Signing, developing and deploying Goalkeepers in Football Manager
Note from the author: I wrote this article for The Byline, Football Manager’s official online blog platform – below is the original version, with the condensed version available on the Football Manager website here.
Goalkeepers can sometimes get a bad rap in football, and indeed they seldom seem to get as much recognition or praise within the Football Manager universe as perhaps they could and/or should from us virtual managers across the globe. Goalkeeper is arguably one of the most important positions on the pitch when you think about their individual contribution and influence on a game, but ask yourself – how much energy and attention to you give them when it comes to their development and training in Football Manager? Does your work stop once you’ve signed the right man? How many Goalkeeping wonderkids have we seen down through the years?
Join me as we delve into what goes into developing a top quality goalkeeper in Football Manager – analysing how to go about signing them, training and developing them to their full potential and most importantly deploying them successfully in a game situation so that you can be sure you are getting the most out of this position and overall ensuring that your own stopper develops in to Goalkeeper #1 rather than Public Enemy #1.
Part I – Signing Goalkeepers in Football Manager
Sooner or later most of us end up bringing in our own goalkeeper in a save rather than relying on the existing candidates to do the job – there’s something about making that call and bringing in your own man that makes it far more satisfying as we look to make our mark and put our stamp on the club that has been fortunate enough to be selected for undoubted greatness and FM world domination. We have seen many real-life examples in the past where clubs at the highest levels have struggled to replace a Goalkeeper that has been Number 1 at the club for a prolonged period, so much so that some teams have had to make multiple signings year-on-year before the right player/fit is found.
But why is it so difficult? What is it that makes signing a long-term top quality goalkeeper such a challenge in the modern era? Let’s take a look at the key factors to consider when signing a keeper in Football Manager.
It’s not just about signing a Goalkeeper. The modern game has evolved and we now have different types of Goalkeeper depending on formation and tactical style – Football Manager give us the option of deploying a Goalkeeper or a Sweeper Keeper therefore it’s essential to know what you plan to implement before taking to the transfer market. Whether you plan to use a standard or Sweeper Keeper, it’s important to factor that in when we start scouting candidates to ensure you find one that can play and own the position as well as that #1 jersey.
The Player Report section will give an indication of a Goalkeeper’s best position and playing style – useful to note that FM classifies keepers has having one of two styles: Shot Stopper or Distributor which can further help decide where your keeper’s strengths lie.
In earlier versions of FM it was a lot simpler to identify a top quality goalkeeper, mainly as there were less attributes and factors to consider (this author only ever cared about “Handling” for about 10 years straight). Nowadays there are a lot more defining characteristics to differentiate goalkeepers and while it is obviously essential to have players who score highly in the Goalkeeping attributes department, it is equally important to consider the key Physical and Mental attributes that make for a strong goalkeeper – these are actually highlighted in game when looking at a player’s attribute screen but are often overlooked in favour of their goalkeeping attributes:
- Agility – “reflects how well a player can start, stop and move in different directions at varying levels of speed both on and off the ball”
- Anticipation – “reflects the player’s ability to predict and react to events going on around them”
- Concentration – “reflects the player’s mental focus and attention to detail on an event-by-event basis”
- Decisions – “reflects the player’s ability to make the correct choice both with and without the ball”
- Positioning – “reflects the ability of a player to read a defensive situation and position themselves accordingly”
These are just the main key attributes you should look for in a Goalkeeper, however if you are looking for more in a #1 e.g. a Sweeper Keeper or a player that can be more influential / instrumental in initiating moves or counter attacks then you’ll need to ensure your top transfer target also possesses the following:
3. Player Traits (Preferred Player Moves)
Not to be underestimated even for Goalkeepers – when you think about it, Goalkeepers are the one player who often have the most time on the ball compared to any other player on the pitch, so it’s important to both understand and seek out what it is you want them to do with it! Goalkeepers in Football Manager offer a number of different PPM’s including:
- Tries to Play Way Out of Trouble (rather than safety first / no nonsense clearances)
- Uses Long Throw to Start Counter Attacks (often a deadly secret weapon for teams playing this strategy)
- Avoids using Weaker Foot (uses stronger foot even if situation would suit use of other foot)
- Gets Crowd Going (essential)
- Winds Up Opponents (advantageous)
4. Backup / Third Choice Keepers
If you are one of those that doesn’t name a keeper on your bench then look away now. Both your backup and/or third choice keeper can have essential roles to play in your squad, even if they don’t partake in a single minute of competitive football.
