Out of the blue, Ireland have a problem. Giovanni Trapattoni spent much of January urging Robbie Keane to leave White Hart Lane for basically anywhere that could offer him first team football, but he was less plussed about Shay Given. ‘Goalkeepers are different’ was the crux of his argument – a striker needs playing time to be at his best, but apparently a goalkeeper can spend months on the bench and not suffer any huge downturn in performance. It’s an interesting theory, but not one we’ll see the conclusion of in the near future.
Given has been ruled out of Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia .A shoulder injury picked up in the warm-up for the Europa League game against Aris means he’s likely to be out of action for a month and – according to more pessimistic reports – it’s possible he won’t be seen in competitive action again until next season. In his absence, Trapattoni is likely to turn to Keiren Westwood. The Coventry keeper is one of the most highly rated keepers outside of the Premier League, but with little room for error in their bid to reach their first major tournament in 10 years, having to blood an international rookie is far from ideal.
To a degree, it’s also a problem of Trapattoni’s making. “I am disappointed that Shay will not be able make it in for the Macedonia qualifier due to a shoulder injury,” Trap is reported to have said in a statement so uncharacteristically brief it can only be the words of whoever writes the FAI’s press releases. While Given’s pursuit of an unassailable haul of international caps shows a refreshing desire to represent his country often absent from the modern star, it has had some negative consequences. When his first choice has been available, Giovanni Trapattoni has decided against giving the understudies much in the way of experience, but he may yet reap an unpleasant harvest when it comes to the crucial Euro 2012 qualifier next month.
That’s not to belittle the skills of Westwood. He’s an excellent keeper well capable of making light of Given’s absence, but he simply hasn’t had a whole lot of exposure to the international arena. It’s a psychological thing rather than a question of him being out of his depth. The tasks asked of him on the night will be strikingly similar to what he’s expected to do for Coventry a couple of times a week, but with the expectation of a nation on his shoulders, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. International football is littered with players who could do it at club level but not in the national jersey and equally players who look average at club level but then find their best form when handed the responsibility of representing the nation – the latter should be called ‘Klose Syndrome’. We don’t know what to expect from Westwood simply because his time with the national team has been so limited. At this stage, he should have amassed more than the handful of caps he has earned.
Mistakes from Westwood shouldn’t be considered inevitable. He has a touch of class about him. During his team with the Sky Blues he has regularly claimed awards both from the club, the fans and the league. To watch him play is to watch a natural go about the job they were destined for. His reflexes, his reactions and his agility all seem to come remarkably easy to him. It’s easy to see why a move to the Premier League has been talked about for some time and was reportedly coming as Wigan expressed a strong interest in January. There are weaknesses however. Even this season, he has made a few concentration based errors by letting straightforward shots through him. His judgement in coming for and collecting crosses isn’t flawless either. When he gets it right he’s a commanding presence and his hands are good, but there have been times when those hands haven’t been in the right place at the right time.
If all goes well, Ireland won’t notice Given’s absence. And if it goes very well, Ireland could have at least one goalkeeper playing first team Premier League football next term.