Stewart: Goalkeeping coaching has evolved
When it comes to the art of goalkeeping, Jim Stewart is as knowledgeable as they come.
Stewart, who won two caps for Scotland, began his playing career at Kilmarnock, before spells at Middlesbrough and Rangers.
His coaching career also started at Rugby Park, with the former goalkeeper having a spell at Hearts before returning to Ibrox in 2007 for ten years while also working as the Scotland goalkeeping coach, a position he held until January.
Stewart spent last week on the island to oversee Scottish Football Association Level 1 and Level 2 goalkeeping courses, a visit organised by the Bermuda Football Coaches Association.
The role of the goalkeeper has greatly evolved since Stewart’s playing days, with sweeper-keepers such as Hugo Lloris, of Tottenham Hotspur, and Manuel Neuer, of Bayern Munich, becoming a prominent part of the modern game.
It has called for a change in the way goalkeeper’s are perceived and coached, according to Stewart.
“In my day, it was a case of being in the corner and working by yourself,” he said.
“Now, there’s a big need for a goalkeeping coach to be involved and integrated into the coaching staff. Playing from the back has evolved and it’s become a trait throughout world football. Goalkeeping coaches need to adapt to that.”
Stewart, 64, said he was impressed by the enthusiasm and knowledge of the local coaches he worked with at the National Stadium.
“The biggest thing for me was the willingness of the people to ask questions and learn,” he said. “They see themselves as evolving coaches and they want to be positive in terms of their development. Hopefully we can help them achieve that with the courses and the open discussions we have with one another. Hopefully that will benefit Bermuda in the future.”
It was another Scottish goalkeeper, Alan Hodgkinson, a former Rangers and Manchester United coach, who devised the first goalkeeping courses for Uefa.
Stewart said the SFA’s goalkeeping courses have continued to develop to meet the demands of the contemporary goalkeeper.
“Levels 1 and 2 enable coaches to work at the relative age groups and then it goes up to levels 3 and 4 for the senior game — a lot more intricate stuff,” Stewart said.
“It might not just be playing from the back; it could be defending the space in behind, it could be dealing with crosses or just the run-of-the-mill shot stopping. It’s how those practises dovetail into what the manager is looking for. There’s no point doing something with the goalkeepers and they then go and do something completely different with the manager and first-team coach.”
Stewart played alongside top Scottish players Davie Cooper, Tom Forsythe and Sandy Jardine during his four seasons with Rangers in early 1980s. He was also in Scotland’s squad for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.
“I was one of these guys who flirted around the [Scotland] squad,” he said.
“I really enjoyed going to the World Cup; I was young and you think there will be plenty more to come. I didn’t make the squad for 1978 and 1982. That was disappointing, but that’s life.”
Stewart, who served under six Rangers managers, has worked with a who’s who of Scottish goalkeepers. He believes the national team’s current crop of Craig Gordon, of Celtic, Allan McGregor, of Rangers, and Hull City’s David Marshall are among the best.
“All three have been excellent for Scotland over the years,” he said. “I’ve known them since they were young lads and they have evolved into good professionals and very capable goalkeepers.
“Each one of them has had bits and pieces when it hasn’t gone quite right for them, but they have always come back with a positive mind frame.”
Stewart, whose son Colin is the Rangers goalkeeping coach, still follows the club’s fortunes and has been encouraged by new manager Steven Gerrard’s decision-making and signings.
“Having been involved in the club up until 18 months ago, I know the trials and tribulations that Rangers have come through with administration and liquidation,” Stewart said.
“Hopefully the club is now on a solid footing and they are beginning to look forward. They are recruiting good players from a good level, and the manager certainly looks like he has a good idea and handle on what is happening at the club.”
Stewart, however, believes it could take some time for his former club to close the gap on Old Firm rivals Celtic, who have won seven successive titles.
“Brendan Rodgers [the Celtic manager] came in with a plan and a system of play that has been exciting at Celtic,” he said. “Hopefully this year and the coming years there will be a challenge mounted by Rangers.
“Hearts [who are top of the table] have started the season well and it looks like it could be an interesting period [for Scottish football].
“I think [the appointment of Gerrard] has helped energise the league again.”
It has been 20 years since Scotland qualified for a major competition, but Stewart points to the success of Wales and Northern Ireland at the European Championships in 2016, which shows smaller countries can still make their mark on the international stage.
With the newly founded Uefa Nations League, he believes the so-called weaker teams will have a better chance of qualifying for the European Championships.
“Hopefully, the Uefa Nations League will be an exciting prospect,” he said.
“Scotland had a golden period in the Eighties and Nineties when we qualified for four World Cups on the bounce. That was exceptional.
“Hopefully, the work Alex McLeish [the Scotland coach] and his staff are doing will enable us to get back on the world stage. Hopefully, the young players can push forward and get the status Wales have got to. Northern Ireland have also shown what can be achieved by working hard under a good coach.”