No one ever wanted to be in goal when I played football at school. Being in goal meant you'd get your school uniform covered in dirty wet ball-shaped patches, you wouldn't be able to score and you'd be blamed if your class lost the match. Everyone wanted the glory of hitting a screaming volley into the top corner, just below the window to Mrs Wickins' class - no one wanted to dive around on hard, wet concrete. But someone somewhere must have wanted to play in goal, or are our Premiership goalies simply the kids who got put there because the harder boys wanted to be Alan Shearer? Whatever the truth, you can see what it's like to be stood there in EA's FIFA 11, as this year you can play as the goalkeeper.
If you don't have any interest in this new addition to FIFA 11, I advise you skip this preview and read one of our others. This little update ahead of the game's launch early next month is entirely focused on what it's like to be the man between the sticks and whether or not I think it's going to be worth playing come October.
I jumped into the shoes of Heurelho Gomes, in goal for the mighty Spurs as they took on Arsenal at White Hart Lane. I expected I'd be in for an easy time, what with Tottenham's rock-solid defence and Arsenal's lack of fire-power up front. I was wrong. Within a minute pint-sized schoolboy look-alike Andre Asharvin fired in a speculative shot, only for Gomes (me) to flap at it like a chicken trying to take flight. The ball was in the back of the net and it was time to take things a little more seriously.
Being a goalie isn't just about diving around and instinctively making saves. A lot of it is to do with your positioning, and this is vital in FIFA 11 if you're going to stop anything more than a back pass. The game displays a target on the pitch that shows the ideal position for the goalie to be in to maximise the chance of stopping any incoming shot. You can manually try to get your guy into the right spot at all times or hold a button to make him move there automatically. The automatic system felt a bit like cheating to me, but each to their own.
Saves themselves are all about reactions. All you need to do is point the left analogue stick in the desired direction and press the save button, resulting in the keeper flying through the air. It takes some getting used to, but when you finally tip a ball over the bar it feels great. Whether or not this feeling is enough to keep you playing in goal after the novelty wears off remains to be seen.
When you're not in the thick of the action, stopping shots and claiming wayward crosses, there's not a great deal to do. You can call for the ball if you want it back from your dawdling defender, or opt to take free kicks awarded inside your own half, but that's really your lot. A lot of your time will be spent watching a tiny spec of a ball being kicked around in the middle of the pitch. You can switch to a secondary camera when you're not being called upon to do anything, which shows you what's happening at the action end of the pitch, but you're still more or less passive.
In truth, being a goalie is a bit of a lonely experience. Just like it was back at school, I imagine most people will want to have the chance to score the winning goal, rather than making the odd save while spending the majority of time being a spectator. But for those people that do want to try something different in this year's FIFA, EA appears to have delivered the goods. There's also the tantalising prospect of full 11 vs 11 online play. Maybe that will be the mode that sees good goalkeepers come into their own.
FIFA 11 is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 1, with versions also arriving on PS2, Wii, DS and PSP.