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Stekelenburg vs Goicoechea

Perhaps there's a youth league somewhere in the world that allows two goalies at once, but in Rome, only one man dons the gloves. Maarten Stekelenburg has the pedigree, Mauro Goicoechea the panache, so who will stay between the sticks?

Marco Luzzani

Goalkeepers. You can't help but feel bad for them; they're stuck with the ugly, awkwardly colored shirts and the daft gloves, always looking slightly out of place, never quite as athletic or graceful as their outfield brethren.

When they do well, they go largely unnoticed. When they err, the spotlight is intense and unforgiving. It's just the nature of the beast, the sport rarely elevates keepers to the status of indispensable hero. Football teams, unlike hockey, don't ride their goalies to championships; they merely exist, success is either a measure of the keeper's ambiguity or achieved despite their flaws.

In other words, you may not get a lot credit for your work, but on the flip side, your job is relatively secure, barring any combination of these three scenarios:

1-Prolonged injury

2-Your errors are so dreadful and numerous, that even the inconspicuous nature of the position can't mask your ineptitude

3- Someone cheaper comes along and provides a reasonable facsimile of your services

This is the precarious position in which Maarten Stekelenburg finds himself. Forced to the sidelines for several weeks due to injury, his record with Roma was not sterling enough to stave off the advances of a younger, cheaper Mauro Goicoechea.

The problem for Zednek Zeman, beyond the relentless rise in the cost of tobacco, is that Goicoechea has not made the job his own, as his athleticism has not been able to fully mask his relative lack of on the job experience.

How, then, do we address this portieri problem?

Much like we did with the great Osvaldo-Destro debate, let's start with the tale of the tape, then take a look at how each keeper got here, what they bring to the table, and what they've done since they arrived in Roma.

But before delve any deeper, have you ever found yourself wondering "How does Mauro maintain such a healthy glow or how can I get my legs to look like his?"

Look no is on the way.

Tale of The Tape:


Maarten Stekelenburg

Mauro Goicoechea


1.97 m

1.84 m


92 kg

81 kg







Saves (this season)



Clean Sheets (this season)



Can I Type His Name without looking?



Can I Pronounce His Name?


I Certainly Try

Prone to Premature Distribution?

Maybe, if it's been a while or he's really nervous

It's his specialty

Unlike our forward filibuster, we cannot use statistics to describe or even defend either keeper. Simply put, goal keeping statistics are misleading. A high number of saves, saves per game, save percentage, and clean sheets are as much a product of the quality of the defenders, the team's tactical approach, and even the forwards commitment to tracking back, as the keeper himself.

There is a whole world of advanced football metrics, the problem is, many of them are proprietary and for club consumption only. So there very well may be a repository of statistics or models that describe an area of the goal in which a keeper is particularly susceptible, how well they defend in-swingers vs out-swingers, are they more effective catching or parrying the ball, how quickly and effectively can they get the ball up the pitch, and so on.

So, for the time being, we're left to rely on observations. So let's take a quick look at what these two men offer.

First up, Big Marty.

Maarten Stekelenburg

All Roads Lead to Rome:

Purchased during the summer of Enrique for €6m from Dutch giants Ajax, Stek was seen as a breath of fresh air, an honest-to-goodness World Cup keeper sent from heaven to provide solace to the suffering provided by the Doni's, Lobonts and Curci's of the world. Marty made 33 appearances in all competitions for Roma in his first season, a disappointing one for the club in its entirety.

What's He All About?

Stekelenburg is a product of the world renowned Ajax youth academy, so he is well schooled in aesthetically pleasing, ever-attacking, 4-3-3 total football. Stek, prior to coming to Roma, was named Ajax player of the year in 2007-2008, lost his job due to injury, then recovered to win the award in his final season in Amsterdam; so in a sense, he's been down this road before.

Stekelenburg makes the most of his expansive frame, which is both a blessing and a curse in 1 v1 scenarios; he is farther away from the ground, but can cover a great deal of surface area once he commits to the move. That sheer mass, both in terms of his height and hand size, is a tremendous asset when tracking and handling shots from distance, as well as dealing with aerial threats in the penalty area. Stekelenburg, in typical Dutch fashion, is generally comfortable in all facets of the game, though he is prone to the (not so) occasional card, drawing two reds last season and one yellow this term.

What Has He Done For Us Lately?

