In the second part of a series looking into the hard work and interesting stories behind the scenes of some of the best goalkeeping coaches across the A-League and national teams, Kick360 spoke with veteran goalkeeping coach John Gorza, who has been involved with sides such as the Matildas and the Olyroos.
A veteran of Australian football, John Gorza has truly been one of the countries unsung heroes. Although his name might not be instantly recognisable to you, Gorza has played a crucial role in helping mould some of the best goalkeepers in men’s and women’s football over the years.
Putting his incredible knowledge of the game together with his intense love for football and goalkeeping, he has had an immense determination to help unlock a players true ability and help them realise their full potential as a player and as a goalkeeper.
“Growing up in a regional Queensland country area, not having access to goalkeeper coaches when I was playing, and then coming to the realisation how important it is for anyone to reach their potential,” Gorza said.
“It really got me on the path of just getting young kids and trying to give them an opportunity that I never had when I was playing, so that’s what got me started.”
A Queensland native, Gorza spent many years playing in the Queensland state league as a goalkeeper and forged himself a fine playing career, but his career would begin to take a turn for greater things one day after training, a mother would ask him to do some goalkeeper training and drills with her son, her son was a promising teenager starting his career; His name? Clint Bolton.
Not only was this the start of Clint Bolton’s career, one that would span decades, including appearances in the NSL, A-League and for the Socceroos, it would also be the beginning of the career of one of the most successful and well-respected figures in Australian football.
“I was playing senior football up in Bundaberg in my mid 30’s and I had a mum come and see me one day about her son and said ‘He’s off to state titles in Canberra, he made the Queensland side, he is 15 would you mind doing a little bit of work with him?’
“So I did a few sessions with this young lad who surprisingly was very very good and anyway, his name was Clint Bolton.
“So, that was my first session with Clint and at the time I didn’t know too much about goalkeeper coaching, it was just doing what I normally do in a training session
“But he impressed me so much that I asked our senior coach to see if we could give him a run in the senior side, because he was quite a big lad.
“So Clint made his senior debut in a game I think we were a couple-nil up and I just said to the coach ‘bring him on’ and he came on and played, it might’ve been 25-30 minutes before he went away, so that was a nice kind of start to my coaching career.”
John’s prowess as a goalkeeping coach would grow exponentially over the next few years and included his founding of the Goalkeeping Australia Academy in 2002.
In his nearly 20 years with the academy, Gorza has developed and helped develop hundreds of goalkeepers across Queensland and Australia, with many academy products going on to junior and senior representative level, or to play in the National Premier League, National Youth League and the A-League Men’s and Women’s competitions in Australia, with notable names including former Socceroo Mitch Langerak and current Matilda’s custodian Teagan Micah.
“I dont think I could ever put that [John Gorza’s impact] in one sentence,” says current Matilda’s Goalkeeper Teagan Micah
“From the beginning of my professional footballing career John has had a profound impact on my development both on and off the field.
“He has helped coach and guide many young goalkeepers into not only quality players, but also young leaders.
“In summary, he is the best.”
It was not just through his academy that Gorza worked with the likes of Micah and Langerak, but also with the National Team set-up, where he would have a lengthy and successful career in the green and gold as goalkeeper coach for the Joeys, the Olyroos, the Young Matildas and the Matildas.
During his time with the national teams he has learned to manage players at the highest level, unlike in club settings where there is often a clear and defined ‘Number One’ goalkeeper, in a national team set up, the fight for a starting spot is often more hotly contested.
With each goalkeeper being the best the country has to offer in the position and a first choice at their club in most cases, finding the right balance between the players is a skill he has learned over the years.
“You’re going to have players that are playing, and those that aren’t, how you manage that and keep everyone motivated to perform, particularly the number two and number three who potentially know they’re not going to play.
“But how do you keep them engaged, keep them working, keep them being a team player? Which can be difficult at times, particularly in a national team environment where the position isn’t clear, and there’s competition and there’s going to be disappointed players. that maybe think they should be selected and aren’t.
“I guess it’s about keeping close to the players, building good relationships, ensuring that when they’re in they team environment they’re actually a team player, because it’s very easy for one player when you’re in a tournament to bring down everyone around them.
“It’s that rotten apple in the barrel scenario, so generally the staff are pretty aware of what can happen and we make sure that everyone is working towards the same goal.
“We emphasise on whether you are playing or not, you’re a vital member of the team and you support your team mates, which can be difficult at times when you are not playing of course.”
Another big way that national team’s differ vastly from club teams, is that in a national team set up, a lot of elimination football is played in the latter stages of a tournament like a World Cup or an Olympic Games.
With those games often going to extra time and penalties, a whole nation’s hopes and dreams can rest on penalty kicks and with such a high percentage of games going all the way to penalties, a large focus of a goalkeeping coach during a major tournament is to prepare their goalkeepers to face and save penalty kicks.
As witnessed in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games where Australia and Great Britain went to extra-time and a Teagan Micah penalty save kept the Matildas Olympic dreams alive.
“At a major tournament like an Olympics or a World Cup, if you look at the statistics in the knockout stages, how many of those games go a penalty shootout, and I can’t tell you with the Olympics, but there was quite a few.
“So when it comes to the preparation, we do so much on the tactical stuff with the team and how we are going to play and changing tactics, changing during the game and all those sorts of things.
“It just makes sense that potentially it could come down to a penalty shootout.
“We have a number of analysts that work on getting a lot of information to the technical staff, including all the opposition penalty takers.
“For the Olympics we had all our opposition penalty takers and video evidence of every player in those teams going four or five years.
“So that information is given to me, our analysts also then give us graphics on where each penalty taker takes their spot kick, in what games they’re in, whether they’re a league game , or an international or champions league game.
“Then we also look at in what moments of the game that happens, the penalty, so if it’s three-nil up, where they take a penalty, or if they’re one-nil down in a World Cup Qualifier, or a major tournament where they go.
“So then we start to look at trends, they’re the sort of things that I look at, the information is given to me, I look at all those things and then I make a decision on where the goalkeeper should go.
“There’s a couple of different ways of doing it, we leave it up to the keeper , but what we want to do is the keeper just to focus on the game and go out there and do their thing, so we say ‘For this player, this is where you’re going.’ and then that’s what they do, if they go the other way, so be it.
“That is basically the process, a lot of man hours goes into that, to get it to that one decision, which we don’t overload the goalkeepers with.”
After decades embedded in Australian football, both as a goalkeeper and a goalkeeping coach, it is safe to say John Gorza has had an enormous impact on the craft of goalkeeping in this country. Despite making the decision to step down from the National Team setting after the culmination of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Gorza continues to inspire and help young keepers fulfil their potential across Australia with his goalkeeping academy.
“I have worked with some very very talented, exceptional keepers over many years, that’s been very rewarding, just being able to be in that environment and to see a lot of those young goalkeepers kick on.”