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SPORTS | 28-04-2018 13:38

The thankless task of life between the posts

He’s 22 and Boca’s number one, yet Agustín Rossi was mocked and jeered after his error against Palmeiras this week in a crucial Copa Libertadores clash. Hardly ever praised and always under pressure, who’d want to be a goalkeeper?

Just as no budding young football hopeful grows up with posters of referees on his wall, dreaming of the day they will be called upon to don the whistle and attempt to impose some semblance of control on his peers, such is the case with goalkeepers, according to traditional wisdom.

Who in their right mind would choose to occupy the most thankless position on the pitch, where one’s virtues by and large go unnoticed while a mistake is amplified and repeated until the whole world joins in a universal mockery?

Boca Juniors’ number one, Agustín Rossi, this week became the latest shot-stopper to be held up and ridiculed after erring at the Bombonera. With the Xeneize trailing 1-0 to Palmeiras in a must-win Copa Libertadores clash, Rossi ventured out of his area to head away a menacing long ball and, inexplicably, refused to return to his net. Palmeiras had time for two further abortive attempts at goal before Lucas Lima finally lobbed over Rossi’s net, doubling the lead and ending the game as a contest.

At just 22, Rossi has shown the talent and presence to establish himself as Boca’s first choice and has remained an undisputed starter while the club strolled to victory in last year’s Primera División and this week completed 500 unbroken days at the top of the table. But nobody remembered that at the Bombonera; the former Chacarita and Defensa y Justicia man was whistled by his own fans upon touching the ball following his mistake, while Boca as a whole folded to a meek defeat that leaves qualification to the Copa’s knock-out rounds in the balance.

His blunder was just one in a generally accident-prone night. Boca misplaced passes on a depressingly regular basis, playing straight into the hands of a Palmeiras side that was content to sit back, wait for the errors to occur and hit hard on the counter. For the first goal Keno was able to head past Rossi in blissful solitude in the midst of inexistent Boca marking. Striker Ramón Ábila too was guilty of missing an incredible chance to level when the game was poised at 1-0. But all eyes were on Rossi, who cut a beaten figure at the final whistle.

‘HE MADE A MISTAKE’

“I will not be saying anything until I speak to him,” Guillermo Barros Schelotto said after the game. “It is clear he made a mistake and when a goalkeeper makes a mistake it usually ends in a goal.” There is nowhere to hide for an erring goalkeeper, and they are usually the first target for fans’ frustrations when things go wrong.

He is in esteemed company, too. Racing Club shot-stopper Juan Musso, 23, is already the starter at Avellaneda, but his position as a product of the team’s youth academy has not spared him from criticism when mistakes have occurred.

The murmurs grow whenever the youngster hesitates: ‘He is too young,’ ‘The club needs an experienced figure’ etc. – conveniently forgetting that less than a year ago his name was on those same supporters’ lips when the veteran Agustín Orión blundered.

A similar story could be told by former Independiente shotstopper Diego Rodríguez, a regular at 22 but later drummed out of the club; and also by ex- River player Augusto Batalla, who found life between the Millonario posts a living nightmare as a teenager thanks to stinging criticism. He is now thriving with Atlético Tucumán.

Even Franco Armani was dubbed a waste of money at the Monumental at the start of 2018, but now after a string of fine performances the ex-Atlético Nacional man is being touted as Argentina’s World Cup salvation.

FOOTBALL’S MARTYR

Ever was it thus: the goalkeeper, Eduardo Galeano said, is football’s “martyr, punching bag, penitent and glove-wearing clown. It is said where they step, the grass never grows. He is alone, condemned to watch the game from afar. He waits, without moving outside the woodwork, to be shot.”

Galeano said a goalie is always under pressure: “The goalkeeper is always at fault. And if he is not, he pays the price all the same. When any player gives away a penalty, he is punished: they live him there, abandoned before his executioner, in the immensity of the empty goal. And when the team has a bad afternoon he is the one who pays for it, under a rain of shots, atoning for the sins of his team-mates.”

Rossi’s place will now be under pressure as a media hailstorm gleefully hovers ahead, even if the rather outlandish rumours he will be replaced by Italy legend Gianluigi Buffon do not come to pass. It is all part of the thankless task of keeping the net safe, a story that few of his glove-donning peers cannot relate to. But if you ask Rossi or any of that special breed that choose to spend their career bombarded by the shots and stray boots thrown their way they will tell you: they would not change their fate for anything in the world.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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