While the likes of Messi, Neymar, Van Dijk, Thiago, Benzema and Lewandowski will get the headlines this midweek, with the CL in full force, this time a story about a guy who will most likely never play a Champions League match in his career.
But he might play a game at the World Cup!
Andries Noppert. Sent away from FC Dordrecht in the second tier only two years ago. In two weeks, he might make his debut in Oranje.
Coach Kees van Wonderen took the gamble and signed Noppert as reserve goalie for Go Ahead Eagles. Today, Van Wonderen is head coach at Heerenveen and Noppert followed him there. Asked whether he could see the potential in the tall goalie, he said: “No. No one did. Not even Noppert himself. But it was as if he exploded!”
Van Wonderen: “He is a quaint goalie. I saw him at training, where he stopped unbelievable balls only to fumble tremendously in matches. It seemed like he accepted the fact he was not top.”
And yes, everywhere he played Noppert was told he was not good enough. He started at Heerenveen in the youth. They didn’t think he’d make it. He went to NAC in Breda, and was the reserve goalie there. He took a trip to Foggia, in the Serie B in Italy and he warmed the bench there too. Even in the bottom of the Dutch 2nd tier, he didn’t get a game. FC Dordrecht thanked him and sent him home. He was without a club for 6 months until Eagles in Deventer needed a reserve goalie. He spent 12 months on the bench, until he got his chance. The rest is history.
Most of his career, he looked like this… This is at Dordrecht
Ever since, there is a fun chant in the Go Ahead Eagles stadium: “Noppert in Oranje!” and it sounded like a joke. Not something you’ll hear in the Ajax or Feyenoord stadiums, as it is quite logical that the key players of these teams end up in the orange jersey.
These are the anti-heroes, or cult heroes. The players who could have ended up as postman instead, or truckdriver. Noppert is popular, because the average football fan might think: this could have been me!
The friendly giant in the Heerenveen goal, 27 years old now, is suddenly a fan favorite, with chants to his name and fans whereever he goes.
The football world seems addicted to stats, these days, but sometimes something happens that is not easy to explain. Suddenly, Leicester City wins the Premier League, or Iceland goes to the Euros or Greece wins it. And now, this lanky clumsy goalie has the chance to present himself at a World Cup!
Today, coach Van Wonderen sends his goalie into the match with the words: “Show them why Van Gaal loves you!”
Or he looked like this…
His invitation to Oranje seems a surprise, but based on stats, it’s actually logical. Take this stat:
xG on target tegen = Expected goals against
Goals Tegen = Actual Goals against
Verschil = Difference
The savings percentage of Noppert is way above the percentages of the other goalies. He stopped eleven attempts of Feyenoord in the second match this season and won a point for his club.
There is no reason whatsoever for Van Gaal not to select this goalie. We know Van Gaal also looks at the football capabilities of the keepers. Their kicking abilities, their coaching and their eye for tactics and organisation. Bijlow, Cillesen and Pasveer are all three quite comfortable on the ball, this is not Noppert’s strength. Only Twente goalie Unnerstall is worse in his kicking than the tall Heerenveen lad. Only 58% of his passes actually end up at the target.
Noppert will not become the next Manuel Neuer anytime soon. Van Gaal will have picked Noppert for that other reason: his amazing reach and reflexes on the line. Louis wants a penalty killer, to help the team in situations where penalty kicks need to bring the decision. This used to be Tim Krul’s role but Noppert is potentially surpassing the Norwich goalie. Every centimeter counts.
When asking that question, the press chief of Heerenveen comes up with an old video of Heerenveen A1 versus Ajax A1. A penalty series needs to bring the final decision and a lanky Heerenveen goalie can demonstrate his skills by stopping two spotkicks: Heerenveen A1 goes to the finals.
Does Van Wonderen see Noppert as that potential penalty killer? “He did stop one in the pre-season and he also was close to stopping Yilmaz penalty but that just taken with too much power for Andries.” Van Wonderen can understand Van Gaal’s thinking: “Yes, he has everything to be a penalty killer. The length, the reflexes, the mental calmness. But I think Van Gaal will want to test that in more details at the trainings camp.”
Van Wonderen stresses Nopperts mental powers. “He had to deal with so many setbacks and rejections. And he has been booed a lot and now people are cheering him. Either way, he will shrug his shoulders. I hope he’ll reach the final squad and that he has a chance to show himself. What a journey this lad has been through.”