Dutch teams invariably demand that their goalkeepers, as is the country’s tradition, possess the technical ability to take part in build-up play, he said, but it comes at the cost of neglecting the rather more rudimentary skills of saving shots and catching crosses.
“The best goalkeeper in the Eredivisie is a German, Lars Unnerstall,” Lodewijks said last season. “A giant, top athlete, great reflexes. But he was second choice at PSV, because he couldn’t play soccer well.”
The financial reality of Dutch soccer, meanwhile, discourages clubs from investing too much time in their goalkeepers. All Dutch teams are reliant on generating income from transfer fees — even Ajax, the richest and most powerful side in the Eredivisie, earned as much money in selling two players to Manchester United in a few weeks last summer as it does from all other revenue streams over the course of a year — and goalkeepers fetch significantly smaller fees than, for example, elfin attacking midfielders. The goalkeeper business is not a lucrative one.
Lodewijks suggests the solution is a complete overhaul in how Dutch clubs think about the position: spending more time on dedicated training sessions, rather than focusing on how goalkeepers can be involved in general play; major teams sending the most promising prospects out on loan to smaller teams, where they may have rather more to do than watching on passively “as youth teams win big.”
Until then, the position of Dutch goalkeeper will remain unusually fertile ground for feel-good stories like Noppert’s: a place for late bloomers and stray talents and prospective law enforcement officers.
He does, at least, seem well-suited to such a rapid promotion. “He’s a real Frisian,” defender Virgil van Dijk said last week, referring to the part of the Netherlands where Noppert grew up, a place famed for its stoicism and straight-talking. (It is unclear how this differs from the rest of the country.) “He’s sober, but very direct. He’s a boy after my own heart.”
Van Gaal, too, has taken heart from how unmoved Noppert was by the prospect of making his debut for his country at the World Cup. “He has the sort of personality that means he would not be too impressed by this championship,” he said. It would be a lot tougher, after all, being a policeman.