The Man Utd Goalkeeper Hunt

Man Utd Goalkeeper Hunt
The latest Dutchman heading for the United goal?

We know who it won’t be, but are we any closer to knowing who it will be?
On the pitch, it was a good week for Manchester United, but off the field, the hunt for Edwin van der Sar’s successor in the United goal descended into a muddy version of clarity.

Manuel Neuer’s performance in the first leg of Schalke’s Champions League semi-final was a perfect audition for the Old Trafford role – except for one crucial detail. It wasn’t an audition. Sir Alex Ferguson may have been impressed with Neuer’s stunning (and Schmeichel-esque) performance, but the German’s heart belongs to someone else. The current first choice of the Mannschaft doesn’t want to leave Germany and has stated his determination to win at least one Bundesliga title before even considering a move abroad. And he means it. His comments don’t seem to be laced with the ‘I’m not available, but chase me with a big bag of cash and we’ll see what happens’ subtext that often seems to accompany the well rehearsed soundbites. It looks like he his betrothed to Bayern Munich and although negotiations are yet to begin, it looks like it’s only the size of the dowry that needs to be finalised. There was talk of Sir Alex hijacking the arrangement in a similar manner to how he snapped Dimitar Berbatov from the jaws of Man City a couple of years ago, but in this case Neuer both looks and sounds like a man heading for Bavaria.

It was also a week in which Pepe Reina confirmed he would be staying at Liverpool – until the point the Spaniard can decipher if the latest dawn is of the ‘genuine’ or the ‘false’ variety. In future, Reina’s fiercely competitive nature may dictate a move to Old Trafford is required, but so far he has been impressed by the Dalglish revolution and is apparently willing to give King Kenny another season of his time. Talk of Gigi Buffon coming to the Premier League was aimed at getting an improved deal at Juventus and makes Man Utd an unlikely destination.

So where does that leave us? I’ve said before, that after a mixed record in signing goalkeepers, Fergie will almost certainly be looking for someone with the following profile:
(1) late 20s+
(2) Champions League and/or international experience
(3) not injury prone

The notion of Fergie pleading with Van der Sar to stay on for another season is something that I initially dismissed out of hand, but as time goes by and a standout candidate fails to emerge, it’s impossible to fully discount. Granted, it’s hard to imagine Fergie pleading with anyone for anything, but even in his 40s van der Sar has been exceptional and the reassurance he provides has been of great benefit to a United defence that has looked vulnerable at times this season. By all accounts Mrs. van der Sar has recovered from her health scare last Christmas and it could be worth Fergie’s while to test the Dutchman’s resolve to retire.

For my money, Maarten Stekelenburg looks the most likely candidate, but I’m concerned I’m making too much of a connection between Stekelenburg being Van der Sar’s replacement at international level and his chances of being Van der Sar’s replacement at club level. In the transfer market, placing too much faith in form shown in the Dutch league is fraught with danger (Kezman) so should we not think the same way when it comes to goalkeepers? Aside from 4 or 5 top teams, the league is filled with average opposition so can Fergie really be certain he’s getting proven performer at the highest level? Of course Stekelenburg did make it all the way to a World Cup Final with the Netherlands and that’s the highest level of competition you can get, right? Well yes, but there is a but. It sounds almost insane to say it, but the cumulative pressure and standards expected throughout the course of 50 odd games in the typical Manchester United season are going to be far in excess of that experienced in the seven games of a World Cup.

In terms of talent, David De Gea could be an instant hit at Old Trafford, but his age doesn’t fit what Sir Alex is likely to look for. Goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele is said to be a big fan (and scurrilously rumoured to be learning Spanish for De Gea’s arrival), but De Gea’s lack of experience in the Champions League and the spot-light in general do cast doubt about the likelihood of a move. All reports suggest that Atletico youngster is a very level-headed and mature 20 year old, but that’s no guarantee that he’ll settle in England or be able to handle the intense scrutiny that comes with the Old Trafford keeping job. Reports from Spain suggest Atletico Madrid have offered De Gea a contract with a view to ending the speculation once and for all. If he wants to go, he can go, but if he wants to stay, it ends now and he knuckles down for the next few years. With age on his side, my inkling is De Gea may just sit tight for a couple more years, build his reputation and eventually have his pick of clubs and salaries – at which point he may only be the ripe old age of 23 or 24.

