Pioneers of the Sweeper-Keeper

While Manuel Neuer is hailed as the next generation goal keeper, the concept of shot stoppers taking more adventurous roles is actually not that revolutionary. Srinwantu Dey traces back the inventors of Sweeper Keepers here at Goalden Times

There’s an unhappy and unresolved paradox about them—these two 1926-born gentlemen from two different continents of the planet. They were probably unknown to each other, but shared some uncanny similarities. They were both goalkeepers — sublime goalkeepers to be precise. While contemporary passionate fans are obsessing over Manuel Neuer’s revolutionary goalkeeping style and going gaga over the radical ‘Sweeper-Keeper’ theory, let us not forget these two gentlemen. They pioneered the notion of the ‘Sweeper-Keeper’ and made considerable impact on the game, but, unfortunately, their achievements went greatly unnoticed by the masses.

One of them — Gyula Grosics — was born in a coal-miner’s family in the small Hungarian town of Dorog. Grosics’ appearance as a footballer was truly a sweet accident. He was training for priesthood in his younger days and only continued pursuing his passion for football for his mother. One bright morning he was called to play for his local team while he was going to a nearby church as the team’s goalkeeper was unavailable due to a war call-up. That incident proved to be a blessing for the entire football world.

If the name Grosics doesn’t ring a bell, Magical Magyars surely will — Hungary’s iconic national football team of the 1950s. Grosics was the mainstay between the posts for this team who were one of the most intimidating teams in the history of football — a team that remained unbeaten from 1948 to 1954. Grosics was the little dynamite of this team that went on to change football’s philosophy and style in many ways. He was capped 86 times for the Magyars, played three consecutive World Cups and was the best goalkeeper of the 1954 World Cup. One of the most legendary goalkeepers of the post-World War era, Grosics led his team to Gold in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as well, conceding only two goals in the entire tournament. In his one-and-a-half decade-long international career, his team scored a whopping 258 goals, but his net was breached only 96 times (1.12 per game);- being a goalie for a highly attack-minded team of that generation this is a great achievement. He truly established himself as one of the best keepers of all time.

Grosics was also known as the Black Panther due to his all-black attire on field (Source: The Times UK)

However, Grosics’ monumental achievements in international football come only second to his influential playing style. He was short (5’8” only), but his ankles had airborne catalysts. He was agile, to say the least, and had a brilliant sense of ball distribution. The Mighty Magyars, coached by Gusztáv Sebes, were one of the pioneers of modern football and developed multiple tactical innovations. Puskás recalled, “It was a prototype of total football: when we attacked everyone attacked; in defense it was just the same”. Sebes, the son of a shoe-maker, was involved in trade-union organization as his early occupation, and used to call it ‘Socialist Football’. Grosics was a core member of his master plan. He developed a skewed 4-2-4 formation that gave birth to a generic total football approach and everyone, including the goalkeeper, was involved in the attacking movements. Grosics, under Gusztáv Sebes’ guidance, had evolved slowly to play behind the back-line in front of penalty box—a role often referred to as the ‘Sweeper’. Sebes often used to instruct both the fullbacks to move forward and his defensive pivot József Zakariás retreated to form a three-person back-line. Grosics’ ability of ball distribution and his natural athleticism came handy at this point, when he was literally employed as the ‘Fourth-Back’. Not only was he involved in the build-up, Grosics gained reputation for often running out of the penalty box to disrupt opponent attacks.

Grosics’ ability of ball distribution and his natural athleticism came handy at this point, when he was literally employed as the ‘Fourth-Back’. Not only was he involved in the build-up, Grosics gained reputation for often running out of the penalty box to disrupt opponent attacks.

While Grosics was altering the paradigm of football in mainland Europe in the 1950s, there was another person who was breaking the goalkeeping archetypes in South America around the same time.  Amadeo Raúl Carrizo, born in the small city of Rufino in Argentina, played almost his entire career for River Plate. He won five championship trophies for the ‘Los Millonarios’ in his long career of 23 years. He was often hailed as the greatest-ever keeper of the continent. The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) ranked him number 10th in its list of the greatest goalkeepers of the previous century, second to only Lev Yashin among his compatriots. He was also  the second-greatest among the Latin Americans, next only to José Luis Félix Chilavert and a head of legends like Gilmar dos Santos or Antonio Carbajal. He was an integral element of the Argentine national team as well, and played a pivotal role in the country’s dream team of the 50s—‘The Angels with Dirty Faces’ .

Amadeo Carrizo, aka Tarzan, had incredible agility in air (Source: Taringa)

Apart from his colossal accomplishments with various teams, Amadeo was also an icon as a goalkeeper — a great influence on the football culture of the Americas. He was probably the earliest father figure of the eccentric ‘El Loco’ genre of goalkeepers in South America, which consists of the likes of El Buldog Chilavert, José René Higuita, or fellow national Hugo Gatti.Many believe he was the first goalkeeper to have ever come out of the penalty box to defend. His playing style and positioning were very innovative, and he would frequently leave the penalty area to function as an additional outfield player, developing attacks or forming defensive units. It was a revelation in South American football that prompted other teams to promote proactive and non-traditional goalkeeping. True to his Latin American blood, he was far more adventurous than his Hungarian counterpart, and also indulged in flashy dribbling — one of the vibrant features of his madman-style goalkeeping. However, he was neither a showman who would perform a brazen scorpion kick like Higuita,nor outspoken like Gatti who had famously insulted Diego Maradona, calling him a ‘fattie that plays football very well’ only for Maradona to score four goals past him the next day. Amadeo was of a different class. His iconic performance (being the only goalie not to concede any goal in any of the matches) against Pele’s Brazil en route their ‘Cup of Nations’ triumph in their home soil in 1964 attracted ample admiration. While Higuita has been often blamed for his disastrous dribbling against Cameroonian Roger Milla in the 1990 World Cup, Carrizo’s exceptional dribbling brace against José Borello far up the pitch during 1953 Super clásico, is still the stuff of legends.

