Forget about the mistakes, remember the saves!

Forget about the mistakes, remember the saves!

Victor Valdes became a goalkeeper because his brother needed someone to practice his shots on. He started in a team because his dad thought he was good and he joined La Masia when he was 10 because they saw a talent in him. He left because he hated being a goalkeeper but came back because he wanted to be on TV.

Victor recently said that Josep Guardiola taught him to enjoy playing football, to enjoy being a goalkeeper. Before that, Victor Valdés had always hated his job. As a child he used to dream about another life where he didn’t have to be a goalkeeper. Every week he felt bad knowing that at the weekend he would have a game where he would stand in the goal. The only reason why Victor kept on was because he was born to be a goalkeeper.

He was a hard worker even if he hated his job; he always trained hard to get better. In the 2002/2003 season, when he was only 20 years old, Victor made his debut for Barcelona’s first team. By the time the season was over, he was the first choice keeper and he has been ever since. His dream of being on TV had become reality, but his nightmare as a goalkeeper kept going.

For all that he has achieved, Victor Valdés remains one of the world’s most underrated goalkeepers and he deserves some real recognition.

A lot of football fans can’t see how good Victor Valdés is; they often say that he would never be good in any other top European football club, that the only reason he let in so few goals is because Barça has a fantastic defense and that they often have 70-80% possession. And then they can never forget the mistakes a young Victor Valdés made in his first years at the top level.

I have no idea how good Victor Valdés would be if he played at another club, but I know that he is the perfect goalkeeper for FC Barcelona. This has to do with the possession, that the anti-Valdés people often use as an excuse, saying that anyone could be a goalie for a team that keeps the ball so much. In their recent history, FC Barcelona has always had that kind of possession in their games and yet still they have always had huge goalkeeper problems. That’s an equation that doesn’t fit. The fact is that the kind of possession FC Barcelona has actually makes it harder to be their goalkeeper. Just like the other players, a goalkeeper needs to be warmed up, but what if he doesn’t get to touch the ball for 80 minutes? Doesn’t get to make a single save? It will then have been 80 minutes since he warmed up. When suddenly the shot comes, the keeper who hasn’t had a thing to do will need to be there and he will need to be ready. This can be a very complicated situation and had given Barcelona a lot of problems until Victor Valdés came.

Another thing that is different for a goalkeeper in Barcelona as opposed to other teams is that Valdés needs to be a extra outfield player. Which means he needs to be really good at passing and at seeing where to pass. Victor is basically an outfield player that can use his hands. When Victor was younger, just 20 years old, he didn’t have the same level of confidence as he does now. It happened that he failed with his outfield playing duties and this led to huge mistakes like giving the opponents the ball. These kinds of mistakes don’t happen as easily for goalkeepers in other teams because they don’t need to play with their feet as much. Often Victor did a great job, but it so happened that he failed on occasion too. The people who didn’t understand the difficulty of Valdés’ job as Barcelona’s keeper started to complain. On youtube, videos went up with names like “Victor Valdés, the world’s worst goalkeeper”, highlighting his mistakes.

But in Barcelona they never stopped believing in the young keeper, and he would make important saves. Like in the Champions League final in 2006 when Victor was only 24 years old. He made it impossible for Henry to score and was probably the best player in the game. Later on, no one talked about Victor because no one ever talks about the goalkeeper for Barça.

Just as he hated to be keeper as a child watching his teammates celebrate a goal without him, or the team’s sadness every time and when he let in a goal: it was the same now. No one talked about his amazing saves but everyone remembered his mistakes.

He hated his job and all over the world people complained about what he was doing, saying he was Barça’s weakest link. Still he kept on doing what he had always done. Because he knew he had people believing in him.

When journalists criticized him, he would say: “I find it very hard to take any criticism from someone who has never been a goalkeeper.” The only thing the criticism did was to make Victor work even harder, to show everyone that they were wrong.

At the age of 24 Victor had won La Liga twice as well as the Champions League. He had also won the Zamora trophy as the keeper having the lowest “goals-to-games” ratio in La Liga. Still he had never played a game for the Spanish national team.

The reason why I think Victor wasn’t a part of the Spanish national team, even after he had won all those titles, was because people only saw his mistakes. The comments were that he would fail in any team other than Barcelona, and he was lucky to play for Barça because there he didn’t need to do much. But they didn’t even give him the chance to perform well for the national team and show how good he was. I’m not saying that he should have been the first keeper in the national team, because back then Casillas was better then Victor. I’m just saying they at least should have given him the chance as third keeper.

Since Guardiola took over at Barça three years ago, Victor has changed. He himself says that for the first time, he is actually enjoying being a goalkeeper. That has shown on the pitch where he become better than ever. The mistakes Victor Valdés is famous for have disappeared for three years now. He has won the Zamora every year since Pep’s arrival. For me, Victor Valdés has these last two seasons been the best goalkeeper in the world. I know that many agree with me on that, but sadly, most still view Victor as a goalkeeper who makes mistakes. For the World Cup in South Africa, Victor finally got called up for the national team, he was third keeper and didn’t get to play a single minute at the tournament. But still, the fact that he finally got called up shows that Spain couldn’t hide anymore the talent of Victor Valdés.

Why will Victor never be the first choice keeper in the Spanish National team? To start with, you just don’t change a first choice keeper, as the team needs to have someone they trust and feel safe with. Spain’s keeper today is Iker Casillas, and even if Victor has been the better keeper the last two seasons, Casillas is the team’s captain and you just don’t change your captain either. The third factor may have more impact than we’d like to believe. That is the fact that Spain’s National team today has a lot of Barcelona players. To change the keeper from a Madrid player to a Barça player would pretty much make the team FC Barcelona and that wouldn’t look good for Real Madrid. I know it sounds a bit cheeky but I sadly believe this point has an impact.

Victor Valdés, whether a Spanish national team player or not, is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the only thing I wish for is that people around the globe would forget about the mistakes made by a young boy standing terrified in the Camp Nou goal almost a decade ago. I want people to forget about that and see the fantastic saves this man now makes with confidence while proudly standing in the Camp Nou goal today.

Honours

Zamora Trophy 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011
La Liga 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011
Champions League 2006, 2009, 2011
Copa del Rey 2009
Spanish Supercup 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011
European Super Cup 2010
World Club Cup 2010
World Cup 2010

Photo: Getty Images