I think there’s a joker in the pack, but I can’t figure out who it might be. Hugo Lloris (almost) perfectly fits the bill, but doesn’t appear to have been scouted too heavily. On a similarly Gallic theme, Steve Mandanda performed well when Marseille and Man Utd met in the Last 16 of the Champions League. He has had a decent amount of experience and is exceptionally agile, but his handling may not be up to scratch for the Premier League. Too often he needs a couple of attempts to gather then ball and that’s unlikely to have gone unnoticed by Ferguson and Steele. Inter Milan’s Julio Cesar ticks all three boxes, but I think his reluctance to catch the ball means trouble. There’s nothing wrong with a goalkeeper punching or parrying when the situation requires, but the sheer number of times the Brazilian opts against the catch will leave him open to ridicule from the media and it won’t be long before the dreaded ‘calamity’ label is applied irrevocably to his shoulders. In terms of talent, Shay Given must still be worthy of consideration, but the injury category has become a concern of late. For much of his career, the Irishman seemed to have a charmed life in terms of fitness, but in the last few seasons he has picked up some major knocks that have ruled him out of action for months at a time. Craig Gordon has been linked in the past, but his familiarity with the Sunderland physio’s table will count against him. Sebastian Frey is a little considered outsider, but again injury may be a worry. He hasn’t played since November and won’t until the new season at the earliest. In terms of age and experience, he might be in the frame and an added bonus (in Sir Alex’s eyes at least) would be his rejection of international football. I’ve heard the name of Fernando Muslera being mentioned and I would suggest if Fergie does sign him, it’s part of a well-timed revenge on the Glazer family and Fergie’s retirement will arrive seconds later. Poor decision maker, a flapper at crosses extraordinaire and almost totally unsuitable to the Premier League, the Uruguayan’s stunning agility catches the eye, but I think he would get savaged in England and furthermore, Fergie knows it.

As the date for Van der Sar to hang up his gloves comes ever closer, the hunt for a replacement is looking less than finalised. Maybe Fergie could do worse than trying to hang on to his Dutch of class.

If you think I’ve missed out on any potential United recruits, let me know in the comments section.

Why the lack of goalkeepers in Premier League management?

Statistical anomaly or glass ceiling?
Despite the requirements of their playing career, it’s would appear that many people in positions of power within football clubs don’t think goalkeepers are a safe pair of hands when it comes to managing football teams. What began as a whimsical attempt to recollect goalkeepers who’ve made a big impression in the managerial ranks has transformed into a rather disturbing tale of closed doors and potential prejudice.

The short story is there are very few former goalkeepers now going on to become top flight managers. Across Europe, defenders and midfielders abound in the hotseat of some of the continent’s biggest clubs whilst there’s also a decent smattering of strikers to represent the poachers. Typically, in a squad of 25, there will be 3 or 4 goalkeepers included amongst them. That equates to roughly 12 to 16 per cent of playing staff. In Europe’s five biggest leagues (the top flights of England, France, Spain, Italy and Germany), former goalkeepers occupy just two of the possible 98 managerial positions. Telling you that represents a mere 2% doesn’t make the statistics any less stark. Admittedly that is a crude calculation as certain managers were of an undetermined playing position, but the bare numbers paint a less than encouraging picture for anyone current goalkeepers aspiring to become managers in their post-playing days.

Understandably perhaps, former goalkeepers are the only choice to become goalkeeping coaches, but even allowing for the natural progression from playing to coaching, it seems like purveyors of the position are vastly underrepresented in full scale management. Even when you make allowances for the tendency of custodians to become teachers of the trade, that is a pitiful representation. Of course playing outfield may give future managers a good understanding of the requirements to make a team operate smoothly, but equally that’s not to say the same skills cannot be acquired by a goalkeeper.

Intelligence or the perception that outfield players are more accustomed to ‘deeper thinking’ about the game cannot be sanctioned as a reasonable explanation. In his work as a pundit, Shaka Hislop has shown an erudite understanding of the game beyond the role of the goalkeeper and regularly displays perceptiveness that exceeds the aptitude of most ‘thoughtful’ midfield generals. Likewise, via his column in the Observer, David James has been shown to be far more astute than the sketch of the bumbling moron painted by the tabloid press would have you believe.

But why is there such a reluctance to give goalies the top job? One problem may be the perception of mental instability that comes form the position. There’s no way of sugar-coating it. When a goalkeeper makes the decision to run out of his penalty area in an attempt to clear the ball and makes a mistake – it looks mental – like they’ve momentarily lost their minds. A defender or midfielder can attempt to execute a similarly misjudged passage of play, but in the context of outfield play, it can go largely unnoticed or at most be explained away without questioning the players grasp of reality. Such moments are so outside of what is expected from a goalkeeper that it often gets attributed to a temporary and almost comic ‘madness’. It may only happen on a subconscious level, but the connection made between goalkeepers and eccentricity may play a significant role in the reluctance towards owners trusting former goalies with their valuable assets.

