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safehands | the art of goalkeeping - Bregenz 2023

Interview with John Achterberg, Liverpool FC
by Artur Stopper

Since 2011, John Achterberg has been responsible for the goalkeepers at Liverpool FC, one of the most successful soccer clubs in European soccer history. During this time, he has worked with Simon Mignolet, Loris Karius, Pepe Reina and currently with the Brazilian international goalkeeper Alisson Becker. After successful times, particularly in the 70s and 80s, the 19-time English champions were able to return to the great successes of earlier years under coach Jürgen Klopp. Together with the German team manager, John Achterberg won the Champions League with the Reds in 2019 and the English championship in 2020.

Goalguard had the opportunity to talk to John Achterberg about what makes this club special, the goalkeeper's role in Klopp's system, working with Taffarel and Alisson's special behavior in the 1v1 situation.

John, you've been responsible for the goalkeepers at top English club Liverpool FC since 2011 and have been a fixture at Anfield Road for many years. What is special about this club for you?

Even before I started working at Liverpool, the club with its great sporting past was one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the world. When the new club owners, Fenway Sports Group, took over the club, they wanted to restore it to its former glory. They hired Jürgen Klopp as team manager, who turned the whole club around. In previous times, spectators would often leave the stadium after 75 minutes if the team was losing. Team manager Klopp has changed the mentality in the team and the club so much that the spectators stay and support the team until the 98th minute because they believe that the team can still score goals and win the game with its will to win towards the end. So he has changed the mentality at the club by bringing back the belief in success, the will to succeed and the willingness to work hard for it. In this way, he has turned the club back into what it was for many years. Incidentally, he had already achieved exactly the same thing at his previous clubs Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund.

While other clubs usually only have one goalkeeping coach, Liverpool have had three goalkeeping coaches for about two years now: you, Claudio Taffarel and Jack Robinson. What is the purpose of this constellation?

The reason is that Taffarel has a lot of experience from Brazilian soccer and Alisson loves the way he works. That's why he always wanted to work with him. After a discussion with me and the boss, the decision was made to sign Taffarel. By signing him, we also wanted to drive forward the club's development and keep the intensity and quality high. We can achieve these goals better with three players. Taffarel is also an incredibly good guy who brings a good spirit to the team and is hugely important as a link to the other South American players in our team. That suits us very well. We have a strong goalkeeping team, if you like.

Goalkeeper training in South America differs from Europe. What are the differences between the European and Brazilian goalkeeping game?

I think that the Premier League in England is played at the highest pace in the world. That's why goalkeepers have to be faster in their thinking, movements, reactions and decision-making. Every goalkeeper who comes to England has to learn and train these factors. This takes time. Some adapt to Premier League soccer quicker than others. Alisson managed to adapt in a very short time because he was already very quick in his head and had a lot of speed and power.

In addition to his role at Liverpool, Taffarel also plays for the Brazilian national team. Is his signing intended to maintain Alisson's Brazilian style of play?

Yes, because Alisson had already mastered the Liverpool style of play, Tafferel came in to work with him specifically according to the Brazilian playing philosophy. This is very much in line with the way we work as goalkeeping coaches and as a team at Liverpool. Taffarel brings a wealth of experience and is a great person for the team. He has a good presence and is always smiling. He also had a great career as a goalkeeper. With this knowledge and experience, he will help every goalkeeper at the club.

The behavior of Brazilian goalkeepers in 1v1 is strikingly different to that of European keepers. While European goalkeepers stay as upright as possible, Brazilians take a leaning position. What do you think of this Brazilian technique?

I think his style is good, especially his timing. He knows when to stay on his feet and when to close down. He is also very quick on the goal line and can read a situation well. His style is to stand upright right before the shot and have good timing on the shot. I don't know if there is a specific European style. In any case, I prefer Alisson's style in the 1v1 situation. I also teach the other goalkeepers this behavior. I don't teach them to block because blocking situations are like going to the casino for me. The goalkeeper hopes that he will be shot at. A goalkeeper gives up a lot of space in the block ...

Isn't that also the case with Alisson's defensive technique?

No, because he goes directly in the direction of the ball. The goalkeeper offers a lot of space when he goes into the block. If he then realizes in the forward movement that the player is coming towards him head-on and he believes that he can no longer get to the ball, he stays in the forward movement. If the player then wants to pass to the left or right, the goalkeeper can still change direction. It's different with a block. Once the goalkeeper has decided on one side in the block, he can no longer react to the other side. Then there is plenty of space to go past the goalkeeper and play around him. But that's just my personal opinion.

Important elements of Liverpool's playing philosophy are pressing and quick transitional play. What tactical tasks does the goalkeeper have to take on in this system?

The goalkeeper has to recognize situations when he can quickly initiate a counterattack. Alisson is very good at this. He is helped by his ability to play the ball with a sharp and precise spin. He knows how to use this exceptional technical skill in the right situation. That's why this particular strength is mainly down to him. Some goalkeepers in the world try to do the same, but Alisson is undoubtedly one of the best in this particular situation. This ability suits the way we play, or rather the way the "boss" (note: Jürgen Klopp) wants us to play. It's counter-attacking soccer. Liverpool have always played like this, but the "boss" has perfected this style of play.

You yourself have extended your contract until 2024 as head of the goalkeeping department. How many more years do you want at Liverpool?

I haven't set myself any targets, I take each year as it comes. Officially, my contract ends at the end of the season. I enjoy every day that I get to work for Liverpool FC, because there is never a day when I don't enjoy my job. I am happy to be in this position. But there is no guarantee, you have to enjoy the moment. When you work at Liverpool, the expectations of winning and being the best are always present. But you can't predict what will happen in the future. That's why you have to stay calm in these situations.

John, thank you for taking the time to talk to us and we wish you a great and successful time with the Reds.

Pictures from the past events


The speakers