As previously featured in the 8 by 8 Magazine newsletter "The 8 Ball".
We've all been there. The ball launches off a player's foot and you think to yourself, "That's in. Goal." I'm sure that Joel Matip and 54,000 people at Anfield felt that way last Saturday when Matip got a touch on Roberto Firmino's cross and directed the ball towards the back of the Manchester United goal. Everyone except David De Gea. With a quick jab of his left leg, De Gea’s kick save silenced the Anfield crowd and preserved a point for his team.
Speaking post match on Sky Sports, Thierry Henry said of the De Gea save, "What I like is the decision that he makes straight away. I'm gonna go with my feet. Because if you go with your hand by the time you go down, it's a goal. Matip would have been celebrating. And that's not the first time he's done it. What a save."
Though it's thrilling to see a keeper at full stretch tipping a 40-yard screamer over the bar, there's an extra beauty in the desperation of a kick save: A goalkeeper stretching every sinew, putting everything from his face to his (in the words of Troy Deeney) “cojones” on the line to try and get a toenail on the ball. It might have looked like luck, but when you’ve seen De Gea make enough kick saves you know that it’s much more than that.
What makes De Gea arguably the best goalkeeper in the world is that whenever the ball is near him he is on his toes, able to transfer his weight from one foot to the other in an instant. There’s a lightness to De Gea’s game that allows him to make saves that other keepers wouldn’t have a chance at getting close to. He’s not a 6’6 Courtois type, or a Buffon/Schmeichel-esque keeper with broad shoulders and a gladiatorial jawline. He's a slender, nimble yogi looking dude who wouldn’t look out of place serving a matcha latte at your local coffee house. It's this look -- the light, airy bounce in his game -- that makes it possible for him to tip shots over the crossbar or fling jangly limbs in the direction of shots and somehow come up with save after save.
We are in a golden age of goalkeepers: De Gea, Neuer, Lloris, Courtois, Oblak, and Buffon. But it is the unorthodox quality of the kick save that De Gea will be remembered for when he hangs up his gloves. Like the Cruyff turn or the Panenka penalty, the De Gea kick save will soon be part of footballing folklore.