It's not unreasonable to say that, at his best, Dino Zoff was one of the best goalkeepers in the world at the time, if not the best of them. He's also a very smart and well-spoken man who has proven time and again that when it comes to football, especially goalkeeping, he knows what he's talking about. So when Zoff talks about the qualities of a young goalkeeper, you should listen with rapt attention.
This morning, Radio CRC in Naples brought Zoff on to talk about the club's season and about Rafael Cabral. Rafael has drawn some criticism in Napoli's early run of the season, and Radio CRC has been at the forefront of the "Rafael sucks and things would be awesome if we still had Pepe Reina" brigade. Which is absolutely ridiculous on several levels, but that's another issue for another time.
Zoff, however, didn't take the bait. "Reina has experience and quality," Zoff explained, "but in these first few games Napoli [have had problems] everywhere so if it is true that Rafael could do more, it is also true that the whole group could do better and it is unfair to blame [just] the goalkeeper."
Zoff has spoken well of Rafael in the past, praising the Brazilian's natural shot-stopping skills and his potential to become a great goalkeeper. With that in mind it comes as no surprise that Zoff would support Rafael now, but he also makes a good point about the context of the whole team's issues.
With a midfield that has too often been porous and a back line that has too often switched off or made big mistakes in big moments, life becomes much harder for a goalkeeper, especially a younger one who doesn't have as much top-level experience. While it's certainly true that there have been moments where Rafael made a mistake or could have done something better, those issues are also compounded and magnified within the moment by mistakes being made, five, ten, twenty, or even thirty yards ahead of him.
We've also seen a lot of growth and improvement in Rafael, however. Over the last year, his distribution has gotten steadily better, he's become more willing to come off his line (sometimes to his detriment, but that will get better with time), and this season especially, his command of the box has improved by leaps and bounds.
The other important thing to remember with Rafael is this: he's 24 years old. He's just a baby in terms of typical goalkeeping development, where players usually don't reach their prime until almost 30 and can sometimes carry on at a high level until nearly 40. There are exceptions to that of course (hi Reina!), but so far Rafael seems to be in that classic line of development, and is already starting at a fairly high level. That's just a long way of saying this: be patient, because this kid is going to get a lot better.
Besides, if you've got the likes of Dino Zoff supporting a goalkeeper and singing his praises, isn't that a pretty dang good reason to give him some credit and benefit of the doubt? Sure seems like it.