Goalkeepers are the unwilling flashers of international football. They're the most exposed players on the field, and no more able to hide their flaws than a belly-bulging body on a nude beach.
Goalkeepers have provided a plethora of unpleasant moments during the first week of the South African World Cup. None was more dramatic than Robert Green's gaffe that allowed a U.S. shot to feebly deflect off his hands into the goal and tie the game in a key Group C match.
Green has since framed a sturdy public pose. He apologized to his players and refused to blame the lively ball that favors strikers. He vowed to soldier on and be ready for his next assignment. But Green hid his true feelings.
Concerned about how he would recover from the blunder, Green reached out to Dr. Hans ulf Steihl, Germany's top sports psychologist. Steihl never played in a World Cup, but--aided by a pair of fortress-like hands that let no shots get by--he was considered the country's top young goalkeeper in the mid 1970s. While in a drunken stupor Steihl's fate changed when he tried to pick a fight in a German beer garden with football legend Franz Beckenbaur, also known as "The Kaiser" for his on-field leadership when West Germany won the 1974 World Cup.
Beckenbaur, still the most powerful man in German football, ensured Steihl would never play for the nation's national team. The incident moved Steihl away from sports and he instead focused on academics, later earning a doctorate in psychology. He was the ideal counselor for Green.
They recently talked by phone. "So Robert, you seem to have handled your miscue well," said Steihl. "You played solidly the rest of the game. You appear to have a firm grip on the situation. How can I help you?"
"Doc, it's all a sham," said Greene. "I'm crumbling inside. I haven't misplayed a roller like that since I let one dribble through my legs in the third grade. My confidence is ballsed up. How can I stand in goal Friday without crumming my drawers?"
"What your drawers?"
"Crumming, dirtying, soiling."
"Got it. Did you have you had a good week of training?"
"Miraculously, yes, but I'm so collywobbled I'm spewing my guts every hour. I'm thin as a twig, have no energy. I played golf yesterday and the club flew out of my hands after I hit a tee shot. When I eat, I can't hold on to my fork. I'm a mess."
"Robert, you need to get a grip," said Dr. Steihl. "Sorry, poor choice of words. Rather, clear your mind of negative thoughts and memories. Perhaps focus on things that make you happy. What makes you happy?"
"Beers with the boys."
"Benny Hill reruns."
"So buy a DVD and have the chums over for a few pints. And how's you're personal life?"
"Thanks for bringing that up," he said with sarcasm. "I just broke up with my girlfriend. I caught her spooning with my teammate John Terry. It's not the first time he's done this."
"So I've heard."
"Since we've split, I've been so upset I haven't washed my keeper gloves. She used to clean them for me. Every time I look at them I think of her. I'd wear those glove when we held hands."
"The same ones you wore in the U.S. game?"
"Ah, I think we're on to something. Clean those gloves. You'll wash away bad memories, on and off the field. Better yet, get a new pair."
"Brilliant," said Green. "I'll try it. You're a genius."
Dr. Steihl wanted to leave no lingering issues. "By the way, how are you and John getting along?"
"Fine, we played golf yesterday," said Green. "We're here to win a Cup. All is forgiven."
"Really," said Dr. Stiehl, with some wariness. A few moments of silence followed.
"Okay, change that," said Green. "Terry, he's a babe monster. That bloke can't be trusted with his sister. The club that flew out of my hands? Maybe I threw it at his head."
"Mr. Terry is good in the air," said the doctor. "Now, that would be some header."
"He ducked, it went over his head. I made my point."
"It's time to move on from your ex-ladies' indiscretion. Let's talk about Friday's game against Slovenia. Are you ready to play?"
"Not now, but if the gaffer calls me, I'll be ready."
"You mean coach?"
"That's better. Try not to use the word 'gaffe' ".