INTERVIEW: Hedvig Lindahl Delivers a Masterclass on the Tactical Side of Goalkeeping
"Now it comes down to the nerd level."
This interview with Atlético Madrid goalkeeper and Swedish international Hedvig Lindahl was done in collaboration with Abdullah Abdullah and his ‘Pressing Questions’ series from his substack Pressing Matters.
Be sure to check out Abdullah’s chat with Wolfsburg’s Rebecka Blomqvist and our joint discussion with Real Madrid’s Caroline Møller Hansen. Also, do read this other Lindahl interview — which is excellent and chock-full of things that won’t be repeated here — with Kudzi Musarurwa for AllForXI.
Keep your eyes peeled for more content like this down the road.
Hedvig Lindahl is one of the most accomplished goalkeepers of her generation. Having started her journey in the 90’s, she has played in Sweden, England, Germany, and Spain, and became the most capped keeper for her national team in 2015. Consequently, the 39-year-old’s career acts as a sort of time capsule for the evolution of goalkeeping in women’s football, giving her unparalleled insight into where the game was, currently is, and will be heading.
This interview with Lindhal comes in two parts. While both sections are technically-focused, the second component involves video that she reacted to and analyzed in live time. In both segments, she generated thought-provoking debates on the nature of goalkeeping and where her style currently sits in the modern era.
It is truly a gift to have such an experienced professional at the elite level speak so openly on a position that fans, frankly, know very little about.
Listen, learn, and enjoy.
Om Arvind: Can you describe your goalkeeping style and how you balance that in regard to sweeping, distribution, claiming, and the team's tactical instructions?
I was brought up in the Swedish system and in an environment that was far from professional at the time. So, it was maybe more physical than technical and tactical to begin with. Over time, I have developed all of the aspects of [my] game. But the physical part has been a big thing. So, from my point of view, that means quick transitions [and] playing a high line to be able to help the team with through balls and all these things.
The quick transition game has been one thing that I've been really good at. Also, because I'm quite tall for a female goalkeeper [and] I'm very springy — I like to jump — coming for crosses and dominating the space and the aerial game has been one of my strengths.
I've had to develop being the starting point of playing out short, playing with my feet. I was good at it when I was young, because I was brought up playing indoor football. But, when I transitioned to playing 11v11 more and stopped the indoor football, I lost that a little bit. I have the ability to play technical football, but I had to kind of rediscover that. So, yeah, I think now — at almost 39-years-old — I am able to play most styles, but most of my career [has been a] physical type of game.
Om: I was really interested to know what you think should be trained more in young goalkeepers or whether you think there is something that is lacking in the training of goalkeepers in women's football currently.
Leadership; the role of the goalkeeper; how you communicate; how you organize — that kind of thing. I feel like so many coaches don’t [value] the goalkeeper who can have a huge presence and give energy to the team and keep the line high and all of these things.
But, as the game progresses, it's hard to be heard nowadays. I'm thinking [about] the goalkeepers that played at the Camp Nou [referring to the record-breaking crowds at the Camp Nou for the Champions League knockouts]. [It’s] also been the reality for every goalkeeper in the men's game for years and years. You can't really hear each other when you play these big games. So, I'm wondering, how big will the effect be in the future? Will it be more impactful to choose someone who's a line goalkeeper who can make huge saves, rather than the one who's connected with their unit and who can be demanding and a conductor at the back?
So, it's a hard one, but these qualities, these traits — where you should be; how you talk to your defenders — I think is sometimes undervalued. I don't think some coaches understand the energy that a goalkeeper can bring to the team.
Abdullah Abdullah: Looking at keepers in the top teams in Europe, a lot of them don’t really coming out, but their defensive line is a bit higher than normal. How much of a problem is that to you, where the defensive line might be a little bit higher, but the goalkeeper is still sitting on their line and there's maybe a tentativeness to come out and sweep? Are they being told not to come off their line? Or is that more about their own style?
Oh, I have never heard a coach say “stay on your line.” I think coaches probably like that you're involved, but I don't think they necessarily look for it as an important trait in a goalkeeper. Whereas, I, who has played that kind of style, obviously thinks it's important. I think you can make a huge difference for your team if you play that kind of style.