The perception of the ‘mad goalie’ clearly hasn’t helped, but scratch the surface and what you’re more than likely to find is individuality being incorrectly labeled as mild insanity. By the very nature of the job, a goalkeeper is always going to stand out as unique, but maybe too many club chairman are confusing unique with unhinged. I’ve written about the key psychological requirements of being a goalkeeper in the past and one of key attributes is a thick-shin. You’re so vulnerable to individual criticism, it would be impossible to line out on the pitch without the ability to block it out. Once a thick-skin has been developed, a strong sense of self probably won’t be far behind and it’s at this point the goalkeeper has the potential to stand out as a ‘character’ – someone on the team, but different from the norm.

At times it’s difficult not to have a chuckle at the behaviour of some goalkeepers, but it’s when this goes too far and becomes a minor prejudice towards former professionals in search of work that is a real issue. If a club aren’t performing to the satisfaction of the board, ironically, it’ll rarely be a goalkeeper who gets the call to save them.

As ever, your thoughts on the subject are very much welcome. What do you think about the situation?

Related Links
– 5 Goalkeeping Managers Trying To Buck The Trend

The Manchester United Goalkeeper Hunt Continues

Paper talk over the last couple of days have attempted to shed more light on who’s likely to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, but if anything, it’s only highlighted how messy the picture has become. Here’s the latest attempt to cut through the double-talk and go through Sir Alex Ferguson’s likely wishlist.

Pepe Reina
1. Pepe Reina
As unthinkable as it might be to Liverpool fans, Reina joining their most despised of rivals isn’t as far-fetched as some may think. The Spaniard’s fiercely competitive nature is evident on the pitch and he wants to win trophies. Fernando Torres’ conclusion that aspirations of silverware were best served by moving elsewhere will have got Reina thinking about something similar. A move back to Spain has been spoken about, but only to Atletico Madrid where his father played for much of the 70s, even reaching a European Cup final. His contemporaries at Barcelona and Real Madrid would seem to have those plum goalkeeping berths locked down and the move to the Mattress Makers is more likely to happen towards the end of his career.

Not for the first time in his life, Liverpool’s recent upturn in form won’t be to the satisfaction of Sir Alex, but on this occasion it has nothing to do with rivaling the Red Devils for silverware or honours. The Anfield club are about as far away from a title challenge as at any point during Fergie’s reign at Old Trafford, but their resurgence under Kenny Dalglish may convince Reina to hang tight for at least another season. Ferguson and his goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele are said to be big fans of Reina, but with improved form and the promise of further investment over the summer, extending his stay on Merseyside could be worth the risk. Time would appear to be on his side. He’ll only turn 29 towards the start of next season and such is the peak physical condition that Reina keeps himself in, it’d wouldn’t be a surprise to be talking about him in 2020. Reina has the option of having his cake and eating it by giving Liverpool another chance to return to the top of the English game. If it doesn’t work out and Man Utd are still the dominant force in the Premier League in a couple of years, he could move then and still enjoy an extended stay at Old Trafford.

David de Gea
2. David de Gea
With the Reina option looking less and less likely with each improvement King Kenny gets from his team, Man Utd have been exploring the possibly of raiding the next generation of Spanish custodian. David de Gea is at the forefront of the generation after reportedly impressing Steele on several scouting missions in the recent past. Purely of terms of talent, de Gea has exactly what it takes to succeed in the Premier League right now and with the potential for further improvement he could excel for Man Utd. At the age of 20, he’s a hugely exciting prospect, but his youth is something of a double-edged sword for Man Utd.

On one hand, snapping up a player barely out of his teens who has a proven track record of success has the potential – if the best of the dream-like best scenario’s comes to pass – of sorting out the Man Utd goalkeeping position for a decade and possibly more. On the other, de Gea is reported to have misgivings about moving abroad quite so young. De Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity and attitude, but the option of staying with Atletico to develop further prior to a big move is said to be tempting him into staying put for the next couple of years.

One concern may centre around the step up in expectations. In terms of media attention and pressure, his time at Atletico Madrid will have given de Gea at least an idea of what he will go through in the spotlight of Old Trafford, but the expectations at each club are vastly different. With the team in front of him regularly misfiring, on the occasions when de Gea has made mistakes, the consequences haven’t been too grave. That won’t be the case at Man Utd where – regardless of the opposition or the competition – he’ll play two high pressure games a week with virtually zero margin for error. With silverware expected, allowing the goal that turns three points into just one and could in turn prove costly at the end of the season will not be tolerated and de Gea has to decide if he’s ready for that level of scrutiny at this early stage of his career.

Manuel Neuer
3. Manuel Neuer
Neuer would be a great option for Man Utd, but he has made noises about preferring to stay in Germany and wanting to win a Bundesliga title. The interest from Bayern Munich would give him an option to complete both of these stated goals.

