In last week’s 2022 World Cup qualifying play-off between the Socceroos and Peru, there were two different games being played.
The first began at the opening whistle and lasted for 119 minutes: a tense, physical battle between two uncertain sides that ultimately ended 0-0.
The second game started a minute later.
Because that’s when Australia’s head coach Graham Arnold made an unexpected (and risky) substitution, bringing off veteran goalkeeper and captain Mat Ryan for 33-year-old Andrew Redmayne.
The initial reaction from Socceroos fans was one of disbelief.
Ryan, who plays for Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga, was a veteran of two World Cups and one of the team’s most consistent and dependable players throughout Australia’s 1,008-day-long qualifying campaign.
Redmayne, on the other hand, had just two appearances for Australia to his name, and was even struggling to maintain his starting spot with Sydney FC in Australia’s A-League Men.
But Australian fans weren’t the only ones who were baffled by the switch.
Peru’s players were, too.
And that, according to Socceroos goalkeeper coach John Crawley — one of the only people ‘in’ on the plan — was the entire point.
“We always knew we had Redmayne up our sleeve,” Crawley told the ABC.
“We planned for that. We did a couple of sessions throughout the window where we did some specific stuff on penalties. But we didn’t need to tell anyone [in the team] as long as we knew the plan ourselves.
“I think you just have to do something different to disrupt the penalty-taker’s routine.
“Even just that bit of doubt can make a difference.”
Redmayne’s substitution was just the start of the psychological game that began to unfold after the final whistle of extra-time blew.
As the nerve-biting penalty shoot-out got underway, there were other, subtler strategies the bearded shot-stopper performed to give his team the edge.
The first was handing the ball to each of his team-mates; a tactic that was popularised by England at the 2018 World Cup and carried on by a number of goalkeepers at club level, including Liverpool’s Alisson.
According to Geir Jordet, a professor of sports psychology at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences who wrote a tweet thread breaking down Redmayne’s tacticsthese gestures were important in fortifying the psychology of Australia’s penalty-takers.
However, it was what Redmayne did after each hand-off that was most interesting.
“In a penalty shoot-out, you want to make events as predictable and safe as possible for your team-mates,” Jordet said.
“The way Redmayne helped his team-mates was spot-on: first, by handing them the ball between every shot, giving them a familiar way to start their pre-shot routine [and] a friendly word of support or encouragement. That beats getting the ball from the opponent or having to go get it yourself.
“But what I have not seen before is what he did after handing off the ball.
“I’ve not seen this in a penalty shoot-out before, so this was maybe the biggest innovation for me: how he took that role of a bodyguard. That’s quite unique.”
Another piece of psychological warfare was barely captured on camera, but arguably had one of the biggest impacts.
After Redmayne noticed one of Gallese’s water-bottles had notes on Australia’s penalty-takers wrapped around it — containing details on who they were and which way they would likely shoot — the Socceroos keeper picked it up and threw the bottle over the advertising boards.
For Jorbet, this act didn’t just deny Gallese crucial information; it also acted as an intimidation tactic, a violation of the Peruvian’s property and his space.
“It’s disruptive on a few levels,” he said.
“Of course, it takes away information that he probably relied on. We don’t know the extent to which he had memorised these things anyway, but it was on the bottle for a reason.
“You can imagine coming home and someone has been in your place and stolen things. People who’ve been robbed talk about how it’s not just that they lost a computer or whatever, but that some stranger was in my home. So to instil that in this situation is quite extraordinary.
“This may be stepping over the line and taking it too far, though. I wouldn’t be comfortable telling my team that [stealing] is something you should do. But if a player decides to do it on their own, that’s a different thing.
“And there’s the other intimidation tactic where [Redmayne] was invited to hand the ball over to one of the opponents, and then just let it go and kicked it away. It’s a clear demonstration of gamesmanship: ‘I don’t respect you.’ It’s a clear, explicit mind-game.”
Crawley admitted that he had prepared a similar water-bottle with notes on Peru’s penalty-takers, but that Redmayne was confident enough that he wouldn’t need them.
“We discussed it together probably two weeks out from the Peru game,” Crawley said.
“And I said, ‘mate, in the event that we lose our bottle — it gets thrown into the crowd or something — we’ve still got our signals.
“So he’s gone in there without the bottle and we just did our signals. But I actually didn’t realise he took advantage of Gallese’s notes being there and that he’s then thrown his bottle [away].
“But again, it’s whatever it takes. We certainly had a Plan A and a Plan B, but I think Redders may have taken that to another level. And thank goodness he did.”
And then, of course, there’s the iconic “Wiggles” dance.
While it looked silly and unorthodox, Jordet said there was a clear rationale behind Redmayne’s flailing limbs and jittery style.
“A lot of goalkeepers do things on the line to try and distract; to try to disturb,” he said.
“What Redmayne did was follow that principle that it needs to be unpredictable, it needs to be a little erratic, it needs to have some variation.
“Because if all you do on the line is go from left to right, from right to left, it doesn’t have any impact; it’s very easy for the taker to block out. So it needs to be different.
“It takes me back to football history: Liverpool in the Champions League with Dudek back in 2005 and Grobbelaar in 1984 and ’85. This one fits nicely with them because it’s so weird, it’s so strange. And what could be more impactful than that?”
However, while it may have worked for Redmayne this time, such unusual goalkeeping tactics are still so rare in professional football that there is only a small amount of evidence to suggest it’s more effective at stopping penalties than any other method.
The key, Jorbet says, is the overall distraction — the psychology of the moment.
“There is research on when the goalkeepers are trying to do something to distract the shooter — no matter what it is — and that history directly reduces the chance of the shooter scoring by about 10 per cent.
“Research that I’ve done also looked at whether goalkeepers were able to take so much time that the penalty taker had to stand there and wait. I looked at every single penalty shot in the World Cup, the European Championships, and the Champions League and the difference there, with the shooter having to wait [for the goalkeeper] versus the shooter not waiting, was more than 20 per cent.
“So there are different ways a goalkeeper can be disruptive and there is some research to suggest it works.
“But it’s always difficult to go from documenting what has happened to predicting what will happen. The point is that these are not absolute discoveries; these are trends based on history that might indicate something about probabilities going forward.”
For Crawley, who Redmayne credits as introducing the idea to him when they worked together at Sydney FC, the same principle of unpredictability — as well as bravery to do something different — is what made the difference against Peru.
“Whether it’s a Wiggles dance, or you turn your back on the player, or you say something to them, or you move to one side of the goal; whatever it takes, you’re disrupting that routine,” Crawley said.
“If you’re a player and you’re stepping up to practice a penalty, you put the ball down, you walk back, you turn around, you will always see a goalkeeper in the middle of the goal. That’s routine for hundreds and hundreds of practice takes.
“It’s all about disrupting the routine. I don’t think Redders really has a great save ratio with penalties, but we all know what he can do and what he can bring. It comes down to that intangible thing in the moment.”
And that intangible thing, for Jordet, is why goalkeeping is the most ‘human’ position in football: so much of a goalkeeper’s job happens off the ball and away from cameras. Their power lies largely within the invisible, but very real, dynamics they create between themselves and others on the field.
“This is such a personal type of strategy,” he said. “It’s something where you have to use yourself more than other parts of the game where you can just do your job.
“These are the intangible human parts of football that are so fascinating. It’s something that’s very hard to measure; it’s something that’s hard to quantify. And that’s exactly what is so wonderful about it.”