There was a nice litle moment in Albion’s win over Liverpool between Robert Sanchez and Roberto Firmino.

You might remember it.

It led to the two players exchanging a quick smile as the ball rolled out of play.

It turns out we might not have have realised its full significance in the young goalkeeper’s progression.

Behind that brief smile, Sanchez will have been telling himself that he had put a valuable lesson into practice.

Just a little something he picked up on his loan stints at Rochdale and Forest Green.

A sure sign that he was maturing as a goalkeeper.

You don’t see that passage of play on the highlights.

But you would have done had Sanchez acted as he did while out on loan.

He recalls now: “Against Liverpool, through ball, Firmino runs to it but you can tell he’s never looking to touch the ball.

“He’s waiting for me to touch him to dive for a penalty.

“Slow down, he doesn’t touch the ball, it goes out for a goal kick.

“Good decision. If I decide to come, dive into the ball, he gets a little touch, I hit him, penalty. But I decided to stand up and it went for a goal kick.”

Firmino’s reaction suggested he knew Sanchez had read his mind.

The keeper added: “At Forest Green I make two exactly the same and I took the player out completely and gave away a penalty.

“That’s why the loan spells and making mistakes is good because then, when the same thing happens at this level, then you’re like, “Wait, let’s do this, be better’.

“Being reliable is making the right decisions, the right choice every time.

“I can give you an example. Put the ball in the box, I think I can come for it but I decide not to because it’s too far and I drop the line, they head it and I make a good save. It’s a good decision.

“It could have been really good if I come for it, between 17 players and catch it but what if I don’t? It’s just that decision making.

“Sometimes a good decision is when you don’t do it, go back, hold your line and wait for what comes.”

Sanchez was busy at Manchester City and Burnley but there have been more games where he has been given great protection and made few saves.

The home win over Tottenham was a good example.

Pretty quiet but he made a super save from Vinicius when required.

From that game, though, Sanchez draws another example of making the right call. Of growing up.

That was from a passage of play where the passing was not crisp and Albion ended up going back from near the Spurs corner flag to playing a rather awkward ball towards their own keeper.

Sanchez said: “I got a not so good back pass, it was 20 yards away from me and I had to sprint for it on my left foot, bouncing, didn’t take a good touch.

“I could have tried to curve the player, spin it around and pass it to someone but I just decided to roll it for a throw.

“It’s not the most beautiful thing but it’s the simple thing.

“Don’t complicate yourself. What if you try and take the player on, he takes it, scores? Things like that.”

Lessons like that have been learned the hard way.

He admits he initially questioned the benefit in going out to play in the lower leagues.

But the reasoning is clear now.

He said: “Looking back, it’s the best thing that has happened to me in football because you go there, starting in the lowest one because I went League Two and League One, you meet new people, try and create relations with them, your back four and new players because that’s important.

“If you don’t build relations with them, you’re not going to feel confident when you come on to the pitch.

“Obviously, you are playing games in front of people that I never played before, against older men, 32 year-olds, big guys that come and hit you on crosses which I never really got before.

“Making those mistakes. Sometimes, little mistakes which people didn’t realise but you do, especially when I look back at the clips with Ben (Roberts, goalkeeping coach) and we’re like, ‘That could have been better’.

“Big mistakes like I said, coming out, rushing too much, take a player out to get a penalty, so it’s about everything, about being put on the bench and come in again.”

Moving away from his adopted Sussex home was not an unsurmountable problem for Sanchez as he went out to gain experience.

He said: “It’s hard but I’ve been quite used to it my whole life.

“Even being back in Spain, when I had to leave to go to the Levante academy I was 15, five hours from home, so I was already by myself away from my family.

“Then I left for a different country so I was quite used to that situation.

“So obviously it’s always a little bit sad when I get put on the other side of the country in Manchester, when I was at Rochdale, but you know it’s for a good cause, for me to get better which is what I want to achieve.”

Roberts is a huge figure for Sanchez and his development.

He knows how to keep his players switched on.

Sanchez said: “In training he will see me not concentrating properly.

“We’ll be doing crossing, for example, and he’ll be crossing the ball but once he will shoot to the front post and that’s to get me ready for the Premier League.

“Maybe De Bruyne is coming from the left side trying to put a ball in and instead of crossing it he will put it in the front post.

“It’s that level of players, they can do anything, it is just trying to be ready for every single situation, which is hard.”

Sanchez says he now appreciates he was not ready for the first team two years ago, even though he felt he was at the time.

But he certainly felt ready when the chance came this season.

He said: “Ben always used to tell me, ‘When you’re ready, you will have your chanc’ and before I played he said, ‘You’re ready now’.

“Me and him have a strong relationship and, when you’re really close with someone and he gives you hard love, it kind of hurts more.

“But everything was to get me ready for the highest level.

“In training, for example, I would do something that could be a little mistake or something and he would go harder at me than anybody else because he knew that, if I concentrated, that wouldn’t happen.

“We kind of knew I have the abilities, the power, the kicking, all goalkeeping abilities I would say, but the most important thing for youngsters is the mental side.

“Being reliable, being consistent, trying to be always the same level.


“Working with him has taught me. I learned to be at the same level every single day, in training and games.

“Being young it’s sometimes hard to control.

“Luckily, again, I had Ben who has put me down to the ground, given me that tough love and would come to me and say, ‘You’re not ready at all. Stop dreaming. We will get you your loan spell and you will have your chance when you’re ready, don’t worry’.”