There had been hope that Thomas Kraft would be the long-term solution to Bayern’s goalkeeping issues, but for all his potential, he may not be the immediate remedy that the Bavarian club require. Attention has been turned back to Neuer and for good reason. He has always been highly rated, but over the last season and a half, the Schalke keeper has come along in leaps and bounds. Mistakes have been less and less common and his has become a more commanding presence around the penalty area. He is strikingly similar to the great Peter Schmeichel in terms of style and pure effectiveness and the experience he has amassed in six years of first team football make him vastly more tried and tested than the typical 25 year old. He has the talent to make a big impression at Old Trafford, but the signs are he’s staying put in the Bundesliga for the time-being. With age on his side, a move may again be discussed in the future, but for the moment – barring a change of heart or bags of money – it’s looking unlikely.

Maarten Stekelenburg
4. Maarten Stekelenburg
In the midst of all the speculation, Stekelenburg has remained a constant in the background. Rumours have trickled through consistently and the lack of agitation for a move and comment from Stekelenburg hints at a man confident in the knowledge a deal has been struck and where he’ll be playing his football next season. The Dutch connection makes the narrative of this particular option all the more appealing, but rest assured it has little influence on how Ferguson and Steele are assessing their options – Stekelenburg is being considered simply because he’s good enough to be considered and similarities with the departing Van der Sar are purely coincidental.

Technically good and physically robust, the current first choice for the Oranje would be well suited to the challenges of the Premier League and he comes across as the type of level-headed personality who will take the move to Old Trafford in his stride.

Gianluigi Buffon
5. Gianluigi Buffon
I’d be stunned if Buffon turns up at Old Trafford next season, mainly because it’s his agent who has been doing most of the talking about a possible move to England and purely on a personal basis, moving to the Premier League wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having spent his entire career in Serie A, moving to England would require uprooting a young family to a completely new culture for a few years. Otherwise he could try the commute, but that’s only likely to meet with disapproval from Sir Alex and eventual homesickness. It would appear that Buffon’s agent has looked at the only two major European clubs in need of a top quality goalkeeper in an attempt to frighten Juventus into offering him a much improved contract. My guess would be Buffon will get his contract, stay in Turin for the next couple of years before moving to one of the Gulf states for one last lucrative pay-day.

The financial situation at Juve is often cited as a reason why Buffon’s departure is a possibility, but how much is a 33 year old – admittedly top class – increasingly injury-prone goalkeeper likely to fetch in a depressed transfer market? Whatever figure you arrive it, it’s unlikely to be enough to chase the financial gloom away. The benefits of hanging on to Buffon almost certainly outweigh the benefits of selling him on. Possibly adding fuel to the rumour is a fractious relationship with head coach, Luigi Del Neri. After recovering from the injury sustained at the World Cup, Buffon declared himself fit and ready to return for Juventus. Rather than immediately reinstate Italy’s number 1, Del Neri kept faith with Marco Storari for an extended period of time and that didn’t go down well with Buffon. As he was one of Del Neri’s first signings when taking charge last summer, there may have been an element of politics involved in the manager’s decision to stick with Storari, but whatever the reason, it’s judgment like that which makes it likely Buffon will be at Juventus next season whilst Del Neri will not.

The ‘all things considered’ most likely options list
1. Stekelenburg
2. De Gea
3. Reina
4. Neuer
5. Buffon

Goalkeeper World Rankings

Goalkeeper World Rankings
Jan. 27th 2011

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
3. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
4. (4) Edwin Van Der Sar (Man Utd)
5. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
6. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
7. (8) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
8. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
9. (10) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
10. (-) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)

Casillas
“31st in the world my ass.”

These rankings are my opinion.
Unabashed, possibly biased and undoubtedly debatable opinion.
There’s not much in the way of statistics, data analysis or science.
It’s nothing more than my gut feeling after watching mountains of football and paying nerd-like attention to the goalkeepers. I fully acknowledge they’re flawed, open to discussion and quite possibly wrong.

They’re still not the worst goalkeeper rankings I’ve seen. In my own slightly biased opinion.
That honour goes to Castrol World Rankings. They were brought to my attention this week and after deciding the overall rankings weren’t completely laughable i.e. Lucas Leiva isn’t at the top with Emile Heskey pushing him close, I checked out how they rated the world’s goalkeepers. ‘Bizarrely’ is the short answer.

