“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends” — John Churton Collins
It’s a common tale: a professional athlete overcomes the odds to
triumph. But there have been few situations darker than the hole Victor Valdés found himself in after one minute of “El Clásico” on Sunday. His team trailed league-leaders Real Madrid by 3 points and one game; a loss would likely make the gap an insurmountable nine points. They played in the Santiago Bernabéu filled with 79,900 hostile Madrileños. A simple ball is played back to him by his teammate and Valdés incredibly kicks it right to an opponent and Madrid scores after 20 seconds.
You want to hide, you want the ground to swallow you up. It happened to Kasey Keller when he gifted a goal to Mexico. Keller was able to shrug it off, saying: ”Those things happen. It was a fluke thing. I thought I could kick the ball.”
So you persevere (unless you don’t, as seen here.) But how?
Well as Sid Lowe astutely points out, a lot depends on your teammates: “After the goal, Dani Alves spoke to his goalkeeper. So did Puyol. There was no ranting, no waving at row Z, no effing and blinding, no crapping in the milk or the consecrated bread, no boot it, you moron.” His teammates supported him and reminded him to keep playing the same way. By the way, Lowe notes “Puyol has now gone 44 consecutive games unbeaten – he was absent in each of Barça’s past seven defeats – and here was a small glimpse of why. The captain didn’t tell Valdés to get rid of it. Nor did he vow not to give the ball to him. The comedy error gave way to a simple message: Carry On, Víctor.”
Barcelona and Valdés showed maturity, confidence and yes, courage. Not the play-on-a-broken-leg type, but the keep-calm-and-carry-on type. Lowe continues, “there’s another type of bravery. The player who keeps his head when all around others are losing theirs, who stays strong after a mistake, who overcomes the pressure. A brave player is the one who loses the ball three times and still wants it; who keeps attacking. The goalkeeper who makes the biggest mistake on earth – and doesn’t take the easy, if short term, way out. The team that have the courage of their convictions.”
After his mistake in the first minute, he kept playing in the Barca style. His teammates trusted him after the mistake, and more importantly he trusted himself as you can see here.
From Lowe’s post: “Few teams’ convictions are as strong as this team’s. Barcelona did what Barcelona do, and that includes Valdés. According to the statistical geniuses at Opta Spain, this season only two teams have passed the ball back to the goalkeeper more and Valdés has been given the ball almost 50 times more than Iker Casillas. For most teams, a back pass is a last resort, a release – a panicked prelude to a punt. For Barcelona it is different. Valdés is a player, let him play. His passing accuracy, at 85%, is easily the best in the league – not least because he actually passes it. He attempts fewer long ‘passes’ (over 35 yards) than anyone, at only 29%. Casillas is the nearest at 43.3% and only three goalkeepers are even under 50%.”
Barcelona continued to play its special style and ended up winning; Madrid looked exhausted and demoralized at the end. Lowe quotes an unnamed pro player, “When you play Barcelona you chase the ball. You think you’re going to get to it and they move it on, so you chase some more and you think you’re going to get to it, and they move it on again, so you chase some more and so more and some more. And you’re knackered … and you look up at the scoreboard and you think: ‘Shit there are still 88 minutes of this left’.”
Pep Guardiola, Barcelona’s manager had this to say:
Pep puso a Víctor Valdés como ejemplo de lo que había sido el equipo.”Ganar aquí siempre es meritorio, difícil y complicado. La imagen de cómo ha respondido el equipo es que Valdés después del gol ha seguido jugando igual con el pie. Y le he felicitado delante de todos por eso”.
“Todas las victorias en el Bernabéu son importantes. Hubo cosas que no me han gustado nada, como perder demasiados balones, pero hemos ido a ganar el partido corriendo riesgos. La vida es eso. Debíamos decidir si éramos valientes o muy valientes, y nos salió bien”, destacó el técnico azulgrana en rueda de prensa.
(Pep cited Víctor Valdés as an example of what the team had been. “Winning here is always meritorious, difficult and complicated. The image of how the team reacted is that Valdés after the goal continued playing the same with the ball at his foot. And I congratulated him in front of all for that.”
“All wins in the Bernabéu are important. There were things I didn’t like at all, like losing too many balls, but we went there to win taking risks. That’s life. We had to decide whether we were brave or very brave, and it turned out well for us.” )
In goalkeeping we take the risk of losing the match for our team if we make a mistake. As the last player there is usually no one who can backstop us. The moment where you go wrong is inevitable, and that is the moment where you find out who your friends are. And what you are made of.
P.s. This is too good not to share, watch Iniesta, this is supposed to show his every touch of the game: