Pro Keeper On Arsenal's Mannone And The Curse of The Reserve Goalie

New Sabotage Times columnist and Barnsley keeper, David Preece, reveals the difficulties of coming on cold off the bench, a potential pitfall Arsenal stopper Vito Mannone knows all about.
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New Sabotage Times columnist and Barnsley keeper, David Preece, reveals the difficulties of coming on cold off the bench, a potential pitfall Arsenal stopper Vito Mannone knows all about.

New Sabotage Times columnist and Barnsley keeper, David Preece, reveals the difficulties of coming on cold off the bench, a potential pitfall Arsenal stopper Vito Mannone knows all about.

His screaming mouth said, “F*** me, lads! What are you doing?” but the rest of his face told the real story. When Arsenalʼs sub keeper came off the bench and royally put his foot in it, or put his foot past it, to be more precise, you could see in his eyes the blame lay with him. He tried his best to give it his “It wasnʼt my fault!” Schmeichel impression but it didnʼt wash with anyone.

Vito Mannone suffered the fate of many a substitute keeper. Thrown in to the heat of the Champions League without any real game time since last seasonʼs loan spell at Hull City, Mannone was probably left wishing Fabianski hadnʼt got injured. The pundits claimed he was unprepared and the truth is, he probably was. As an outfield player, you have time to ease yourself into a game, a little touch here, a ten yard pass there, but as a goalkeeper you donʼt get that. Goalkeeper is ten per cent ability and the other ninety per cent is reading the play, decision making and game perception. Itʼs nice if the opposition dolly up a few easy shots and crosses and let you get up to the speed of things but that doesnʼt happen at top level football. Routine is key in preparation. Apart from a few tweaks here and there, most keepers have their own individual warm-up routine they will use for every game. When your body is going through the repetitive pre-match exercises, your mind recognises this and automatically brings you in to the correct mental state. Thatʼs the theory.

As a keeper whoʼs spent much of the last two and a half seasons being Barnsley F.Cʼs chief cheerleader from the sideline, I know I will never feel as fully prepared coming on as a sub as I would if I was starting the game. I think itʼs only natural. What I can do though, is prepare to the best of my ability so even if I do come on and make a mistake, I can look myself in the eye and proclaim, “S*** happens.”. If nothing else, it should be seen as the time to impress and a chance to prove you are better than “just” a number two.

With me, itʼs a guilt thing. If I hadnʼt prepared right, Iʼd be committing a crime against my teammates.

Weʼre talking about a rare occurrence here, so itʼs difficult to replicate the act of being introduced as a goalkeeping substitute. The closest you can get, is to use visualisation techniques, running through the scenario in your head so itʼs not such as shock when it happens.

I even have a half-time routine I do religiously, just in case Iʼm needed in the second half. With me, itʼs a guilt thing. If I hadnʼt prepared right, Iʼd be committing a crime against my teammates. I would never forgive myself. No position is more psychologically demanding than that of a goalkeeper and thatʼs why Iʼve learnt the value in thorough preparation. You only have to look back at David Jamesʼ substitute appearance in in Copenhagen a few years ago for evidence of that. I was playing in Denmark at the time and watched through my fingers as he misjudged almost everything that came his way. Yet, those on-field mistakes were nothing compared to the howler he committed in the press room after the game, admitting he hadnʼt prepared himself in the correct manner to come on in the game. It was like a bank robber running straight to the police with his pockets still stuffed with fifty pound notes.

Nobody knows for sure if Vito was ready for the challenge ahead. My guess is he prepared as well as he usually does, it was just one of those nights. The real shame here though, is third choice Mannone wonʼt be able to right his wrongs this coming Saturday. Or the one after, for that matter. The only way to exercise the ghosts of past mistakes is to follow it up with a solid performance the next game, whenever that might be. THAT will be the real test of character...

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