SoccerIs Yann Sommer the best goalkeeper in the history of Swiss football?
The doorman of the Nati, that OGC Nice wants to take in Mönchengladbach, is courted. Because he’s the best? A steep and complex question, but which sticks to the performance of the Swiss goalkeeper, over time.
Obviously, all of this is complex, simplistic, undoubtedly incomparable. There are circumstances, times, opportunities, subjectivity, of course. But implicitly, on the strength of performances, longevity, personal and collective achievements, the question sneaks up to make its way into the light of day: is Yann Sommer the best goalkeeper in the history of Swiss football? ?
Currently, these days, he is at the heart of a tough negotiation. Between Borussia Mönchengladbach, his club with which he is under contract until June 2023, and OGC Nice of “Lulu” Favre, therefore, with whom he already has an agreement in principle. But it looks like the German club want to keep him, or act as if, to up the ante, while Nice have made Sommer their priority. Everyone wants the Swiss porter. Because he’s the best?
The emotion of June 28, 2021
To respond emotionally is to travel in time, it is to return to June 28, 2021, in Bucharest, to this shot on goal by Kylian Mbappé, to this small gesture of the left hand, to the dive on the right and to this formidable tap, firm, from the hand of Sommer, which sends Switzerland to the quarter-finals of the Euro. That evening, at that second, Yann Sommer was the best goalkeeper in the history of Swiss football, he was even the best goalkeeper in the world, without question, for all the supporters of the Swiss national team, and even for the others who saw the scenes of jubilation all over Switzerland. It’s true, he has everything going for him, Yann, in addition to his performances for several years, in selection as in club. The beautiful Yann. The darling of all supporters. Angel face, devastating smile, mastery of languages, natural charm. It makes you a hero.
But does that make him the best Swiss goalkeeper in history? Thierry Barnerat, FIFA goalkeeper instructor, Thibaut Courtois’ personal video analyst, for 18 months, is an expert on the subject. So, Yann Sommer, the best in the history of Swiss football?
“I have to say that we cannot compare eras, he decides straight away. For several reasons. First, because football is evolving. For example, let’s take three goalkeepers from the Swiss team: Pascolo, Benaglio and Sommer. The three, together with Switzerland, have always delivered top performances in major tournaments. None has ever precipitated the defeat of the selection by a blunder in the final phase of a Euro or a World Cup. This is their common point. But for the rest, everything has changed, permanently, making things incomparable.”
OK. But how incomparable? “At the time, of Marco Pascolo, the foot game was only in its infancy for goalkeepers, explains the specialist. To sum up, where Yann Sommer has both feet by necessity of current football, where everything goes faster and where the recovery patterns include goalkeepers, only half a foot was enough for Pascolo. To control and release. Because it was like that at the time. For Diego Benaglio, we were still on theories that wanted the goalkeeper not to stray too far from the posts. Today, the goalkeeper defends areas. We could see it against Italy, in Basel, last fall. Yann is positioned, he sees a long ball and he goes out 14 meters from his goal line to cut the trajectory and get ahead of the Italian striker. This did not exist before, this idea of defending an area for a goalkeeper. So yes, Yann is the most complete of the three, without discussion. But we cannot compare, since it is the very evolution of football that wants that.
We insist. Is it intrinsically possible, beyond the times, to highlight the pure qualities of each other? And does that make sense, really? “It’s complicated, sighs Barnerat. Because we don’t ask for the same things according to the times. We could talk about personality. Personally, I think Marco Pascolo was the strongest mentally, in managing emotions. Courtois is like that too. Afterwards, we can talk about the criteria that are currently in force, those on which I would focus if I had to recruit a goalkeeper for a big club today.
The size criterion
Modern criteria for a transversal reading of history. What are they and how can they enlighten us?
“I will remember three essentials, says Thierry Barnerat. First, and this doesn’t help Yann Sommer, the size. He is 182 or 183 centimeters. Let’s understand: the size is not used for aerial balls, contrary to popular belief. But for visibility. In current football, there are a lot of big guys who crowd in front of the goalkeeper, especially on set plays. Being tall also allows the porter to see better. Being tall also provides scope for interventions. What Yann does, with his height, is remarkable. Because on a parade, he must push at exactly the right time, with the perfect gesture, without margin of error, to compensate for his size, for example against a Thibaut Courtois who is 2 meters tall.
Very well. But then, if Sommer does such feats by measuring “only” 182 centimeters, he would therefore be with 18 centimeters more the best goalkeeper in the world. CQFD? “In absolute terms, yes, laughs Barnerat. But it’s not that simple. Being taller sometimes implies a slight deficit in mobility or coordination, as can be seen in some goalkeepers, even at a high level. So we don’t know.”
For the size, we are fixed. Sommer, even if he does not fully meet the current canons, gets away with the technician’s praise. But there are still two criteria in the running. “Precisely, coordination is part of it, launches Barnerat. In this regard, she is fantastic at Yann, it is undoubtedly the best of the three in this area. And the last criterion? “The personality. On this point, I lean more in favor of Pascolo.
The best in business
In short, if comparison is not right, if the times, so different, prohibit a “classification”, Yann Sommer has nothing to worry about for the present. Is that right, Thierry Barnerat?
“Of course, he is the best active Swiss goalkeeper by far. He is light years ahead of Kobel, for example. For me, the current No 2 is Jonas Omlin.