February 23, 2007: Think of a nation with the best keepers in the world and you can't do much better than the United States at the moment.
Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann are all playing in the English Premier League, with Blackburn, Everton and Reading, respectively, while Kasey Keller is captain of Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga.
Judging by reports from Kumamoto this week, the Americans may have found another gem in 19-year-old Chris Seitz.
Seitz, at 6ft 4ins a good height for a keeper, left the University of Maryland after two years to pursue his career with Real Salt Lake in Major League Soccer. It seems only a matter of time before he joins the trail to Europe.
England used to take pride in its keepers -- Banks, Shilton, Clemence, Seaman -- but there is no doubt we have fallen behind the United States in terms of top-quality "cats" -- the name we used to use for a keeper, in reference to Peter Bonetti, who was nicknamed "The Cat" for obvious reasons (he drank milk from saucers. Actually it was for his athletic spring, but I'm just testing your concentration!)
Why is it that the Yanks are streets ahead of us, or should I say thoroughfares ahead of us?
Possibly, probably more likely, because the Americans are athletes before they are goalkeepers. They are brought up playing sports that demand a high level of hand-eye coordination, namely basketball, so they adapt easily to the job of a cat.
Here's an interesting story.
Joe Bryant, father of NBA star Kobe and now coaching in Japan, attended a meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan last year, and revealed that a young Kobe had, in fact, wanted to play in goal for Juventus. Joe, or "Jellybean" as he is known due to his love of the soft, chewy sweet, was playing basketball professionally in Italy and Kobe, naturally, became interested in football.
Just think...Kobe Bryant in goal for the Los Angeles Galaxy, under captain Beckham!
In England, the natural selection of a goalkeeper followed a similar path: if they were hopeless out of goal, put them in the goal where they could do less damage. No one wanted to go in goal, so we would have to take turns after we had let one in -- but if the next keeper let one in deliberately so he could get out again straight away, he would be punished by being made to stay in for another.
Maybe this lack of formal training for young keepers has now caught up with us...and the athletic, all-round Americans are the true top cats.