As the Chelsea team walked into the tunnel at full-time after losing 5-3 to Champions Liverpool, the spotlight again fell on the performance of Kepa Arrizabalaga, the Chelsea No.1. Although there were quite a few saves that were close to impossible for Kepa to make there were few obvious errors made by the first-choice keeper which did cost Chelsea a few goals and potentially the game. The Blues fans seemed to have now lost complete confidence in Kepa and are even calling for backup keeper, Willy Caballero to start in goal in the FA Cup final.
Although it is normal for Chelsea fans to voice out their frustrations over out of form players after games as the fans also feel a high level of emotions while watching a game, reports came out after the defeat to Liverpool that Kepa had received death threats after his performance. Nobody deserves to fear for their life while playing the beautiful game. Kepa is a professional and a human being who is clearly struggling with confidence. As followers of the beautiful game and most importantly human beings, death threats are no way to approach this issue. We condone this behaviour and hope such behaviour will never be part of the experience Chelsea players get when they wear the Chelsea jersey.
Being a goalkeeper is a very different experience to outfield players. The mental pressure on a goalkeeper is comparatively higher and hence it is a position that requires strong mental determination, confidence and belief in their ability. Mistakes made by a goalkeeper are always brought to the forefront as compared to their mighty saves.
Even a striker can miss multiple times in the same game only to redeem themselves later on to score a goal and that will be remembered and spoken about. But a goalkeeper irrespective of the multiple saves they make during the game, one mistake or slip up can cause fans to jump onto them. When an outfield player makes a mistake during the game he has the opportunity to go out and try and redeem them self by scoring a goal or making a goal-line clearance later in the game. However, a goalkeeper must depend on the rest of their team to redeem the mistake after they experience a slip-up.
Defence as much to blame as the keeper
Goalkeeper’s pressure also increases when there’s a weak defence in front of them. As defenders need to trust in their keeper for them to play with confidence it also becomes important for the goalkeeper to trust in their defence for him to have confidence in a game. All of these reasons and a lot more makes it very important for the mental side of the game to be given more importance especially for goalkeepers. Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster told ESPN “Young goalkeepers now, they get taught how to play football, with training for this and that, but they don’t get taught how to deal with stuff mentally.
Personally, I think the mental side of the game is 50 percent, and the coaching and football side of it is 50 percent, but the mental side is completely neglected.” This coming from a Premier League goalkeeper who has also played for Manchester United is a very distressing sign. Neglecting such an important part of the game will have very dangerous consequences for players especially now when players as young as 17 are making debuts in the top flight.
As we can agree that clubs might need to do more to help goalkeepers be mentally ready for a game as they do physically it is also important for us as fans to see what we can do to help goalkeepers mentally for a game.
It is quite clear that Kepa does have the skills and potential to be a great goalkeeper. Let us not forget his penalty saves in the Europa League Semi-final last year against Eintracht Frankfurt which took us to Baku. Even more recently his incredible triple save against Liverpool in the FA Cup quarter-final after coming back from being dropped by Lampard for his dip in form. This showed us what a confidence-filled Kepa can do. So it is rather obvious what is stopping Kepa from being as good as he can be is his lack of confidence in himself.
Ability is there, praise him and the rewards will follow
It is important of course for him to work on that as many goalkeepers have in the past but it is also important that the club offers him the right resources and personnel for the same and we as fans should demand that
the club gives importance to this. Chelsea do have Tim Harkness as Head of Sports Science and Psychology as part of Frank Lampard’s team which is great for the players and hopefully he has been working with the player. It is also important for us as fans to realise the pressures that come with donning the No.1 jersey and sympathise with the player.
It is true that we play at a very high-level and we expect the best players to play for our club and sympathising with a player will not win us trophies that we are so used to lifting. But, your frustration will not impact
Lampard’s next line-up. Lampard will choose who he thinks is best even if you run a campaign to get him to replace Kepa. But your message of support and encouragement can actually help his form.
20-year-old Reece James recently turned off comments on his Instagram due to the hate he was getting. He did that because it was affecting him. If Reece James had tons of comments of encouragement telling him that he can improve and we believe he will come out better next game the possibilities of that positively affecting his performance remains high. So when our hate does nothing to the next line-up, but only mentally affects our players it makes all the more sense for us to send positive comments and encouragement to players like Kepa who need it the most now.
I cannot assure you that sending our support to Kepa on social media will automatically change his form and we will have the next Jan Oblak already donning the Chelsea shirt. But it will help his confidence and we might get a chance to see prime Kepa again.