Well, not much. Since going down with a leg injury in the Parma match, Stekelenburg has only made one appearance, last week's Coppa match against Atalanta, during which he kept a clean sheet, albeit in less than strenuous circumstances. On the season as whole, he's made 10 appearances, turning away 25 shots, keeping one clean sheet, while adding four tackles and six clearances. He's also amassed 91 passes, of which he's completed 83.5%.

So, what about the youthful Uruguayan?

Mauro Goicoechea

All Roads Lead to Rome:

Goicoechea was, as you may well know, brought to Roma at the tail end of the summer transfer window, one of the players tracked and specifically requested by Zeman himself. Mauro, initially third in the pecking order behind Stekelenburg and Bogdan Lobont, found himself thrust into the spotlight in the wake of Stekelenburg's injury. Mauro was brought to Rome on a loan deal, so whether or not the club secures his services permanently should tell us a lot about the future of this debate.

What's He All About?

Calling Mauro an outfielder in keepers' clothes is both an insult and a testament to his greatest strength. There can be little doubt about Mauro's greatest attribute, his reflexes; whether he's parrying away close range shots or springing an attack, his mind (and muscles) works faster than your average keeper. He has the willingness to come off his line, as well as the dribbling and distribution skills Zeman demands of his keepers; of course, many can argue with the effectiveness, commitment, and timing with which he charges off the line.

What Has He Done For Us Lately?

Goicoechea was pressed into service for the second half of the Parma fixture and has remained the number one keeper ever since, amassing 25 saves and two clean sheets during his eight appearances. Mauro has completed 72% of his 91 passes, two of which were key passes.


On the surface, there doesn't appear to be much room for debate. Stekelenburg's track record, especially his time at Ajax and his recent form with the Netherlands, overshadows anything Goicoechea has managed in his admittedly shorter career.

But, there is a reason this debate exists. Stekelenburg has not lived up to the high standards he set for himself at those previous locales. Meanwhile, Goicoechea was specifically sought out by Zeman, presumably for his attacking mindset.

That this debate has any resonance or staying power is simply a product of neither man making the job his own, as each has their flaws.

Stekelenburg is technically sound, has good hands, and can play the long ball quite well for a man his size. His relative speed and agility, compared to Goicoechea, have drawn the ire of his detractors, who claim he doesn't possess the necessary athletic ability required from the Zeman system, which requires an agile keeper who can pounce off the line and quickly distribute the ball. Think of the Zeman keeper like a center of power forward in basketball, whose job is to secure the rebound and fire off a quick outlet pass to the point guard, springing the fast break before the opposing defense can compose themselves.

Goicoechea, meanwhile, has athleticism to spare, witness his quick trigger throws, but lacks the technical ability of Stekelenburg, in terms of the angles he takes or the manner in which he comes off the line, though he does so quite quickly. Similarly, his clearances can be haphazard, seeming the product of pure chance more than skill or anticipation, not exactly a point of inspiration, leaving many to fear the moment when his athleticism will no longer belie his lack of precision. It should also be noted that Mauro's starts haven't exactly come against the titans of Italian football.

While there are subtle and some not-so-subtle differences between the men, their performances have been equally uninspiring. So, where do we go from here?

On the one hand we have a veteran keeper who steered his nation to the finals of the World Cup, allowing only four goals from the run of play, but who hasn't done anything extraordinary enough to be deemed infallible for his current club.

On the other hand, we have a young, eager keeper with a cult like following, whose greatest attribute, his ability to start attacks, is what Zeman craves from his keepers.

Ultimately, this decision might be beyond the reach of Stekelenburg, Goicoechea, and even Zeman himself. With the club lacking Champions League revenue and reportedly operating in the red, finances may be the determining factor.

Stekelenburg's contract pays him €1.6m annually, compared to Goicoechea's €250,000. So if Mauro can at least put in an average performance week-in-and-week-out, there is greater financial incentive to show Stek the door. Of course, offloading Nicolas Burdisso and his €2.5m salary could alleviate this burden as well.

At the end of the day, based on pure pedigree and experience, particularly if he regains his Ajax form, the job should be Stekelenburg's to lose, but Goicoechea's game is infectious and he adds a dangerous element to an already lethal attack, and what's more, he has Zeman's confidence.

So it's essentially a battle of finances vs chemistry, a battle whose outcome depends on who is calling the shots: the man on the pitch or the man minding the purse strings?

With a European spot in the balance, those singular, fleeting moments in which a keeper makes his presence known are increasingly important.

So who would you rely on?