Joe you good thing: The rise of Australia’s next Premier League goalkeeper
The English Premier League has long had an affliction for Australian goalkeepers – Mark Bosnich, Adam Federici, John Filan, Brad Jones, Mat Ryan and Mark Schwarzer have played between the sticks for several of its clubs over the past 30 years.
Another Australian now joins the goalkeeper’s union of the English top flight, with Adelaide United’s Joe Gauci’s arrival at Aston Villa.
It has been quite the meteoric rise for a player who almost gave up the sport a few years ago – after becoming disillusioned with the often-maligned Australian football pyramid of trying to become a professional player.
Gauci was a player many within South Australia expected to make the grade professionally from a very young age – His talent was clear to see at junior levels with both Cumberland United and West Torrens Birkalla.
With Adelaide United already stockpiling the nation’s best young goalkeepers, Gauci had no option but to head interstate at the age of 18 – signing a scholarship deal with the Central Coast Mariners.
In the first of two consecutive ill-fated moves to the east coast, Gauci was let go by the Mariners followed by Melbourne City.
When all looked lost, Gauci was handed a lifeline by a coach who he had previously played under at the SA NTC and always believed in his talent: Carl Veart.
Veart was now the full-time coach of Adelaide United in 2020 and in a sliding doors moment – an injury to United’s No.1 at the time James Delianov – Gauci was able to make his debut and the lanky stopper has held onto that jersey ever since.
Goalkeeping is by far the most cerebral position on the pitch, where you can make an outrageous save one moment and then see your mind state crumble when another shot simply trickles through your legs.
Gauci’s mental fortitude is one of his most undervalued qualities, from nearly giving up the sport to being able to recover from a mistake made in a match; that ability to pick yourself back up, while remaining calm is a skill that many young goalkeepers struggle with.
He is a natural-born leader ever since being a captain in his junior sides. Whether it’s his teammates listening intently when he speaks or fielding tricky questions whilst on media duties, Gauci commands respect.
The clean-cut shot-stopper is always happy to chat with fans and his work as an ambassador
for the Childhood Cancer Association has not gone unnoticed.
There are still kinks in his game that must be improved if Gauci is to make it in Europe.
While his shot-stopping ability is exemplary, distribution from the back – in particular when starting an attacking move – needs further development.
At 6’4″ Gauci has the height to clutch a ball from a cross in front of a pack of players, but as seen by multiple teams in the A-League, Gauci has been targeted from set pieces and crosses where he sometimes doesn’t show the necessary strength to hold onto the ball.
But ultimately a goalkeeper is judged on keeping the ball out of the back of the net and Gauci has single-handedly kept Adelaide in the finals hunt in the clubs spluttering 2023-24 season.
He has faced 64 shots and saved 47 of them, for a high shot-saving percentage of 73 per cent. Then there is the much-maligned distribution percentage…
As one of the areas of improvement required to take the next step, Gauci’s pass accuracy overall has been a very respectable 82.8 per cent – with the only letdown being a disappointing longball accuracy of 41.8 per cent.
The move to Aston Villa will see Adelaide United recoup over $3 million AUD and a sell-on clause inserted should he transfer again.
Gauci faces an uphill task in surpassing Villa’s world cup winning shot-stopper Emilio Martinez for the coveted No.1 jersey.
Sports opinion delivered daily
But the young Australian needs to look no further than his predecessor from 30 years ago for inspiration, Mark Bosnich – who overtook regular Aston Villa goalkeeper Nigel Spink and played nearly 200 games in a seven-year spell for the villans.