Second in Command
Your backup should be your future #1 – the player you are grooming to take over between the sticks should your current first choice keeper move on or be poached, or even get injured or lack fitness etc. This goalkeeper can be learning from your first choice keeper week in week out as well as getting first team football in cup games or games against lower opposition, and needs to be ready at a moment’s notice therefore it’s important to be strategic when it comes to signing a backup stopper.
Alternatively and if you are content that your current #1 will be wearing the gloves for many years to come – why not make the most of that first substitute spot by signing a backup keeper who is a penalty expert? We have seen it happen more and more frequently where real life managers have controversially withdrawn a keeper after 120 minutes in favour of bringing on a keeper who is more skilled or experienced in penalty situations – why not have your own penalty specialist on the bench just in case? There isn’t yet a “Penalty Saving” attribute in FM (note to self: suggest on SI forum) however having a keeper with strong Decisions, Anticipation and Composure will do no harm in maximising your chances in a shoot-out situation (as well as a bit of “Winds Up Opponents” for good measure).
With regard to Third Choice – it’s simple, don’t waste the opportunity to bring in an older statesman; an experienced Senior or International goalkeeper who is content not to play games but equally will have a huge influence your squad through mentoring and leadership as well as (usually) sitting high up the Squad Dynamics pyramid. We have seen many clubs using this recruitment strategy to fill that third choice keeper spot, and the benefits can be far greater than merely filling a home-grown slot in your squad registration.
5. Age vs Prime
We always argue that age is just a number – but not necessarily when it comes to Goalkeepers. Most of us have a fondness for signing and developing squads of wonderkids and youth prospects, often refusing to sign players over a certain age either due to the Board’s or your own Club Vision. This is usually par for the course in FM, however remember that Goalkeepers will generally hit their prime a lot later than an outfield player; while a 19 or 20 year old Striker can bag 25 goals a season, a Goalkeeper at that age has not even come close to maturing as a player and most Goalkeepers play their best football aged 30 and above. The same players are retiring far later than in previous years, therefore don’t fall into the trap that your Goalkeeper needs to be a wonderkid or hot prospect in order to take that #1 spot.
Part II – Developing Goalkeepers in Football Manager
Many of us will stop there once the right man is signed. Why spend time focusing on goalkeeper training and development when you can be optimising your long throw-ins or enhancing your wonderkid Striker’s movement in the final third? It’s simple – if you neglect your goalkeeper, you will be punished. We have all seen those now infamous keeper mistakes, unjustifiably kicking the ball straight to the opposition and having moments of madness where they fold under pressure and commit howlers for all to see. Believe it or not this happens in real-life as well as in FM, however there are steps you can take to try and reduce these as well as ensure your goalkeeper continuously improves as a player and get as much out of this position as possible.
- Playing Time Pathway
Never underestimate the impact this has on your younger goalkeepers who so badly crave and require first-team football in order to develop and mature into a quality stopper. When we sign Wonderkids we often tend to only loan them out at an extremely young age and then attempt to blood them in the first team as soon as possible; remember, Goalkeepers reach their prime a lot later than outfield players and if they aren’t going to feature in the first XI then loaning them out for first team football is an absolute fundamental part of developing their Physical, Mental and Technical attributes.
Alternatively and again as we see frequently in real life – playing your youth keepers in Cup games is a sure way to drive their development and ensure they are improving by getting exposure to higher levels of first team football. FM20 introduced different types of Keeper Role when it comes to signing and offering new contracts to Goalkeepers be it First Choice, Cup Keeper, Breakthrough Prospect or just plain Backup – this not only sets expectations with the player but also lays out a clear pathway for their development. Just make sure you live up to this and deliver on your promises!
2. Goalkeeping Coaches
It goes without saying that you should sign specialised Goalkeeping Coaches with the highest coaching attributes possible in the Goalkeeping department, however keep conscious of the fact that there are 3 Goalkeeper Coaching attributes for a reason. Some coaches will naturally be more experienced/specialised at Shot Stopping, Distribution or Handling therefore you don’t need to get hung up on trying to sign a coach who has 20 for all three!