Now everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if it’s so wrong it’s borderline gibberish just don’t bother. Daniel Aranzubia is a good pro, but rarely in his career has he looked like one of the world’s elite. Maybe being exposed to those fumes all day long is affecting the people at Castrol. Likewise Mariano Andjuar (3rd best in the world apparently) has impressed me on occasion, but his lack of consistency over a long period of time rules him out as one of the world’s best. Here’s certainly one of the top keepers in Serie A but gone are the days when that honour automatically qualifies you as one of the word’s best. With Curci, Storari and Sorrentino to also feature towards the top of the list all of a sudden you’ve got 5 Serie A goalies in the top 11, a figure which is wrong by in the region of 4 to 5. Other major queries I’d have would be:

Julio Cesar at the top is just wrong. Ceasr is an excellent goalkeeper, but at no point in the last year, month or even week has he been better than the likes of Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar etc.
Craig Gordon at 7 – he’s playing very well, but it’s only been for a few months. Needs to have done it for a longer period of time to be that high on my list.
Cesar Sanchez at 12 – I’m not even convinced he’s the best goalkeeper at Valencia.
Marcus Hanneham at 17 – this makes him better than Petr Cech, Joe Hart and Heurelho Gomes. Again, he’s probably not even the best keeper at Wolves.
Petr Cech the 20th best goalkeeper on the planet? Which planet? He’s one of the top two on earth.
Finally – Iker Casillas at 31 in the list of keepers and 145th best player in the world overall?? Ok, now you’re just coming out with utter garbage to get attention – it’s the Sepp Blatter approach.

I didn’t actually get around to compiling my best goalkeeper of the year list last month, but regular readers will know how highly I rate Iker Casillas. It probably sounds a bit like man-crush. He should have been a genuine contender for the Ballon d’Or rather than the obligatry afterthought he appeared to be. He has carried his World Cup excellence back to Real Madrid and his crucial saves have facilitated a smooth transition to the Mourinho era at the Bernabau. One negative was the amount of picking the ball out of the net he had to do against Barcelona, but it was Barcelona at their rampant finest and concrete wall would have struggled to keep them at bay for 90 minutes. He was the best goalkeeper in December and of the Ministry’s Goalkeeper of 2010.

The rehabilitation of Peter Cech is complete. Not only has he returned to the heights of earlier in his career, but he has exceeded them. He is wiser with experience and combined with his supreme reflexes, agility and bravery he is awesome. With Chelsea struggling, there’s not much positive comment about any members of the team, but Cech has been simply outstanding. He’s a joy to watch and regardless of what happens with the Blues season, if he maintains his current levels he deserves to be considered for all end of season awards, not just the ones for goalkeepers. Reina maintains the good form that has kept Liverpool out of some serious trouble whilst Van der Sar still looks perfectly comfortable at the highest level of the game. The Dutchman’s retirement will be a huge loss to United and the fact that goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele was only half-jokingly asked by a BBC interviewer if he could convince Van der Sar to change his mind and stay for another year reflects how well he’s still playing having reached the big 40.

After a long spell out injured and an unseemly argument with the Juventus manager who suggested his reinstatement to the first team wasn’t a mere formality, Gigi Buffon has returned to action. Eyebrows were raised when he maintained his heady place in the rankings, but it’s unfair to demote someone due to injury. Sitting on the bench because you’re getting paid truckloads of money is a different matter …

That brings me on to Shay Given. I’ve been a huge fan of Given for many years, but the lack of activity in the transfer window does not paint him in the most ambitious of lights. Of course I understand that a football career is short and players need to feather their nests for a long period of earning a mere fraction of their professional days, but would the Irishman really be on the receiving end of a self-inflicted financial knee-capping if he moved to another Premier League club or major European league? Having such talent yet watching on from the bench isn’t right and Man City’s number two needs to play to prove he’s still one of the world’s best. Sporadic Europa League and international games are a start, but he should have bigger ambitions than that. Given isn’t suddenly a bad goalkeeper, we just haven’t seen enough of him. Joe Hart has been making mistakes of late and Roberto Mancini should give him a quick taste of the bench. It may not be a long term arrangement. The type of errors seem to come from complacency and a reminder that he’s not undroppable, wouldn’t be a bad idea. Hart is still a top quality keeper, but maybe we shouldn’t tell him quite so often.

Given has been dropped from the top 10 for Manuel Neuer. Ironically he hasn’t been playing a great deal lately either, but that’s got more to do with the Bundesliga winter break than anything else. His form has been crucial in Schalke’s recent surge from relegation candidates to European contenders.

Do you think any other goalkeepers deserve to be included? Leave your suggestions, abuse or praise in the comments section.

Best Goalkeeper Performance 2010

A fumble, a drop, a public embarrassment.
As ever, it’s the howlers and calamities that the majority of the attention from the mainstream media when it comes to goalkeepers, but 2010 saw no shortage of truly excellent performances.