It's risky because you can get lobbed — a smart midfielder can just look up and see that you’re off your line and it has happened to me — but I think you should encourage your goalkeeper to try to play that sort of game because it helps the team a lot. But if that was the question, what should we train more? I think that’s it. I don't think you see it. People don't appreciate it.
And you mentioned goalkeepers [in Europe]. The one that's a standout for me is Almuth Schult — she has that energy. She is the one that we should talk about as the best. Because she does that — she brings energy to her team and she dominates the aerial game and everything. Whereas, those that we look at are the ones that makes those huge saves on the line. Why did you have to do that? You could have prevented it before according to me.
Abdullah: Do you notice any standout traits/nuances in modern goalkeepers that have changed over time? Are these traits/nuances something that you see in the rest of the goalkeeping pool, especially when it comes to older goalkeepers picking up these skills, or does it need to proliferate more?
I think playing with feet has been the biggest change for all of us. You prefer a goalkeeper that can play great with their feet and you [compromise] a little bit on the other skills that you traditionally thought a goalkeeper would have. But ideally, you can have someone who can handle all of it.
It would be interesting with statistics and data — a goalkeeper that plays short vs. someone who plays long, which team is more successful? It's not that black and white because you also have to bring in other skills. So, it's a bit hard to analyze the goalkeeper simply by [whether] they can play out with their feet or not. But if you would look at those two metrics, would there be a clear advantage to have a goalkeeper who can play with their feet or does it matter at all? Because I'm not convinced that a team is always better [when they] play out short.
Other than that, I think what separates a great goalkeeper from someone not as great is the way they can handle their emotions when the pressure is on. You can be a great goalkeeper in all these quite calm games and then the Champions League hits and you do things you wouldn't normally do. Because all of a sudden the nerves and the pressure are just too much to handle. And I guess that comes with experience, probably.
Abdullah: How have you managed your training and style of play post double-hip surgery and an ACL injury?
I've had two ACL injuries and a few meniscus operations in between [on top of] the double-hip surgery. The challenges I've had with my body have not necessarily changed my style that much. It's more the change of environment, [such as] moving to different countries, that's been the catalyst for that. Coming to Spain, I had to develop playing out with my feet, but also the development of goalkeeping in general [facilitated that].
With the injuries, maybe I was more kind to myself; maybe I changed my training a bit; maybe I wasn't the one pushing myself in the gym, adding more and more, doing extra sets, because I realized, hey, this is my tool. And if I want to have a sustainable career, I have to be nice and kind to my body.
Om: That's actually really interesting what you said about being kind to your body. Do you think enough players understand that going into their older years — that they might need to adapt the way they train a little bit? And it's actually part of being a professional to maybe take some of the load off?
I can't answer for all the old people, but I think, maybe, if people would be more kind to their bodies, we will see even more old people [laughs]. I think it's a hard balance, because maybe the player wants to be nice and kind to their body, but then you have pressure from the technical staff or the medical staff. This is a story I hear a lot and it takes some guts to actually say, “Hey, I feel this today,” as you're gambling with playing time and [they] might look at me as some sort of… I don't know, someone who gives up too early or whatever.
It's one of those things in our football culture that I don't necessarily agree with anymore, because it's very short-term thinking. I understand the most important thing for the manager is to win the next game, but maybe the most important thing for the player is to have a sustainable career. And I would argue that maybe the only game you would actually risk your body is the World Cup final or Champions League final. Otherwise, it's not really worth it.
Also, you have to be respectful to teammates. If I'm playing at 90% of my capacity, maybe it's better to play the one who's at 100% of their capacity or close to [it]. It's not fair to anyone that you should push yourself through things when you actually have someone fresh that could do a better job, in my opinion. So, yeah, I think this definitely needs to [be] update[d] in the women's game (I can't answer for the men's game).
Saving Shots From Crosses
Om Arvind: How do you judge and adjust your positioning when tracking the flight of the cross in relation to its target? Are there particular rules or things that you're looking at? Or is it instinctual and you just know what you're going to do in the moment?
This is interesting. Now it comes down to the nerd level.
First, when it's a cross, you assess whether you can come out to claim it. And, before you've done that, you've worked [on] your positioning; like we were already [discussing], where am I in relation to my line here? Hence, why I want the goalkeeper to always play as high as they can, because they could maybe come out to claim more crosses. But [she] could shoot directly, so I can't be too far off my line — I have to find a balance.
