One of the most outstanding players in this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup competition, which is coming to a close on Wednesday 26 August 2017, is Jamaica’s goalkeeper Andre Blake. The twenty seven years old Philadelphia Union goalkeeper’s has endeared himself to spectators of his country’s games with his breathtaking saves and composure in front of the goalpost.
Blake will once again be goal for the Reggae Boyz when they meet USA in Levi Stadium, Santa Clara, California,USA.
After Wednesday’s final game when the trophy will have been given to the eventual winner, it is unlikely that the individual award usually given to the best player in a tournament would not be awarded to Blake, who ideally should be the recipient of such award,regardless of the outcome of the final match.
With the essence of the game of football being goal-scoring, it is no longer a surprise that the Best Players Award is usually given to a high-scoring striker or mid-fielders. Even in local and international competitions,such awards are seldom given to defenders or goalkeeper due to the afore-mentioned reason. The defensive task of goalkeeping , strange as it may sound, is as essential to the game of football as the one of goal-scoring.
The act of goal keeping which Blake has perfected to a very high level has evolved with the passage of time. The modern game demands a lot from the goalkeeper so much so that the man/woman manning the goalpost most be skilled the various techniques of prevent the ball from entering the net.
Let us now look at the areas where Blake has shown exceptional mastery of the goal keeping act.
Defending of Crosses into the eighteen yard box.
This is one of the hardest tasks a goalkeeper must perform in the course of a match. It is made very difficult by so many factors – the heights and aerial ability of the players of the attacking team, the congestion of the eighteen yard box during crosses, the shape assumed by the cross as it enters the penalty box etc. Andre Blake, standing at height of six-foot- four inches, commands his penalty box with great excellence. He normally springs out of the six yard box to catch a cross in the midst of several attackers, or he springs out to punch the ball out of danger. He shows equal excellence in catching in-swinging and out-swinging crosses. Although he is not a very muscular player, he is not easily shaken off the ball by bigger strikers.
Defending Shots at the goal.
So far in this competition, Blake has shown it is very difficult to score him with a direct shot to his goalpost. His ability to defend direct shots is due in part to his feline-like reflexes and good positioning in his six yard box; even from a very close distance, Blake make saves that would be beat most goalkeepers. Another reason he is good at defending direct shot is related to his calm and composure in the face of an attack.
Ability to make saves with the feet.
One salient feature in the evolution of the act of goalkeeping is the ability of modern goalkeepers to make saves with their feet. In this very act, Andre Blake is a past master. In all the four matches Jamaica have played in this competition, Blake has made many saves with his feet. One particular one worthy of mention was the one he did in their match against Mexico. A Mexico’s attacking play led to a certain Jesus Duesnas taking a shot inside Jamaica’s eighteen yard box which was deflected to a direction opposite to the one Blake had dived, but he was still able to stretch out his foot to prevent the ball from entering his goal post.
Ability to make Diving Saves.
Most saves Blake made in this competition were largely due to his ability to make full-stretch dive to either side of the goalpost. Blake dives as though he has springs in his heels and sometimes it seems he can defy the law of gravity. His numerous saves from diving owe their success largely to his tall stature and his agility.
Jamaica have been a highly defensive side in this tournament.In fact, in their first group game against Mexico they sat back to soak up the Ticos’ attacking play while waiting for opportunities to launch their counter-attacks. Blake, as the captain of his side, is always seen arranging his defend line during set-pieces and screaming at his players to plug holes that may serve as potential sources of attack for the opponents.
The reason one would not describe Blake as a complete goalkeeper is because of an aspect of goalkeeping that has not been evident in his game so far. This has to do with ball distribution with both feet to his defender, a skill which comes in handy when launching an attack from the back line. One cannot say he lacks the ability because Jamaica do not normally build their play from the rear.
What Blake has exhibited in this competition so far is that he is an excellent goal keeper that is good enough to play in more competitive leagues in Europe and South America. Goalkeepers with Andre Blake’s ability are very rare in modern football. Whatever the outcome of Jamaica’s final match with USA on Wednesday, Blake has done enough to be given the Most Valuable Player Award for this tournament. Even if he is not eventually given the award, the young man should set his sights on more competitive leagues outside CONCACAF . On a final note,should Jamaica qualify for the World Cup Blake would be one of the goalkeepers to watch out for during next year’s finals in Russia.