Considering the importance of the match and the quality of his saves, what Iker Casillas did in the World Cup Final was astonishing. The compressed historical version will see it as a deserved triumph for free-flowing Spanish football over the wrecking ball approach of the Dutch, but in truth the Netherlands produced some silky skills of their own and could very easily have brought the stereotype of Spanish self-doubt back if they had taken the lead. It wasn’t the busiest or even most spectacular night of Casillas’ career, but the Spanish captain was excellent in denying Arjen Robben at crucial moments in the game. His concentration was supreme and when his time came, he was there time and time again with confident and assertive goalkeeping. His saves in one on one situations were the most memorable, but the way in which he fielded so many high balls with the minimum of fuss shouldn’t be forgotten. He took the pressure off his defenders and laid the foundations for a famous victory. Considering the size of the occasion and the poor start he made to the tournament, it was an excellent all round performance. Not quite performance of the year mind.

Julio Cesar ended the year known as the goalkeeper who cost Brazil their place at the tournament, but that once off blip can’t take away from an excellent first part of the year when he starred in Inter Mlian’s treble. His reactions and agility were a huge assistance to the Champions League campaign in general and the semi-final tie with Barcelona in particular. Over the two legs he made some outstanding saves and with the second leg taking place at the Nou Camp, his team needed whatever advantage they could muster. Much like Casillas on the night in South Africa, it may not have been the sheer volume of saves that impressed, so much as the command and composure he exerted in his area. Without Cesar, it could have been a different story and the hunt for their third European Cup could have run well beyond 45 years.

There were no World Cups or European trophies up for grabs in the match which saw the Ministry Of Glove’s Performance of 2010, but it did end up in silverware. Whilst being amongst Europe’s elite players means Casillas and Cesar are playing for bigger stakes, for a journeyman pro pressure comes in different ways. The FAI Cup Final rarely reaches an audience of hundreds of thousands, let alone hundreds of millions, but for Ciaran Kelly it was a massive game and he delivered for his team in real style. The game was played at the fabulous Aviva Stadium in front of a raucous crowd comprising Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers fans. The game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes of football, but don’t allow the scoreline to paint a dreary mental image of the game. It was thrilling from start to finish and Kelly played no small part in helping Sligo Rovers keep pace with their more celebrated opponents in normal and extra time, but it was when the game reached the dramatic crescendo of a penalty shoot-out that Kelly excelled. He saved an incredible 4 of the Shamrock Rovers penalties, but even more impressive was the quality of the saves. He combined agility with intelligence and guts to put his team in with a great chance of winning – a chance they firmly grasped. Watch it all below.

Kelly’s first save was ultimately straightforward, but his movement along the goal-line plants the seed of doubt in the penalty-takers’ mind. The second save is genuinely top class. He reads the penalty-taker and flings himself acrobatically across the goal to make the save. A simple analysis would suggest he guessed right and made a full stretch save, but it’s the way in which he watches the taker – almost hunting him down – that gives you the sense he is in control. For me, the third save is the pick of the high class bunch. Kelly looks like he’s going to his left, but adjusts magnificently to stay upright and get a strong hand to the shot – it was superb anticipation from Kelly and required bravery because he ran the risk of looking very foolish indeed in front of a huge psyched up crowd. At this stage, Kelly making a fourth save looks like a mere formality, but again he adjusts brilliantly to get to one going down the middle. He has gone to his left, but the moment he realises where the shot is heading, slows down his dive and gets his legs to up and in the way. It was truly superb and it says so much about Kelly’s performance that the only criticism you could level his way is the Shearer-esque ‘too cool to celebrate wildly’ run he goes on after making the winning save. It was a great performance and the fact that it wasn’t at the highest level doesn’t take away from it one bit. Excellent goalkeeping isn’t dependent on the prize being competed for and Kelly deserves the accolade.

Honourable mentions
Joe Hart had numerous excellent performances both for Birmingham and upon his return to Man City. Petr Cech was excellent as Chelsea powered to the top of the table and still is despite the dramatic downturn in form. David de Gea has emerged as a top quality young goalkeeper and he had some outstanding games in La Liga throughout 2010. It wasn’t a good year for Liverpool, but the form of Pepe Reina saved it from being a whole lot worse. The Spaniard wasn’t always at the top of his game, but his habit of making crucial saves saved the Reds a hatful of points. He’s not without his own flaws, but Mark Schwarzer also deserves a lot of credit for his role in Fulham’s run to the final of the Europa League. It was a late entry for consideration, but Manuel Neuer’s performance for Schalke against Bayern Munich was remarkable and showed exactly why their such interest in signing him.

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Disclaimer bit
Apologies for any major omissions here. As much as I try, it’s just not feasible to take in everything on offer in the lower British leagues, around Europe and across the globe. My choices are based on what I’ve watched or researched following glowing reports about the goalkeepers involved. Week in, week out there are goalkeeping performances that no doubt fully deserve to be mentioned. Although I may make the same mistakes in 2011 and miss out on some performances, I thoroughly enjoying watching and appreciate all the efforts of the goalkeepers out there.