I have made a decision in this situation not to come and claim the cross. Maybe I was not in a great position (I can't see my positioning here — for that, I have to see the whole tactical view). Maybe I could have done something to stand in a better, higher position. But, obviously, I'm not coming to claim the cross.
So, if I made that decision, then I have to come back to my goal line. If I know it's going to be a header from a bit further out, it's good if I can back into my goal line and have balance. However, if I’m caught backing up when she does this header, it’s going to be a problem. I could’ve taken one more step towards my goal line if I wanted [in order] to have more reaction time. But, if I'm caught [while moving], I can't do anything — I have to have balance on my feet.
If I'm doing it perfectly in my head, then I can find balance and start looking at the one who will get the ball. So, if I can have my eyes on her and see the ball coming in from my peripheral view, then I have time to react way better than if I [only] follow the ball. I have a little bit more time to react; I can see if she's [trying to hit] it to the second post or just put her head [through] it — I can get that little idea and maybe it will help me.
Abdullah: It looks like Sam Kerr tries to trick you by going central, but you end up saving it anyway with your feet. Is that part of your penalty-saving technique, so that it’s harder for penalty takers to go straight down the middle?
I know statistically, that if you go down the middle, it's almost always a goal. Because it's very hard to stay [on your line] that long as a goalkeeper — to not go early. It's really hard to reach all the way to the post in case they [place] it [there]. You kind of have to go a little earlier, especially as a female goalkeeper; I don't know if it’s the same with males, but we're way shorter than the guys and have less muscle power and all these things. Maybe the shooter also doesn't shoot as hard [in women’s football] — I don't know.
In this case, I've done my homework and I've seen her pattern. I can't remember now — I don't know them all by heart (I have to study each time) — but I can only assume that she changed a bit. I throw myself to my left, so maybe she went to her right more often than not. But, since she probably changed sides, I'm trying to wait, wait, wait, wait, wait just as long as I possibly can. And, here, it's a lot of luck that I didn't push just a little bit more — then I have no chance.
Om: How do you know when to come out and whether to punch or catch? What kind of communication is happening with your defenders in these situations, so that they know that you're coming out and it's not their responsibility or vice versa.
Similar to the crossing situation, you've done your preparation in terms of your positioning. In this situation, it's an in-swinger. That forces you to go a little bit closer to your line because [there are] a few [players] that can [put] it directly on goal at the first or second post, so you can't leave too much space between yourself and the goal. There could be wind and [certain] weather conditions that you need to take into consideration as well. Normally, with a lot of wind, you will play a totally different game — you will be more safe, basically.
But this one was quite high and floated. So, I had time to move because I imagine that I was — again, I can’t see my position [referring to when the kick is taken] — quite close to my goal line. I also thought about how I positioned my feet. Normally it's at a 45-degree angle. I'm open with my feet so I’m not facing the corner taker nor the penalty spot — I’m [splitting the difference] so I can go forward and backward.
And if I should punch it or hold it? I think this [action] is against my own player, but it's really hard when you're moving backwards because it's like the [blind] spot when you drive a car. You can’t see what's happening over your shoulder. Here, you're looking at the ball as the goalkeeper and just feel [that] there are bodies, you know?
Ideally, you communicate directly when you make up your mind: “am I staying or am I coming in?” If I'm coming, I'm going for it. I think when I communicate, I'm just shouting “Yah!” or something like that. That's very simple. And [my defenders] have learned that, when I shout like that, I'm going for it. So, ideally, maybe my defender could have heard it earlier.
But this is going to be the problem against opponents when you're playing in front of a huge crowd — they might not even hear you. So you have these situations where you go to the ball. But in my opinion, you should go [instead of not going], so that's okay.
When I feel bodies, sometimes I'll just decide to punch because it's more important that the ball gets away from the area than holding it and risking it. Also, sometimes, in my case, self confidence plays a role in whether I punch it or hold it. And I think that is the case with most goalkeepers who punch it when they’re alone — it's the fear of dropping the ball in those areas. It's better we punch it away than to risk dropping it and having a second situation.
Abdullah: At what point in this clip did you decide to come off your line? And when do you decide that you can’t leave the pass in behind to your defenders and it’s your responsibility?
[The ball is] played from their own half, so they can’t simply score over me from there. Thus, here, I can have a very high position.
