Swans keepers are in safe hands with Roberts
28th September 2016
Tony Roberts remembers the days when a goalkeeper's life was simple.
"The game has changed so much," says Roberts, goalkeeping coach at Swansea City and, as of last month, Wales.
"When I started, if you had a goal-kick you just smashed it down the field. Now teams don't want to do that because as soon as you do, it's a 50-50 ball.
"At clubs like Manchester United or Manchester City, and ourselves with the way we try to play, keepers have to have the skillset of a midfielder.
"They have to be comfortable on the ball - showing good support positions, good first touch, good receiving skills.
"They also have to be able to see what's happening in a game - are the opposition pressing with one, two or three players?
"It's not just about being a good shot-stopper now. You have to be an eight or nine out of 10 for shot-stopping, but also dealing with crosses, organisational skills and playing out from the back.
"You have to have skills in every department."
Roberts spends his days trying to ensure that the Swans' four senior stoppers can cope with the modern demands of life between the sticks.
And when international breaks come around, he heads off to work with the likes of Wayne Hennessey and Danny Ward.
Wales lost goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson following Euro 2016, as the former Manchester City stopper was headhunted by England.
As a result Chris Coleman turned to Roberts, who he had played with for Wales at youth level and in the senior side.
"I spoke to Chris and I said 'Before you start talking, I want to do it'," explains Roberts, who hails from Holyhead.
"I spoke to Huw (Jenkins) and he was all for it. He said it was good for me and for the club.
"I am fortunate to have joined the Welsh camp after a great summer and, as Chris said, the journey continues now as we try to get to the World Cup in Russia.
"I was on the bench when we lost to Romania and missed out on a place at USA 1994. That was a massive disappointment.
"But I can see already why the current squad did so well in the summer. They are well organised behind the scenes - from training to meetings to everything else the players want and need. Everything is catered for.
"To be involved is a massive honour because I have always been proud of where I am from."
Though he is part of the national set-up now, Roberts was just one of the fans at the European Championship.
As well as supporting Wales, he kept tabs on Lukasz Fabianski, who seized his opportunity after Wojciech Szczesny got injured in Poland's opening game against Northern Ireland.
"Lukasz did what he does - he was solid and steady," Roberts says.
"You know what you are going to get from him because he is a top-level goalkeeper. When he was called upon to make saves, he was there to do it.
"Lukasz has come a long way since he joined Arsenal as a youngster. Now he is a regular here and with Poland.
"That's what comes from working hard every day and being focused and driven. I try to get all my keepers to strive to be at that level."
Fabianski has been the Swans' No. 1 since joining from Arsenal - where Roberts had a long stint as a coach before he moved to the Liberty in 2015 - two years ago.
But he faces competition for the shirt from Swedish international Kristoffer Nordfeldt, not to mention senior figure Gerhard Tremmel and summer recruit Mark Birighitti.
"The four senior keepers all get on well and it's good coming into work with them every day," Roberts says.
"The competition is good. I stress to them every day that it is all about standards.
"Obviously only one of them can play, but they all have to be ready. If they get the shout and go into the team, they all have to be on the ball, so it's my job to try to keep them all on their toes."
The Swans know what to expect from Tremmel, the 37-year-old who was a star of their Capital One Cup triumph in 2013 and has served the club admirably over the last five years.
Birighitti is a player with promise who is trying to get used to new surroundings having swapped Australian football for the Premier League, while Nordfeldt is pushing hard for more game-time.
"Kris has come a long way since he joined the club. He has improved mentally and physically, technically and tactically," Roberts says.
"My job now with the club is to get him a loan where we feel he can go and develop, and it may be that something happens in January.
"At the moment he is not getting many games so he is not getting a chance to show what he can do, but we are all confident in his ability and I love the fact that he is champing at the bit."
Nordfeldt, Roberts says, is "comfortable" with the ball at his feet and, like Fabianski, will not panic when possession comes his way.
"That's a massive part of the game now," Roberts stresses.
"Every day we chip away at it with various drills aimed at the same thing.
"I compare it to golf. If it's a goal-kick, they are going to use a driver. If they are clipping it to the full-back, it's like a seven-iron, and if you are rolling out a pass, it's a putt.
"We are working all the time on that side of things because the top keepers now have to be able to play with their feet."
READ MORE . . .
- Llorente has more goals in sight
- Rangel salutes Llorente's first goal
- VIDEO: Match Cam - Manchester City
- Swans have a new fan in Alfie