Man Utd Goalkeeper Options

Originally written on 1st Dec. for BackpageFootball.com

As responses go, the reaction to Manchester United’s signing of Anders Lindegaard has been colder than a face full of snow. Peter Schmeichel questioned if Lindegaard is of a high enough standard to command the club’s number 1 spot and several other commentators have questioned the price tag and the pedigree of the Dane. Despite his handful of caps for the Danish national side, it looks likely he’s been signed primarily for his bench-warming ability and the occasional Carling Cup or European dead rubber outing. With Edwin Van der Sar likely to hang up his gloves at the end of the season, it’s very unlikely Sir Alex will head into the new season with his goalkeeping division so devoid of top class talent – surely he’s learned his lesson from the Massimo Tiabi incident. But who’s likely to come in? Here’s a look at some of Fergie’s goalkeeping options.

David de Gea

1. David de Gea
So interested is Sir Alex in signing De Gea that he missed his first United game since the ‘you don’t win anything with kids’ era to go and watch him. At the time Fergie passed it off as a routine scouting mission to look at Valencia and Atletico Madrid talent in general, but the repeated visits of his scouts to the Vicente Calderon stadium would suggest the interest is more specific. Having broken into the first team last season, De Gea has gone from strength to strength in an inconsistent Atletico side and the reasons for Fergie’s interest are obvious. He’s agile, got good hands and commands his penalty area with an authority uncommon in goalkeepers only a handful of weeks into their twenties. As a bonus, having cut his teeth in the glare of the Madrid sports media, he should be well accustomed to the scrutiny he’ll encounter as United’s number 1.

On the negative side, he will cost a pretty penny. He’s good and Atletico know it. They’re under little pressure to sell and hung on to Fernando Torres for a couple of seasons longer than expected. Likewise, they’ve withstood the temptation to cash in on Sergio Aguero. Fergie would have to part with around £20 million for De Gea and with that pricetag comes real pressure. One bad game would bring a blizzard of criticism and for a young man in a strange country, it’d be interesting to see how he would react. He hasn’t really endured a significant dip in form to date and if he made some errors early on in his Old Trafford career, it would be interesting to see how he responds. He’d be a great signing for United and if all goes well, could make the spot his own for the next 15 years. But if it doesn’t, it would be a costly error.

Manuel Neuer

2. Manuel Neuer
Let’s get this clear – making a comparison to the Great Dane, does not necessarily mean he’s in the same class as the United legend. Neuer is merely very similar in style to Schmeichel. You won’t find pictures of either in books about goalkeeping technique, but they get the job done. The German has the unorthodox effectiveness that made Schmeichel such a world class keeper. He’s aggressive, his reflexes are top drawer and his physique will be well suited to the demands of the Premier League. He stays big in one on ones and will throw himself courageously at the feet of opponents when the situation requires it. One negative may be his handling, both in dealing with shots and collecting crosses. It’s not always perfect and he sometimes needs a couple of grabs to secure a ball. Similar to the De Gea however, his club are in no hurry to sell and will come with a substantial price tag. Judging by their recent recruitment policy and their loyal following, Schalke are in a healthy financial state. He’ll be expensive, but for such a young goalkeeper, he’s got the high level experience that could justify such an outlay.

Hugo Lloris

3. Hugo Lloris
Followers of the rumour mill will know that Europe’s top clubs have been sniffing around Hugo Lloris for the last couple of years. Moves to Serie A and La Liga have been mooted, but for a time during the summer, a move to a certain French enclave in North London was looking likely. Nothing came to pass and Lloris remains a big fish in the relatively small pond of Ligue 1. He has obvious appeal because despite being just 23, Lloris has amassed over 150 senior appearances and – thanks to his time at Lyon – has sampled plenty of Champions League football. This season has been more of a struggle for the French giants, but Lloris has avoided much of the criticism. He is without doubt a world class goalkeeper. He’s an excellent shot-stopper and his reflexes are superb. His hands and footwork have the technical hallmarks of the famed French coaching system and if there is an Achilles heel, it comes in the form of the difficult-to-teach area of judging crosses. When he does get there, he’s usually good to catch the ball or get a vital hand to it, but he has on occasion completely misjudged the flight of the ball and been left a spectator to the action in his own goalmouth. There’s a potential problem for Fergie if he’s serious about Lloris. If word gets out that he’s available – and club chairman Jean Michel Aulus isn’t exactly renowned for keeping quiet – it’s likely to trigger a bidding war and seriously inflate the price. In this case however, Lyon are renowned as a selling club and they may decide to cash in sooner rather than later. The last time Fergie opted for the French number 1, the results were very much mixed. It’s interesting to know if he’s tempted to go back to this particular well another time.

