1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Stuart Taylor, Gunnar Nielsen
Overview: The plan for Man City was to have world-class players on the pitch and world-class players in reserve. That might (although I’m far from convinced) work when it comes to outfield players, but it’s virtually impossible when it comes to world-class goalkeepers. With Shay Given now at Villa Park, Joe Hart rules the roost. Initially I thought Roberto Mancini was currying favour with the City faithful at a rocky period in his tenure at Eastlands by opting for the (relatively) local lad as opposed to the Irishman. Throughout the season however, Hart proved he’s a hugely talented goalkeeper, although not one without his flaws. I still feel Given was hard done by in one sense – Mancini declared that it would be a straight fight between the two for the gloves, but steadfastly stood by him even when the mistakes came – but there can be little doubt that Joe Hart is on a trajectory that could eventually see him considered one of the world’s very best. He’s not there yet however and some sloppy errors served as a reminder of what needs to be done. Hart has amazing agility and reflexes and technically he’s very strong. What needs work is his judgement, decision-making and concentration, but that’s likely to be something that will come with increased Premier League, European and international experience.
The dream of having high-class experienced back-up ended with Given’s departure, but Stuart Taylor is a capable deputy. In the early part of the naughties, Taylor’s future looked immensely promising. He was part of the England underage set-up and was shaping up well to become David Seaman’s heir at Arsenal, but the arrival of Jens Lehmann pushed him down the pecking order and in truth his career has yet to recover. Since then, he’s largely been confined to being 3rd choice goalkeeper for a variety of clubs, but there was potential there many years ago and if called into action he could still perform to the required level. After that, Man City are looking at Gunnar Nielsen of the Faroe Islands. Brian Kerr certainly rates him very highly, but whether or not that’s enough to make that grade at Man City is another question. He’s since had a number of loan spells around Britain, but his contract runs out at the end of the season and at that point he’s likely to seek first team football elsewhere.
Worst case scenario: As with all young English goalkeepers, there’s this permanent fear that one poor performance – especially for the national team – will give the press carte blanche to savage Hart. It’s unlikely, but should Hart suffer a sustained dip in form, it will be interesting to see how he responds. He hasn’t had to endure a major slump in form since becoming a Premier League regular and the dark days have stayed away. Only an injury to Hart is likely to see Taylor getting much game time and even in that case, City will probably look for an emergency loan option.
Most likely outcome: Hart will again perform well, make the odd mistake but overall be a big positive for City. Barring injury, there should be little need for the back-up options.