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Manuel Almunia: “Kepa is good with his feet, like Luis Arconada”

The former Arsenal, West Ham and Watford keeper spent almost two decades in the game and is now part of the coaching staff at Al-Jazira.

Manuel Almunia: “Kepa is good with his feet, like Luis Arconada”

Former Celta, Arsenal, West Ham and Watford keeper Manuel Almunia spent almost two decades in the game before being forced to hang up his gloves for good due to a heart problem. He wasn't long without work though - just six months after retiring he received a phone call from Al-Jazira who offered him a post as goalkeeping coach. AS caught up with him this week in Abu Dhabi to chat about his new career and Al-Jazira's Club World Cup meeting with Real Madrid later today.

In what ways have the methods used to prepare goalkeepers changed?

More than anything, the way goalkeepers play in the modern game is different and training programmes have adapted to meet those needs.

Manuel Almunia
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Goalkeeping in the modern game

What has changed in the way keepers play?

You only need to look at the keeper when he has the ball, both of the centre-back will drift wide to receive the ball. In my time, that was unthinkable. The goalkeeper is now involved in the team's moves and needs additional qualities to his game that before weren't so necessary.

Which keeper do you think has adapted the best to those new demands?

Ter Stegen is so cool and collected it's incredible. And he also had the quality and the confidence to pull off a 20-metre pass. That might seem easy to you but I can assure you that it isn't - it's not easy at all when you have two forwards coming at you. If you pass the ball 10 metres, at least you know that your defenders have a chance of returning it to you.

Which keepers do you like?

I'm a bit old school in that regard. I like tall, calm-headed keepers, who have an air of authority in their penalty area… In some ways, robust keepers have a presence but then on the other hand, small, lithe keepers are more agile and more able to play the ball with their feet - which is what modern coaches look for in goalkeepers today.

Good with his feet, United's David de Gea
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Good with his feet, United's David de Gea

De Gea going from strength to strength at United

Have you anyone in mind who ticks all of those boxes?

I like Courtois a lot for instance. He has presence, technique - and I also like the way he saves the ball. And De Gea, who is a top class keeper. He's really coming into his own in the Premier League - it's turned him into a better keeper. He's a little on the thin side, but he's perfect how he is.

What about Oblak?

He's a very complete keeper too. But I tell you, we goalkeeper are strange creatures and we like a certain kind of goalkeeper - more in the style of De Gea or Courtois.

Keylor Navas is another example of the kind of the modern keeper you're talking about?

He's the prototype model. He's spectacular between the posts, he's brave, skillful and very agile. He maintains his concentration and he's also intelligent… For me he deserves all the respect he gets for what he's done.

In Madrid, everyone is talking about Kepa Arrizabalaga...

I've only seen him in a few games. I like how he uses his legs. He has good, strong feet, good movement…

Athletic man Kepa Arrizabalaga
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Athletic man Kepa ArrizabalagaJUAN FLORDIARIO AS

Out on a limb

Good legs?

(Laughs). The most important parts of the body for a goalkeeper are the head, hands, and for me, the legs. It's easier to block low shots with your legs because you can react quicker than with your hands.

Now that you've said that, I have this image of Iker Casillas in mind...

Yes, that's exactly it. Iker's a strong goalkeeper, leaps well, good diving in either direction... between the posts he moves like a cat. I liked the way the likes of [Juan Carlos] Ablanedo, [Luis] Arconada and Paco Buyo used their legs… they had incredible feet, which added to their game.

And Kepa's got that too…

He's a Basque keeper, he's got presence and character… but maybe he's not quite ready for Real Madrid; I haven't seen enough of him to be honest. But I'm sure he'll make a great keeper.

Jan Oblak spreads himself to block from Morata.
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Jan Oblak spreads himself to block from Morata.CHEMA DIAZDIARIO AS

Brains important for the modern day goalkeeper

You also spoke of the important of having a good head on your shoulders...

To be able to read games, you need to be intelligent, you need to be able to guess where the ball is going to go; you also need to know and understand your defence - knowing their strengths and weaknesses. You need to know your defence's limitations and whether a deep ball into the box might cause them problems…

And what about the hands?

A good goalkeeper has quick hands, and can react on the goal-line. For attempts on goal inside the area you need quick reflexes and good hands.

What about bravery? Most of us would shudder at having to face a shot from two metres distance...

Yes… of course. You have to be prepared for that eventuality, but it's something which you can learn from.


The first time you take a ball full on in the face it hurts, but the second time, you start to lose your fear and you just want to block the ball and stop it from entering. Eventually those close shots don't hurt at all…

How is football in United Arab Emirates?

It's modest, they still lack a little youth development at academy level, but I expected it to be much less competitive. They supplement quality with drive. The local players here play with great passion.

In what areas are they lacking quality?

Mostly in defence. They find it difficult to grasp some of the tactical concepts.

Ali Mabkhout, a national treasure

Which Al-Jazira players do we need to keep an eye on on Wednesday?

Apart from Romarinho, the No.7, Ali, who is also an international. He's fast, effective, cool-headed… He's a national idol.

And I'm told he's a madridista too...

Here, half of the country are. The lads can't believe that they are actually going to play against Real Madrid. They're happier about playing Madrid than being in the semi-final.

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