Shay Given

4. Shay Given
The most controversial and left field of Fergie’s options. The United/City rivalry has moved beyond something Sky Sports emphasize to flog a generally meaningless game. The cash injection has meant City’s aspirations go beyond bragging rights and as such United are a genuine rival rather than a Goliath waiting for a bloodied nose. That may be one obstacle in a potential move, but if selling to a direct rivals was a concern, then the move to Arsenal probably wouldn’t have been mentioned as seriously as it was. In the end it appeared to be Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to do business that scuppered the move. The situation at City has been rough on Given. He remains better than about 85% of the goalkeepers in the Premier League, but it just so happens that Joe Hart is better than about 90% of goalkeepers in the Premier League. The Irishman turns 35 next year, but that shouldn’t be a worry for Fergie as there’s no real depreciation in his talents. Any fumbles or slight mishaps he has had for Ireland or on the rare occasion he does get a game for City look to be as a result of rustiness rather than the onset of age. He should come quite cheap and he’s a proven Premier League performer. He may not be seen as a long term solution, but then again, people were probably saying the same thing about a certain Dutchman a few years back.

Van der Sar

5. Edwin Van der Sar
United’s current first choice is now in his fourth decade of professional football, but on the outside at least doesn’t seem to have lost his appetite for the game. It’s thought to be an open secret that Van der Sar will be retiring at the end of this season (so open that one of United’s coaches was talking about it openly a couple of months back)but in terms of ability, he’s got at least another season of top class football in him. With his wife suffering health problems last year, the Dutchman has a vaild reason to feel it’s time to call it a day and go about the business of enjoying life, but if it’s a possibility, Fergie could do worse than testing the Dutchman’s resolve. Much was made of his costly error against West Brom earlier in the season, but that was the type of concentration based mistake van der Sar was making in his twenties and thirties and not a result of age. Aside from that, he has been in fine form and his saves have directly earned United several points they would have otherwise dropped. Such has been the strength of his displays, that if he was still available to Bert van Marwijk, there’s every chance he’d remain first choice for the Oranje. It may only postpone a difficult decision about a long term successor for another season, but sticking with an old hand wouldn’t be the worst of options.

England’s Goalkeeping Crisis

Ben Foster

International friendlies are football’s version of elections. There’s a bit of a fuss, they get a lot of attention, but regardless of the outcome, no-one’s happy and very little seems to have changed. Win a friendly and it’s nice, but largely insignificant. Losing isn’t good, but it’s easy to turn a blind eye and concentrate on future competitive matches. More resounding victories or defeats may be harder to ignore, but ultimately it’s the qualifying campaigns for the various international tournaments that are the yardstick for progress.

So despite that inauspicious summary, England’s performance against France is a major cause for concern. With suspiciously timed vague injuries again ruling out many starters and several newcomers in the team, taking the easy option and writing it off is understandable, but a lack of quality in depth was apparent across the team. And a lack of quality in shallow according to some.

The goalkeeping division is a major concern. Ben Foster isn’t yet an international standard goalkeeper. He got beaten at his near post for the first goal and his handling looked untrustworthy a couple of time. He’s young and may yet develop, but for the moment, relying on him isn’t ideal. True enough, England may not have to be should Joe Hart maintain his form and fitness over the long term, but it’s clear England’s well of goalkeepers is remarkably dry. When Hart pulled out through injury, things got so bad that Fabio Capello had to draft in Scott Loach who the day before had been playing for the England U21 side in Germany. We’ve got nothing against Loach, but it illustrates the lack of options available to the Italian.

Elsewhere, other countries don’t have such difficulties. Spain’s goalkeeping ranks are the envy of the world, whilst elsewhere Germany, Italy and France seem to have numerous possibilities should they be denied their first choice. So why the lack of options? Well, in a rare burst of hard-work, we’ve had a look at the respective top flights of Europe’s top 5 leagues to look at the breakdown of goalkeepers eligible for that country’s national team versus those who aren’t – i.e. foreign goalkeepers. It doesn’t look good.

We’ve gone with the squad data available on UEFA.com. Flawed it may be, but at least it’s flawed for everyone. And when it comes to tricky questions regarding nationality or dual nationality, we’re side-stepping any possible controversy by going with what UEFA say. Blame them, it’s their fault.

England's Goalkeeping Crisis

It shows there are a shockingly low number of opportunities being given to English goalkeepers in the Premier League. There’s a huge over reliance on foreign talent. Although the fact that the stats mean relatively locals such as the Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Northern Irish are included as foreigner, it still paints a grim picture and suggests in the interests of the national side, Premier League sides should be producing far more indigenous talent. Admittedly, just because they’re in the squad doesn’t mean they’re close to first team football, but the fact they’ll be exposed to top class goalkeepers and coaching talent on a daily basis should stand to them and improve them over the course of a career.

Have a look at the more detailed version of the data here, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

There needs to a serious sea-change in England or else they’ll get a serious kick in the ballots over the next few years.