While Higuita has been often blamed for his disastrous dribbling against Cameroonian Roger Milla in the 1994 World Cup, Carrizo’s exceptional dribbling brace against José Borello far up the pitch during 1953 Super clásico, is still the stuff of legends.

Both Grosics and Carrizo believed in getting involved in the game whenever possible and often trained with outfield players. Carrizo himself played upfront in his younger age, and admitted that playing with bouncy balls made of cow bladders during his poverty-stricken days contributed a lot to his dribbling skills. On the other hand, Grosics’ main attributes were timing and understanding of angles. His frequent forays out of the goal and his role as the fourth-back effectively complemented Hungary’s fluid tactics. Grosics caught the attention of the British media and commentators in the match between Hungary and England in 1953, often dubbed as the ‘Match of the Century’. In this match, Hungary thrashed the host by 6–3. Grosics’ sublime volley clearance (coming out of the goal-line to deny Stan Mortensen) and long kick from the box to launch counter attacks (things which were literally unheard of that time) enthralled the audience. Grosics and Carrizo were inventors, pioneers, and have inspired many generations after them. Maintaining the trend set by Grosics in Europe,  Bill Shankly employed Tommy ‘Flying Pig’ Lawrence as a sweeper keeper in Liverpool’s great team of 1960s; Rinus Michelle used Heinz Stuy as an additional defender in his total football strategy for the Ajax dream team; the eccentric Liverpool goalkeeper of 1980s from Zimbabwe — Bruce Grobbelaar — also followed in their footsteps. Far in the Americas, Hugo Gatti, the famous adventurous Argentine shot-stopper, considered goalkeeping as a career when he was sixteen only after being mesmerized by the legendary goalkeeper of River Plate. Carrizo truly reinvented the goalkeeping style of modern football as a pioneer of several things. He was probably the first goalkeeper to mislead a striker by hiding the ball in a friendly against Czechoslovakia, the first to trick an opponent, Pedro Mansilla of Racing, by deceiving a fake offside call, and the first to master the one-arm throwing of ball.

Looking back: Carrizo and Grosics  (Source: La Pagina Millonaria & Nepszava Online )

In the modern era goalkeepers like Hugo Lloris or Victor Valdes have upheld the legacy of the two greats, exhibiting unbelievable passing range. Manuel Neuer has already entered the folklore of German football due to his extreme athleticism, flying tackles, interceptions, and brilliant distribution ability. Neuer, an exceptionally gifted goalkeeper and currently among the top-three footballers in the world, has taken the sweeper-keeper role to a complete different level and is probably on his way to be crowned as the world’s greatest of all time. However, ignoring the history of past legends is a crime. The revolution started long back, and characters like Gyula Grosics and Amadeo Carrizo truly deserve their share of fame. One should remember that they achieved their incredible level of fame while playing for teams with glittering attacking forces. While Grosics was the contemporary of such stars as Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, and Nándor Hidegkuti, Carrizo shared his dressing room with the famous ‘La Maquina’ (The Machine) consisting of Juan Carlos Muñoz, José Manuel Moreno, Adolfo Pedernera, Ángel Labruna , Felix Loustau, and Alfredo Di Stéfano. We remember the heroics of the ‘Marvelous Magyars’ or the ‘La Maquina’, but forget about these keepers. Understandably, those are the drawbacks of being a goalkeeper whose saves don’t get on scroresheets. There were, however, repercussions of being revolutionaries, and the two great men had uncanny resemblances there as well. Hungary lost to West Germany (2–3) in the World Cup final of 1954 — a match often known as the ‘Miracle of Berne’. Hungary were two goals up within the first eight minutes, but Grosics was at fault for the Helmut Rahn equalizer on a muddy pitch. As a result, after the World Cup, Gyula was harassed and interrogated for months by the Hungarian Secret Service, tagged as a traitor, and then charged with espionage in December 1954. Amadeo faced something similar when his team lost to Czechoslovakia 6–1 in the 1958 World Cup and was knocked out in the group stage. He faced an antagonistic reception back home—his house was smeared with paint, his car was almost destroyed. In an interview with Reuters, he recalled, “People were especially angry with me because I was a showoff, but that was a style (of play) that worked well for me, otherwise River would have kicked me out”. The unhappy paradox was never resolved, but despite the failures and blames (which goalkeepers are bound to face), modern football of two continents should always be thankful to these greats for breaking the stereotypes and proving to the world that football is not played by ten outfield players and a goalkeeper but by a team of eleven.


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  3. Wilson, Jonathan, The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper
  5. Gatti’s post-2006 world cup interview with espn
  6. Richards, Joel, Superclasico: Inside the Ultimate Derby
  7. Interview of Carrizo by Diego Borinsky, El Graphico, March 2012
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  9. Interview of Carrizo with Reuters by Rex Gowar