It’s the most unimportant, crucial job in the squad. The substitute goalkeeper.
For the good of the team, most people will hope your role will be confined to long bouts of bench-warming and helping the first choice in training and all matters ego. But all of a sudden it could matter a lot. You’re only ever a wily striker ‘manufacturing contact’ in the penalty area, a dip in form or a tweaked hamstring away from being utterly reliant on a player explicitly taken to play second fiddle.
Barring injury or illness, Joe Hart will be England’s first choice for the tournament. If there were remaining doubters, the season of consistency and maturity he put in to help Manchester City win the league title has had to have won them over. Maybe Jamie Redknapp jumped the gun earlier this season in declaring him “the best goalkeeper in the world”, but as the season has gone on, it’s become apparent that he’s not far away.
But the question of the goalkeepers Roy Hodgson takes is more than an afterthought. It’s a matter of indifference now, but can instantly turn into one of importance. In South Africa, then 39-year-old David James was thrust into the limelight after Robert Green’s butterfingers. No amount of saves were ever going to stop Germany’s rampant display in the last 16, but his presence did highlight the need for quality back-up.
The self-imposed absences of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson is far from ideal. Only the most loyal family and close friends would argue that they deserve to start in place of Hart, but having them in the squad would be useful. In particular, Foster has had a good season with West Brom. In my opinion, he’s a touch jittery for the very top of the game, but – with his reflexes and experience – he’d be great to have if misfortune did strike Hart. Robinson seemed to flourish without the commitments of international football. With Fabio Capello walking away from the England job, it looked like he was set for a return to the national team fold, but surprisingly, his stance hasn’t changed and shows little sign of ever changing.
Roy Hodgson has gone for Robert Green and John Ruddy. They’re unlikely to see any game time, but if they do, they’ll all of a sudden become key members of the team.
Green’s credentials – the good and the bad – are there for all to see. His moment against the USA two summers ago has written a footballing epitaph it will take miracles to erase. In more recent times however, he has been in good form. He was excellent throughout West Ham’s push for promotion and in a competitive league, he played a big part in ensuring the Hammers came out on the right side of some fine margins. There were some blips however and you would prefer a keeper who exudes more authority in his penalty area. His experience is a big positive however and he could easily do a job for a game or two if required.
John Ruddy is the wild card. He had a good season with Norwich and his stock deservedly rose after a string of high-class performances. The Canaries’ guarantee of safety relatively early in the season has helped his cause. The few mistakes he made didn’t matter in the bid to preserve their Premier League status and were by and large glossed over. In particular, the game against Manchester City was a concern. Norwich were never going to win this game. City played with the swagger of a team who had nothing to lose. But Ruddy was poor. He made a couple of poor attempts at keeping out City shots and generally didn’t inspire confidence.
It was a single game however and everyone is allowed one bad one every now and then. Overall he’s had a great season and his selection is fully merited. He is a rising star, but would you be entirely confident putting him in a knock-out game at Euro 2012?
The chances are Hart will start as many games as England can earn at the European Championships. But if there’s a problem, the afterthought of back-up goalkeepers will jump to the fore. Ruddy and Green need to be able to handle the pressure. Along with weak shots from outside the penalty area.