Goalkeepers are my favourite. I played as one, I trained as one and I love watching them. It’s the hardest position on the pitch because when a striker misses an easy chance, it’s frustrating. When a goalkeeper makes a mistake it results in a goal. And when you consider the impossible job they face claiming crosses, one-on-ones, shots hit that swerve beyond description (due to the qualities of modern balls). Then you’re getting punched, kicked, elbowed and booed. It’s a horrible job and simple mistakes make you hated. A string of brilliant saves with a simple mistake at the end makes you victim of endless social media abuse. It’s horrible, but it’s the modern game and that’s how it is, sadly.
You often find that fans have short memories, too. Rob Green is spoken of in terms befitting a halo atop his head, and while his performances in the second half of last season were absolutely incredible, his fondness for dropping clangers made him difficult to love initially. The introduction of Felix Wiedwald to the Leeds side was one of cautious optimism, though a similar pattern to Green’s was expressed from German fans. Prone to errors initially, utterly heroic later on.
His opening games for Leeds were solid, mostly because he was able to do very little while the out-field players dominated the game. His main involvement was as a deep outfield player, recycling possession and keeping the ball moving. His prowess as a goalkeeper was seldom tested. He then got into a mess for a few games, making simple mistakes and falling victim to indecision (one of the worst things when playing in goal). When an opportunity arises you simply need to commit to getting the ball, or commit to staying still. Keepers who rush to claim the ball, lose their nerve and freeze are left in no-man’s land and concede a soft goal. Whether it’s the right decision or not, once you make a decision you need to commit to it.
Conceding soft goals made frustrated fans turn on the German keeper, lamenting the lack of Rob Green (who himself let in a howler in his last game for the whites) and wondering why our only backup is Andy Lonergan; a man who wasn’t good enough years ago in his first stint at the club, let alone now.
Much like David De Gea’s start at Manchester United, it was turbulent and pulling the player from the spotlight paid dividends. With another keeper taking the flak it allows the first choice one time to recover, train and find their feet. Wiedwald’s return to the squad has been just that. He’s looked more confident, Liam Cooper and Pontus Jansson look more confident with him (communicating clearly between the 3 of them when balls need dealing with, instead of the cluster-fudge of panicked clearances because you don’t have faith that your colleague will handle it). He’s put in some fantastic saves lately, too, match-winning ones. Aside from letting the ball bounce over his head against QPR, he’s been much improved.
Fans often forget that the players at this level aren’t perfect, as much as we like to pretend they are. If a goalkeeper has a perfect all-round game, then they aren’t playing in the Championship. The same applies for every position. De Bruyne plays at the level he does for the same reason that Saiz does – because one has a more complete game than the other. This situation is just more obvious in goalkeepers because of the aforementioned adage; simple mistakes concede goals.
To that end, Felix Wiedwald has the second most clean sheets in the Championship, with 52.6% of his games resulting in one. Second to only John Ruddy of Wolves.
Let that sink in for a moment. The gap to third place is quite startling, too (ignore David Martin because he’s only made 1 appearance).
I even tweeted about Felix the other day with a poignant summary of my feelings on the matter:
I actually rather like Felix Wiedwald now. Put in some bloody excellent saves lately and looks to be growing in his role. Would rather he caught more than he punched, though. But he’s winning me over.
— I Hate Leeds (@ihatelufc) January 3, 2018
And statistically we’re much, much better with him in the side. So what more is there to debate?