet.
Exceptionally good at reading the game – not many people can do that. You can’t learn intuition, that’s something you’re born with. And he has that talent.
When I was his coach in the national team, I didn’t need many words. We both knew how good he was. That’s why I kept telling him: “Let’s not pat our backs, self-praise is no recommendation.”
And when I scored against him during practice, I would tease him: “Don’t worry, nobody has such a powerful goal kick like me anymore. No need to be afraid, these strikers have already gone extinct.”
If a goalkeeper wants to be good, he needs to be able to make good decisions, read every situation correctly. Going out of the goal on your own? Punch the ball away from the top corner? There’s no time for that. The game has gotten faster, so did the ball, and when you’re in the goal, you don’t have time to bounce around, the most important thing for you is anticipation. It’s not about simple shot-stopping anymore, it’s about being alert and able to anticipate. In a match, you use your hands more than your feet.
When I played for Sparta, Queens Park Rangers or Slavia, I loved situations I could solve before the striker did. The feeling of being on the same mental level as the forward was great. It might have seemed like a simple situation, but I had to make decisions and moves to make it this relatively easy save. And Petr is even better at this: he’s ahead of the strikers! Maybe it’s because he used to play in the midfield as a boy, but the fact is he knows how the player taking the shot thinks.
You cannot lose focus in the goal for even one second. And this is something you cannot learn, either you know how to concentrate or you don’t. And when you see Petr, you immediately notice how focused he is, even during warm-up. He steps on the pitch, gives a polite wave to greet the audience, but that’s it. I have never seen him distracted or agitated or thrown off balance. You can’t order someone: “And now, nothing but full concentration!” If they don’t feel like it, they’re going to force it and it won’t be 100%. The ball will be on the opponent’s half and they’ll start looking around at the audience or wondering what’s for dinner… and that’s the way to hell.
A goalkeeper has to be strong. He can’t rely on anyone else, there’s nobody to help him, he needs to assess and solve everything by himself. And Petr is very thoughtful in that way. Even at twenty years old, he used to remember a great deal of details from any given match; he would talk about them and want your opinion on how he solved the situations: “The guy was coming from the right, he put in a cross over the defence, I was two metres from goal, strong wind from the left, the grass was trampled… five more centimetres and I would have had it.”
Nothing escaped him, and all I had to do was say: “If you’d been a little further from the goal, you would have made the save.”
And come the next match I saw him take a better position in a similar situation. Other people would dawdle over their mistakes, Petr learned from them. That’s why he became a legend.
P.S. The following chapter coming up next week!
Being tall can be useful. …
Suddenly I was taller than anyone else. …