Bruce Grobbelaar – The original sweeper keeper
Manuel Neuer has been credited with re-defining the role of a goalkeeper in the modern game. Neuer has been described as a “sweeper-keeper” because of his unique playing style.
However this style of goalkeeping has been seen before, many years ago in England.
Bruce Grobbelaar was signed on loan by Crewe Alexandra in December 1979. During his time at Crewe he played 24 league games, in his last game he gave his best performance whilst being watched by Liverpool’s lead scout Tom Saunders.
Grobbelaar signed for Liverpool for £250,000 on 17th March 1981 as their reserve goalkeeper, but in the summer of 1981, regular goalkeeper Ray Clemence moved to Tottenham. This was Grobbelaar’s opportunity.
Grobbelaar’s early days as Number 1 were strewn with errors, and Liverpool struggled to obtain any consistency. Grobbelaar was taking the blame. His eccentric style of goalkeeping had not been seen in England before. Grobbelaar was rushing of his line to meet on-rushing forwards, he was using skill on the ball to out-fox the opposition. No crossed ball in the box was safe from him. Grobbelaar would try to claim everything.
Whilst supporters and pundits were agog at Bruce’s antics in the early 1980’s, this style of goalkeeping is commonplace. You can see the similarities in Grobbelaar’s play to that of the 3rd best footballer on the planet, Manuel Neuer.
It was just shy of five years after making his debut, that Grobbelaar missed his first game. A remarkable run of 310 consecutive games keeping goal for Liverpool. Grobbelaar was retained by three of Liverpool’s greatest managers; Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish. Whilst Grobbelaar was eccentric, he was undoubtedly a genius.
In 1984, the European Cup Final between Liverpool and A.S. Roma finished 1-1, and went to a penalty shoot-out. As Roma’s Bruno Conti prepared to take his spot kick, Grobbelaar walked towards the goal, beaming to the cameramen behind the goal. He then proceeded to bite the back of the net, imitating eating spaghetti. Conti waiting to take the penalty was perplexed. Conti sent his penalty kick way over the bar. Grobbelaar then produced a similar performance before Francesco Graziani took his spot kick, wobbling his legs in mock terror. Graziani was foxed, Grobbelaar had un-nerved him. Graziani missed and Liverpool went on to win the shoot-out 4-2. Grobbelaar instantly moved into Liverpool folklore. His exploits inspired Jerzy Dudek to the same feat in Istanbul 21 years later, when Liverpool beat A.C. Milan on penalties to win the European Cup for a fifth time.
Other than the European triumph in Rome, there is just the small matter of his other 626 games for Liverpool in a glittering 14 year career in which he established himself as one of the Anfield men’s greatest ever custodians. Grobbelaar won six 1st Division titles, three FA Cups and three League Cups.
In today’s modern-day fast paced games in which goalkeepers require the skills of an outfield player, Bruce Grobbelaar would be one of the best in the world. By all means praise Manuel Neuer for his excellent goalkeeping, but his style of play is not unique, and was pioneered by an originally little known goalkeeper from Zimbabwe.