INTERVIEW: Reflecting on goalkeeping at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – with Nigeria’s Randy Waldrum

The standard of goalkeeping within women’s football has long been a controversial point of discussion – and while some of the points raised are valid, the majority of criticism takes the form of poorly-veiled misogyny. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw the shotstoppers shine though, with four goalkeepers in particular stealing the spotlight down under: Zećira Mušović, Mackenzie Arnold, Mary Earps and Chiamaka Nnadozie.

All four of those aforementioned ‘keepers boasted a save percentage of at least 75% throughout the tournament, but it was Nigeria’s Nnadozie that truly took the world by storm – denying 87.5% of the shots on target she faced. I sat down with the Head Coach of the Nigerian team, Randy Waldrum, to discuss the goalkeeping improvements seen in women’s football over recent years.

What’s been the cause of goalkeeping improvements?

As one of the most respected managers within the women’s game, I was keen to understand Waldrum’s thoughts on the driving force behind improvements in the standard of goalkeeping. He was quick to explain that ‘without being around all the teams to see the training and the development, I don’t know if it’s a one-off or if it’s a trend and something that we’re continually going to see get better.’

Regardless, the Super Falcons boss added that he ‘would guess that part of it is the fact that most goalkeepers over the last decade or so have been having their own goalkeeping coaches with their clubs.’

Waldrum found the number of penalties saved at the Women’s World Cup to be an interesting topic for discussion too, highlighting that he is ‘anxious to see the technical report when it comes out from FIFA regarding that.’

Yet while the main talking point of our conversation was the standard of goalkeeping, Waldrum felt it was important to touch upon the increased quality of women’s football across the board. He spoke of how he thinks ‘even the teams that nobody really expected to do have done well have come in and done really well, so I don’t think it was just the goalkeeping [that improved].’

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Is there a need for smaller goals if we’re seeing tighter scorelines?

There has been a longstanding debate in women’s football as to whether smaller goals should be utilised to compensate for the stereotypically shorter stature of women’s goalkeepers – but with tight scorelines on display throughout much of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, is that debate still relevant?

When asked if goalkeepers have been the main factor behind these closer games, Waldrum’s answer was simple – ‘I think so, for sure,’ explained the American. ‘I can go back and use our game against Canada as an example. Chiamaka [Nnadozie] saved [Christie] Sinclair’s penalty, and that changed the dynamic of the entire group.’

‘We came away with a point, rather than no points. [Goalkeepers were influential in] so many of those early games… the England v Haiti game when England missed a penalty and then had to retake it, and it was similar with the US when Alex Morgan had her penalty saved – it kept it close!’

‘I think it has invalidated the argument – I’m a purist anyway, so I’d hate to see our game ever go in the direction of putting smaller goals in. I think it goes back to seeing these teams that historically would get [to the World Cup] and then get beaten badly, but they’re investing now. I think the federations have made a conscious decision to be the best that they can be when they go and compete.’

Just how important was Chiamaka Nnadozie?

Chiamaka Nnadozie established herself as one of the most promising goalkeepers at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. I asked Randy Waldrum for his thoughts on the young shotstopper, given the crucial role she played in their progression from the group stages despite being just 22 years old.

‘She’s been great for us,’ he said. ‘She saved a big penalty for us when we were trying to qualify for the Cup of Nations – without her, we might not have even gotten there if it wasn’t for her big save against Ivory Coast. We’ve seen her do it, you know, so it wasn’t unusual to see it happen.’

‘I think she’s one of the best young goalkeepers in the world. I mean look at the top goalkeepers at the World Cup – to me, she’s clearly in the top ten!’

Conceding just two goals in four games on the world’s greatest stage is an incredible feat for a young goalkeeper, but Nigeria’s tournament reached its conclusion after a round-of-sixteen defeat to England on penalties. Thankfully for Nnadozie, Waldrum emphasised that ‘nobody ever looked at it as if it was her fault.’

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‘We missed two penalties – that’s not on Chiamaka [Nnadozie]. I didn’t hear one comment at all about us losing the shootout because she didn’t do her job, you know? We had plenty of chances to win that match, so nobody could fault her with that.’

‘If you go back and look at our games, she conceded two goals and kept a clean sheet against the reigning Olympic Champions, and another against the European Champions. She made so many good saves in both of those games, I don’t think anyone ever questioned her performance in the penalty shootout.’

Mary Earps was ultimately the recipient of the Golden Glove award, but Waldrum feels that Nnadozie should have been the winner. While he accepted that he was ‘going to be a little bit biased,’ Waldrum mentioned that ‘our group was the Group of Death.’

‘There’s no disrespect to Mary Earps or any of the other goalkeepers that were in the running, but I don’t think [Nnadozie] was even in the top three shortlisted for the discussion. That’s disappointing, because at the end of the day I don’t think anyone had to get out of a group like we did.’

‘She was a huge piece of why we got out of the group, and then to go and do it again against England in the round-of-sixteen, for me, she would have been my choice – hands down.’

Thank you once again to Randy Waldrum for agreeing to this exclusive interview with FromTheSpot.