My initial position is super important. Imagine if I stand one meter, or two meters closer to my goal line. This is what I mean when I [say that] coaches sometimes don’t appreciate the players that are attached to their defensive line, because this could very well have been a 1v1 in that situation. Unless you're super, super fast, you couldn't get there…if you were two meters [lower].
I take the decision if I feel like I am faster than the forward and this is what's tricky. You have to do your homework [and] get to know and see them play. Maybe you're more careful the first time if you know you’re going to face a very fast forward. Maybe you let her have one run to assess [whether you] could have made that or if it's more like a fifty-fifty. If it’s clear I’m going to be first, obviously, I'm going to go for it. But if you don't know how fast she is, maybe you let her win the first battle against you.
In this case, I could feel that I’d make it front of her and I could clearly see that my defenders are going to lose the sprint against her. If I can do something, I'll do something, because it's a way easier situation if I can get there [first] than if I let her go 1v1 with me.
[In] these situations, a lot of people will tell me, “you didn't do a lot today.” And I'm like, “you didn't see how many 1v1’s I prevented, did you?” Because no one would ever pick this out as a dangerous situation. Or this was nothing according to most people. [But] it would have been [something] if I had just waited. And no one would have blamed me if I did and it would have been a 1v1 against me.
Self-Criticism on a Conceded Goal
I remember we had the ball, we were in possession, and I remember I called for the ball to be switch[ed] to the other side. And I think that might be what she's trying to do — I'm not sure. Either she — #22, Olivia Schough — tried to play me or she tried to play the central defender, but she she got caught up in all of the Italian girls. What happens then is we're open because we had the ball.
This is what I mean when we play short. These are the situations [where] you get caught out. Our #2 — our left back — has no chance of covering inside for the central defender that decides to step there. And then [Valentina Giacinti] runs in behind and she’s 1v1. [It’s] so tricky when you lose the ball [from] your own build-up because everyone is out of position, so she ends up being 1v1 with me.
Here, what I have to think about is covering my first post because, if I'm caught out on my first post, I am to blame. But, again, it's a 1v1 — no one expects a goalkeeper to save a 1v1.
Had I done this again, I would have maybe tried to get closer to [Giacinti], but if you try to get closer you lose reaction time, so that's what you're gambling with. And she has the ball under control the [whole] time — she can basically shoot at any millisecond here. If I'm caught out moving either backwards or forwards — like I talked about earlier — I have no chance of doing anything. I have to be balanced; so, maybe I can creep up a little closer with my feet parallel to make the angles smaller for her, but then I lose reaction time.
This is an interesting discussion I had with my goalkeeper coach in Spain because the other goalkeeper that we have [Lola Gallardo] decides [to go to] one side more often than me. She will go earlier and she makes a lot of saves [because of] it. I'm trying to see what I can learn from her and that's one thing I've seen that works for her quite well. But I've always been been taught that you wait, wait, wait, wait and react. But maybe this is a situation where you could actually go early.
I'm starting to open up my brain to that — I've always been super against it. I discussed it with [my goalkeeping coach] — he played quite a high level in Spain — and he said, “yeah, I did that a lot.” And who [else] did he say did that? Buffon. But it's been a big no no for me. But, if it helps you save this situation, maybe you should [do it]. However, again, if I go early to my right and she puts it in at the first post, it doesn't look good, does it?
I'm not sure — it's a grey area for me. The best players in the world spot when you go early [and]…if forwards do the same studies of goalkeepers [that we do on them], I think that could be [our] downfall. They can just wait till the goalkeeper goes and then put it the other way. But if Buffon used it all the time? I mean, you can't argue that he wasn't successful. So, maybe I have to rest my case. Yeah, I'm debating with myself.
Om: (I know he's your hero) Iker Casillas also did this a decent bit in terms of guessing one way or the other.
Maybe I still have a level that I haven't tapped into yet because I have always waited to react. Maybe I can be even more successful.
Om: That's a scary thing to say, for someone at your age, with everything that you've accomplished — that there's another level to reach. I don't know if forwards reading this would be happy to hear that.
I can honestly say that I've never done that [reacting/guessing early]. And maybe there is another level actually. So, yeah, forwards beware at the Euros. If I get to play, I might do a different pattern.
Abdullah: And the World Cup next year.