OK.This is not going to sound good but let me give it a go anyway because I believe it to be the truth.
The reason there are so few black goalkeepers in the top five soccer leagues in Europe (as opposed to say within football in countries where you’d naturally expect black players to dominate team lineups) is most probably a function of precedent, of too few role models and of intended and unintended racism.
Think about the dominant images of black people in football. No doubt you’ll be thinking of pacy, athletic, rugged players, hard runners, tacklers. Paul Pogba, Patrick Vieira, Michael Essien. There’s skill too from an earlier generation: Cyrile Regis and Laurie Cunningham, Ruud Gullit and the legendary Pele.
Now think about managers. That’s tougher: Paul Ince, Vieira, Gullit, Tony Collins and Keith Curle . . . but after that it gets harder.
What about black equivalents of a Xavi, a Scholes, a Zidane or Iniesta, a Di Stefano, a Puskas or a Cruyff. That is players that can control a game, create the tempo without the ball, take the sting out of it with possession. Set the tone.
Now that’s hard. There aren’t a lot of precedents in that role (if any) and without precedents there aren’t opportunities and without precedents and opportunities there is no value in the transfer market. So, black managers don’t get head-hunted. Ditto black 10’s or deep lying playmakers or all-rounders. And ditto black keepers.
In fact it was claimed by The Secret Footballer that the talk within football, behind closed doors, is that a pragmatically racist agenda drives football recruitment with one leading English Premier League academy actively seeking white central midfielders for their great value in the transfer market when sold (to the exclusion of young black players that might take that role their own).
Pogba holds the world record in the transfer market but an equivalent same age Scholes, Zidane, Xavi, Iniesta, Keane or Modric would be worth far more. Like it or not.
This is because white players are valued for their mental as well as physical qualities whereas black ones are valued for their stamina, their pace and their toughness.
Anything to do with judgement, discernment, leadership . . . well that’s the preserve of the white guys and it also explains why the off-field staff are also almost all white too.
Goalkeepers are a key positon, arguably the foundation stone of every team. They are leaders, they stop and start attacks, they convey strength and bravery.
They can galvanise their teammates to heroic feats. They organise their back four and talk them through the game.
So the logic goes, that role cannot be trusted to a black keeper – even if you can find one. And in a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps it is the case that the worst black players gravitate to playing in goal because all the money and opportunity lies in wait for the hard running midfielders, the tough tacklers and the pacy widemen.
Not the eccentric, flappy big guy with the gloves.
If I tell you that black keepers are viewed as flaky, erratic, error-prone, physically imposing but mentally and temperamentally weak then you can see why there are so few of them.
Kameni at Malaga is a prime example of a keeper whose ever error is magnified with a stereotypical judgement of a kind that would never ever have been levelled at say Willy Caballero when he vied for the keeper’s shirt there between 2011–14.
What about the others? Dida, David James, Shaka Hislop, Bernard Lama, Enyeama, N’Kono, Mandanda, Bell again it is hard to come up with a definitive list of black keepers without reservations.
But without that list of unequivocal star names you won’t see black keepers, or indeed black managers, smashing the barriers of prejudice and preconception that define football thinking in private, and sit at odds with public statements about kicking racism out of football.