If you are looking to improve your keeper’s distribution then that coach should also have good Technical coaching attribute also; if Shot Stopping is your priority then perhaps a coach with high Tactical coaching can help train your keeper to get in the best position possible and also improve their 1 v 1 ability; Handling focuses on Ball Handling as well as Aerial Reach, Command of Area and Communication therefore it will do no harm to employ a GK coach that also has high Mental coaching ability. Lastly don’t forget that your Youth GK Coach should have high Discipline and Motivational skills as well as Working With Youngsters – all of these help to shape the player’s overall development as well as their goalkeeping ability.
3. Team Training
Some leave Training to the Assistant Manager; some go full on Control Freak when it comes to Training Schedules; whatever your preference, you’ll do well to consider how the training calendar and modules assigned impact your keeper in addition to your outfield players. It’s easy to focus on Defence vs Attack, Ball Distribution, Tactical Preparation and Chance Creation/Conversion etc however not many of these play a part in developing your Goalkeeper. While there is a “Goalkeeping” training category with modules for Shot Stopping, Handling, One-On-Ones etc, there are a number of other sessions that directly/indirectly impact your keeper and it’s easy to overlook these – pay close attention to the Impacts and Secondary/Tertiary Focus of each training module where you will see if that specific session is beneficial for your keeper in to your outfield squad.
For example you might think the “Attacking Wings” training module is beneficial solely for your wide players and attacking down both flanks, however this indirectly benefits your goalkeepers development in that it tests their Command of Area, Aerial Reach, Agility and Bravery with more Crosses and Shots coming at them during this session.
4. Individual Training
Make the effort! By identifying your keeper’s weaknesses (they all have them) and adding a bit more focus on that attribute/player trait you will ensure to develop a stronger all-round Goalkeeper and minimise mistakes and/or undesired behaviours when it comes to game situations. This is not an overnight fix but if you get in the habit of driving this from a young age, you will reap the benefits once these players mature and hopefully start to reach their potential.
Part III – Deploying Goalkeepers in Football Manager
Hopefully by now you are far more aware and knowledgeable on the importance of Goalkeeper development in FM, and if you have covered all the above and are more conscious of your potential impact on the #1 position you will hopefully see the benefits when it comes to in-game situations and competitive football. At this point it’s now up to you how you want to use and maximise the output you get from your Goalkeeper, and modern day FM now allows our Goalkeepers have a far greater influence on games if desired.
1. Ball Distribution
Depending on your tactic you can train and instruct your keeper in terms of how and where they distribute the ball in-game. If possession football is your game then you might naturally prefer your keeper slow the game down and play it short and engage your full-backs rather than pumping it forward. Alternatively you may prefer a quick Counter-Attack approach whereby your keeper throws or kicks long to get the ball up the field as soon as possible. Whatever your preference, it’s essential to ensure that (1) your keeper has the attributes and ability to fulfill the instructions set and (2) the Goalkeeping instructions match your overall tactical formation and strategy in-game. There’s no point having your keeper “Distribute to Centre Backs” if you don’t have decent Ball-Playing Defenders, or have them “Throw it Long” if they don’t have high “Throwing” and “Strength” attributes.
2. Individual Instructions
Did you know you can set a Goalkeeper to play with an Attacking Mentality? Individual Player instructions give you even more control of how your keeper acts in-game, whereby you can further instruct or restrict your keeper’s passing, dribbling, tackling and risk taking. You might wonder why your Goalkeeper gives the ball away or kicks long and loses possession – if this isn’t intended then setting instructions to prevent these will naturally reduce or negate the frequency of this happening in match situations.
3. What’s in it for them?
Last but not least…Goalkeepers are only human, even in Football Manager. We all want to think that every keeper will go above and beyond to avoid conceding a goal – a decent Clean Sheet Bonus will surely do no harm to help right? Don’t cut corners – just as Strikers will score more goals when given a Goal Bonus, so too will Keepers keep clean sheets if given the right incentive. Money talks, even in a football simulation game.
There you have it – hopefully this will give you more success when it comes to your #1 position in Football Manager, or at least give you a few additional tips and tools in this area if you haven’t focused on it previously. It is often said that to be a goalkeeper you either need to be mad or a genius – does it matter?
Thanks for reading,