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Just what is the problem with goalkeepers on Merseyside, and why are there so few who make it in the professional leagues? We ask the goalkeeper who represents the area’s best chance of righting this, Liverpool County Youth keeper Luke Pybis.
by Stephen Hurrell 2011
If asked to name a goalkeeper from the Merseyside area, ex-Liverpool player Tony Warner will inevitably be the first name to come to mind, but after that things get trickier.
While the likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard come from a long and illustrious line of Merseyside outfield talent, the lack of goalkeepers coming through remains a mystery.
Luke Pybis is in a better position than most to field the question to, because in his short career he has trained at Tranmere, Macclesfield, Liverpool, Connahs Quay and now Morecambe – not bad for a 16 year old.
One of the most talented young goalkeepers in the area, the self-styled ‘shot-stopper’ believes at the highest level, the answer to the Liverpool goalkeeper mystery is an obvious one.
“At the Liverpool Academy, the under 15’s keepers where made up of two Scottish under 15 goalkeepers, whilst the Under 16 goalkeeper was from Liverpool, they were waiting to sign yet another keeper from down south for an awful lot of money,” He explains.
However, Pybis believes local keepers do get a chance further down the pyramid, a chance he himself was given at Tranmere under the tutelage of ex-Tranmere goalkeeper John Achterberg.
Describing Achterberg as a tough coach, who taught him to keep his mind on technique even when his stamina was low, Luke believes the club not offering Achterberg an extended playing contract alongside his coaching roles and his subsequent departure from the club stalled a lot of the good work Achterberg had put into developing young talent.
He said: “Tranmere really shot themselves in the foot as John had and was developing some great young keepers at the time. Indeed he had already had two keepers that have been offered professional terms with Tranmere.”
However, Luke believes the problems facing young goalkeepers in Liverpool start much earlier that at youth team level in professional clubs.
“I believe more should be done at grass roots for goalkeepers in the park, they are not just there for outfielders to blast shots off and make them feel good, they are part of the team, yet apart from the team.” He said: “They need specific training, yet most of the time there is no training or the keeper, not unless the parents pay for it at the likes of Just4keepers”
There lies the problem. Luke himself paid for training from the Just4Keepers scheme under the guidance of ex-Everton goalkeeper Ray Newlands and it was here he was noticed by Tranmere.
On leaving Tranmere, Luke and his father found another coach, this time Neil Ebbrell, who took Luke with him to Welsh side Gap Connahs Quay where he was the goalkeeping coach.
Here Luke learnt the skills necessary to take number one spot with Liverpool County, a prestigious offer to train at Liverpool and Macclesfield as well as a two year apprenticeship at League Two side Morecambe.
He said: “Neil is a top of the league coach, not only a mentor, a friend and so knowledgeable regarding not only the physical aspects of the game, but has taught me a lot mentally, how to set myself up mentally for a game, how to get over disappointments and move on forwards, which is so important, especially to a young keeper.”
But for many others, the opportunities are not there, and professional scouts are simply not interested when the talent is there, says Luke.
“I believe there are not enough scouts out there to look at goalkeepers, as it is such a specialised position I do not think they know what they are looking for, is that the fault of the scouts or the clubs, are they just looking for the next great Ronaldo, the next pay packet.”
The reason Liverpool goalkeepers are so few and far between seems to be a breakdown in the entire system, from training opportunities, to lack of scouting and awareness of how to deal with goalkeepers once they’re on the books.
With the odds stacked up, it would take a special type of dedication to break the norm and challenge for a top level goalkeeping position.
However, a quick glance at Luke’s presence on the internet shows he is no ordinary goalkeeper. Recovering from the knocks any young player receives, Luke runs a goalkeeping-themed blog featuring his own highlights.
He has a strong Twitter presence and has appeared in several articles in the media, highlighting the dedication it has taken to cement his place as one of the most promising youngsters on Merseyside.
He insists the blog is just a bit of fun and not an attempt to sell himself, but it does show how consumed he is with making it as a professional goalkeeper.
“My playing opportunities have arose purely from hard work and getting trails and travelling many, many miles and hours.”
“You have to put the effort in training, have the spirit to go on when all you want to do is stop and curl up, without this will and desire you will not achieve.
“Training prepares you for matches, so train as hard as you would play, make your mistakes in training and rectify them there and then, over and over again, get the technique right and the rest will follow.”
Luke cites saving a penalty in front of Kenny Dalgish in a game against Celtic for Liverpool Boys as one of the highlights of his career so far, but with two years at Morecombe beginning this year and all the dedication which has got him to this point, the odds are a professional debut will soon trump that.
“The best thing in life would be to become a professional player, to be paid for something you love to do, to train every day, and play in the greatest stadiums all over the world and you call that work, I would call it a pleasure.
“But this can only happen with drive, dedication and ambition, this I believe I have and it will spur me on to become the best, to make people happy, or in the case of the opposition, sad, but one thing I dream of, is that they remember me for who I am, a great goalkeeper.”