1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: John Ruddy, Declan Rudd, Jed Steer
Overview: At the risk of speculating wildly, Norwich’s transfer activity suggests a club that’s happy to have reached the Premier League, but won’t be throwing money around or increasing the wage bill massively to ensure their survival. It’s a strategy informed by previous excursions to the top flight and although they’ll be doing their damnedest to beat the drop, they won’t be overextending themselves financially to do it. Countless clubs have and they’ve spent the subsequent years paying for it in the lower divisions so the policy is understandable. It affects the goalkeepers because, much like the rest of the squad, the keepers are proven performers at Championship level, but will have to up their game substantially for the Premier League. Paul Lambert would doubtless love to have an established Premier League standard goalkeeper within his ranks, but the money required and subsequent wage demands would involve a restructuring of budgets presumably beyond the prudent management of the club. Instead he has a couple of young keepers not quite there yet, but with the potential to improve.
John Ruddy was the first choice as they stormed to automatic promotion last season and being just 24 years of age, he certainly has capability to develop into a top flight goalie. Throughout my experience of sport, I’ve seen two types of talented youngsters. One is the obviously gifted sportsman who stands out as being head and shoulders above better than his peers and is clearly destined to move on to the highest level. The other is the type of player who performs well at a given level, but never spectacularly. Over time they get their chance at ever higher standards and continue to keep their heads above water with little bother. It’s the type of athlete who always performs, but never dominates. They do what’s required of them at a certain level, but rarely show the potential to move up until they’re actually thrown into the deep end.
Norwich fans had better hope that Ruddy is one that belongs to the latter category because although he did well in the promotion campaign, he made mistakes that leave you with nagging doubts about his ability to succeed in the top flight. Quantifying the precise differences between the tasks faced by a goalkeeper at Championship level and Premier League level is difficult, but there are some things that are probably indisputable. Across the board, players are quicker and technically stronger. A goalkeeper will almost certainly have less time to set themselves and in turn react as opponents get their shots off quicker. I’ve also speculated that from top to bottom, shots are going to be more accurate and therefore more difficult for a goalkeeper to save. I believe the Norwich goalkeepers are capable of performing to a level that negates those differences, but in my opinion, the biggest difference will be ‘margin for error’. If the Canaries are locked in the relegation scrap they’re expected to be in, they’re likely to score in the region of 40-50 league goals. Essentially that means if Norwich concede a goal in any given game, they’re very unlikely to win and may struggle for even a point. Last season, Ruddy made a few costly mistakes and if he were to reproduce that early on in the season, the media will be all over him, ready to stick the knife in and label him a dodgy keeper. How he handles the increased scrutiny will also have a major bearing on how his season progresses.
Worst case scenario: Neither Ruddy or Rudd prove to be up to Premier League standard and despite performing well elsewhere on the pitch, Norwich don’t get the points return they deserve and look destined to go down from early on.
What will probably happen: Ruddy proves to be a Premier League level goalkeeper, but does make a few errors. With Rudd having little experience of first team football, Lambert is unlikely to turn to him for large parts of the season.