It is hard to be a goalkeeper, that much is known. They tend to be either the most prone to self-doubt, or the most arrogant and outspoken of footballers. There is rarely a middle ground for them as they will be the ones whose mistakes are always remembered, but sometimes they get the glory that they deserve. Sometimes they can win games (or at least not lose them) on their own.
When Uwe Neuhaus signed Marcel Höttecke for 1. FC Union Berlin it was meant as a spur for the current incumbent of the poisoned gloves Jan Glinker, but for a while the decision seemed to bring out the worst in him. He knitted his brow with worry every time the opposition bore down on his goal. He felt he had neither the faith of his boss or the support of his dear fans any more. The one thing a ‘keeper can ill afford to lose is his self-belief.
However on Friday evening, in the battle with Energie Cottbus for the crown of the top club in the East, Jan Glinker proved that he is now irreplaceable again. He made three saves of undeniable class. One with his feet, two with his hands.
In cricket we often marvel at a player’s soft hands. It is a phrase that makes little sense out of context, but to a fan of the true gentlemen’s sport it speaks subtle volumes. It is similar in concept to the idea of a player having soft toes, such as when Dennis Bergkamp brought down that 50-odd yard ball in the World Cup against Argentina. It didn’t spoon off in the other direction, but with a loving caress it was brought under his complete control and was charmed enough by the Dutchman that he could do what he liked with it immediately.
Goalkeepers, needless to say, don’t always need soft hands. They need wrists of iron, fingers of tungsten at times, but there has to be dexterity there. When a ball is uncatchable, it needs to be palmed away to safety, and not back into the path of any lurking strikers. This is what sets the best apart. Toni Schumacher, for instance, is primarily remembered for having the most brutal shoulder in football, but that’s a shame, because he could be a ‘keeper of refined elegance at times.
Glinker’s saves on Friday were textbook examples of the art. In minute 80, with Union holding on to their 1-0 lead, Dimitar Rangelov brought down a ball on the turn with a delicious touch, and volleyed it first time at the Union goal. Glinker, however managed to deflect it up and over the goal. Rangelov had hammered it, and the course of the ball was unerring, but Glinker’s fingers were unyielding.
Ten minutes previously it had been the turn of Rok Kronaveter, the replacement for the disappointing 17-year-old Leonardo Bittencourt, whose transfer at the end of the season to Dortmund had just been announced. Glinker had just squeaked the ball away from the head of Jules Reimerink, and knocked it out for a corner.
Rok rocked as he picked the ball up out towards the right hand touchline, he cut inside and hit a swerving, powerful shot towards the far post. Its course seemed inevitable, but before you could say Gordon Banks, Glinker was there. This time he was strong, but with delicate touch. It is no easy skill – the ball flew out of the box, and although it fell to a Cottbus player, the danger had already been averted.
Perhaps more impressively he saved with his legs, whilst his body’s momentum was already slipping the other way when one on one with Christian Müller. Stand up, watch the ball, wait… if only it really were that simple.
Union’s lead was earned through a Silvio goal, when the Cottbus ‘keeper, Thomas Kirschbaum, couldn’t get a corner far enough away. His desperate lunge at the second attempt was as futile as popping out for a quick pint with George Best (it just wasn’t going to happen), but Union were good value for their win. Quiring had hit the bar, and Mosquera came close to picking up a carbon copy of the goal.
Glinker is now well and truly back, as they say. The injury to Höttecke that handed him his permanent place again gave him a bit of breathing space at a time when Union were shipping goals, often stupidly when they could have been avoided. The two that Hansa Rostock last week scored were as Union were cruising and had switched off, but either side of them now sit two clean sheets against supposed 2. Liga heavyweights, Fortuna Düsseldorf and now Cottbus.
The 27-year-old ‘keeper could only smile as he was asked after the game about his thoughts on his contract that runs out at the end of the year. As Union’s most experienced player (almost 200 appearances in the first team) it looks as if Jan Glinker will still be around for a long time in Köpenick yet.
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