*With four different tournaments kicking off this summer (the Women’s World Cup, the Copa América, the Gold Cup, and the African Cup of Nations), Between the Sticks will preview one goalkeeper to watch from each tournament. The other previews can be accessed by clicking on the embedded hyperlinks.*
Football goalkeepers are a unique bunch. They task themselves with guarding a large goal (8 feet tall by 24 feet wide, to be exact) for 90 minutes a game (sometimes more). They serve as the last line of defence, are very rarely subbed off, and will often be abused by fans in the stadium and online. Goalkeepers must be perfect—they’re the only players on the pitch who are not allowed to make mistakes—and they’re sometimes the biggest difference between a championship win and a championship loss.
For these reasons, it’s fair to say that goalkeeping is not similar to playing any other position.
This usually boils down to each individual ‘keeper too. Some goalkeepers are innovators; they offer new perspectives on how the position should be played. Some goalkeepers are leaders; they are vocal and loyal to the team’s demands, rallying their teammates through a distinctive ability to organize and encourage. Some goalkeepers are robotic; they play at such an elite level that you can’t help but feel that they’re an android programmed to never allow anything to elude them.
And then there are goalkeepers like Christiane Endler.
“She is by far and away the best player Chile have, not only in this team but probably ever,” said Adam Brandon, a South American football expert and reporter. “She’s the one player you could describe as world-class.”
Although she’s not as well-known as the likes of Germany’s Almuth Schult and France’s Sarah Bouhaddi, Christiane Endler’s high status among women goalkeepers can’t be denied. The 27-year-old Chilean has been the best South American goalkeeper of the past decade. Between 2008 and 2010, Endler was recognized as the top Chilean footballer of the year three straight times. In 2010, she earned a runners-up medal with Everton in the Copa Libertadores Femenina, and two years later, she backstopped Colo-Colo to their first and only championship in the competition.
Endler continued her fine form when she made the switch to European club football in 2016. Following the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, Endler was awarded the Ricardo Zamora Trophy with Valencia due to conceding just nine goals in 23 appearances. She has since moved to Paris Saint-Germain, with whom she won the Coupe de France Féminine in 2018.
As a result of her achievements, Endler has often been the recipient of various individual awards. She’s been recognized as the top Chilean footballer of the year a record six times (for reference, no other player has won the award more than once), and for backstopping Everton to the 2010 Copa Libertadores Femenina final, Endler was acknowledged by CONMEBOL as the competition’s best goalkeeper. In Europe, Endler’s Ricardo Zamora Trophy win made her the first non-Spanish female goalkeeper to clinch the accolade, and she was recognized as the best goalkeeper in the French women’s league system for the 2018-2019 season. All of these have led to The Guardian listing her as the second best women’s goalkeeper of 2018, ahead of Sarah Bouhaddi, Lydia Williams, and Alyssa Naeher.
“Certainly there were some eyebrows raised when that [Guardian piece] came out in 2018,” Brandon said. “But I think her performances on the international stage have elevated her into people’s minds as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.”
Endler didn’t always view herself as a goalkeeper. When she first started playing football at the age of 10, Endler played in an attacking position, specifically as a striker. In fact, it wasn’t until she joined Chile’s U-17 set-up that Endler was encouraged to switch to goalkeeping.
“There was a goalkeeping coach—Marco Antonio Cornez, an ex-professional—who identified Endler as a potential goalkeeping talent,” Brandon said.
Cornez saw physical and mental attributes in her which suited a goalkeeper, so he recommended she make the switch to best utilize her gifts.
“She has the perfect frame for a goalkeeper. She’s tall, athletic, and her mentality is excellent,” Brandon said.
One of Endler’s key attributes is her shot-stopping ability. With her towering frame and athletic style of goalkeeping, Endler has a high chance at stopping whatever attempt opponents strike her way. At the very least, she’s more likely to save shots that other women goalkeepers—either because they’re shorter or because they aren’t as acrobatically-gifted—have a hard time dealing with.
“That’s what’s garnered her praise all over the world. When she plays these friendlies in Europe, the United States and Australia, it’s what the local media always praise her for,” Brandon said.
Endler has drawn comparisons to another Chilean goalkeeper; men’s national team number one Claudio Bravo. Her leadership qualities are reminiscent of those of the Manchester City back-up, and her voice as the captain of the squad parallels that of Bravo’s with the men’s team. The resemblance should be obvious though, given that Endler views the older Bravo as an inspiration of hers.
“She lists Claudio Bravo as one of her key influences since her transition to goalkeeping,” Brandon said. “And I can see some similarities between them in terms of leadership, the ability to be calm and set the tone, their ability to give inspirational speeches, and their distribution as well.”
This summer, Chile will play at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup; their first ever appearance in the competition. Las Chicas de Rojo qualified for the tournament through the 2018 Copa América Femenina. By finishing in second during the competition’s final stage, Chile booked their ticket to FIFA’s elite women’s football competition.
Unsurprisingly, Christiane Endler played a significant role in Chile’s qualification. Her sensational play and firm leadership meant that Chile lost just one of their seven Copa América Femenina matches. She also kept four clean sheets, which was among the highest kept in the tournament.
These stats, coupled with Endler’s presence as both the national team’s star goalkeeper and captain, make her an indispensable part of the Chilean set-up going into the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
“I would be so worried if Endler got injured,” Brandon said. “Not only is she a world-class goalkeeper and Chile’s only world-class player, but she’s also so important in the dressing room.
“Losing Endler would almost be like losing two key players because you’re not only losing actual physical ability, but also mental ability.”
With the United States, Thailand and Sweden awaiting them in Group F, Chile are far from the favourites to survive the group stage. The United States are the most successful team in Women’s World Cup history, with three championships and four appearances in finals highlighting their quality. Sweden are also a difficult opponent; they eliminated the United States in the 2016 Olympic quarter-finals and ended up with a silver medal. Even Thailand, four-time champions of the AFF Women’s Championship, can’t be underestimated. Since Chile are the only debutants in the group, they’ll likely be viewed as Group F’s punching bag.
It doesn’t help that Chile have had a rough patch recently too. Despite playing nine games in 2019 (including a non-FIFA sanctioned friendly against Catalonia), Chile have failed to win a single game. They’ve lost a total of six matches (excluding shootout losses), including two to a weaker Jamaican side and a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands.
For fans of Chile, these are worrying signs.
“We’ve seen a big drop-off in 2019 [compared to 2018],” Brandon said. “And I’m concerned that Chile are perhaps heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time.”
With Christiane Endler in goal though, anything is possible for Chile. The 27-year-old helped Chile steal a 3-2 win over Australia in late 2018, and she has kept the score close in games against the United States and Germany.
But the 2019 Women’s World Cup will be Endler’s biggest test by far.
“This is when the importance of Endler is really going to show,” Brandon said. “She’s going to have to have an absolutely exceptional tournament for Chile to get out of the group.”
If Chile do pull off the improbable, expect Endler’s fingerprints to be all over it.
“If Chile win a game or even manage to get out of the group, then I would say there’s a 90% probability that Endler’s had a Woman of the Match performance or two somewhere along the way,” Brandon said.
Special thanks to Adam Brandon for his insight. He is a South American Football expert and reporter. He is currently based in Chile. You can catch him on Twitter through @AdamBrandon84 and through the South American Football Show.