Things could get even better for Norwich’s rising star Ruddy

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Norwich

1st Team Goalkeepers: John Ruddy (25), Declan Rudd (21), Jed Steer (19)

Norwich superseded many people’s expectations in their return to the top flight and John Ruddy’s season mirrored that of the club almost perfectly. Simply put, he was brilliant and he fully deserved his call up to the England squad for Euro 2012. A broken finger caused him to miss that trip, but it’s unlikely to be his last involvement with the international set up.

Similar to his club, Ruddy arrived in the Premier League with acclaim, but doubts about his ability to step up to the next level. It didn’t take long for those doubts to silenced. He was excellent from day one and his agility and reflexes were an important part of getting the Canaries up and running rather than scraping around for points.

The new season promises much for Ruddy. Last season he performed to a high level, but with more experience and youth on his side, he could get even better. The main area to improve upon is his angles. His speed and movement often cover for errors in this department, but there were times when suspect positioning made things easier for the strikers than they needed to be.

Ruddy is the undisputed number one and barring a huge dip in form, Chris Hughton is unlikely to turn to his back-up goalkeepers too often. Declan Rudd is very highly rated, but hasn’t had much first team football in the last couple of seasons. He has the ability to succeed, but when it comes to the Premier League, experience is invaluable and he needs playing time. The same can be said for Jed Steer. He’s appeared for England’s underage sides, but not featured much at Carrow Road. He spent part of last season on loan with Yeovil and another spell learning his trade is likely.

The future looks bright for Norwich’s goalkeepers and the present isn’t bad either. If anything, Hughton might want to look at bringing in a more experienced back-up just in case Ruddy was to miss a big part of the season. Other than that, they can be pretty happy.

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Joe Hart is crucial for Manchester City’s title defence

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Manchester City

1st Team Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (25), Costel Pantilimon (25), Gunnar Nielsen (25)

Last year was about as good as it gets for Manchester City, but aside from bagging their first Premier League title, there were encouraging signs from the goalkeeping ranks. Joe Hart combined his ability with increased maturity and was duly voted into the PFA’s Team of the Season. There can be few arguments and his contributions were vital in what turned out to be the closest title race of the Premier League era. Prior to last year’s success, Hart had something of a tendency to lose concentration on occasion, but there was little evidence of the flaw last season.

Behind him is the sizeable presence of Costel Pantilimon. He was limited to appearances in the domestic cup competitions in his first season with the club, but he impressed on his handful of appearances and the loanee was signed up permanently in December of last year. Despite standing over two metres tall, he’s incredibly quick and agile and should Joe Hart be unavailable, he’s a more than able deputy. He lacks the experience of Hart, but based on ability alone, City fans won’t be too worried if he’s called into action. There was a timely reminder of the consistency he needs to achieve to truly challenge Hart in the Community Shield. Filling in for the injured first choice, his fumbling of a simple shot gifted Chelsea a goal. It wasn’t a costly error, but more a sign of how important Hart’s form is to City.

Gunnar Nielsen was actually released by the club at the end of the 2011-12 season, but with long time back-up, Stuart Taylor opting to leave on a free, the club moved quickly to re-sign the Faroe Islands international.

Interestingly, City have also been linked with a move for emerging star, Jack Butland. With Hart and Pantilimon at their disposal, you’d have to think it’s an unnecessary purchase, but if it was to happen, it would make City’s goalkeeping options very strong.

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Euro 2012 – Hart and Lloris are the GK stars of Group D

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Group D is a group full of established and emerging goalkeeping talent. Here’s a look at the custodians involved in a very unpredictable group.

England

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Joe Hart is he number one and after a strong season and much improvement from the Manchester City keeper, it’s a straightforward pick. Over the last twelve months, he has gained the experience and judgement to compliment his obvious agility and reflexes. He’s now a more commanding figure in aerial battles and his once suspect concentration now looks pretty flawless. He’s the number one and without him England are substantially weaker.

If for any reason misfortune strikes, Robert Green will step in. He will forever be remembered for his howler against the USA at World Cup 2010, but he has bounced back well since that disappointment and subsequent tabloid character assassination. His reactions are top class, but his handling can be an issue. That said, if he needs to step in, he has the experience and ability to do it with minimum of fuss.

The selection of Jack Butland on the stand-by list was Roy Hodgson’s bolt from the blue. When John Ruddy broke a finger and had to withdraw from the squad, the untested 19 year old ws the focus of much attention. Owned by Birmingham, but on loan at League 2 Cheltenham for the last few months, it was a bold move by Hodgson. It had hints of Theo Walcott being brought along to World Cup 2006 ain’t to give him the experience of an international tournament. That’s fine, but if he is called into action, it could be a decision England may rue.

France

Hugo Lloris has quietly gone about becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the last few seasons. Lyon have fallen off their Ligue 1 perch, but Lloris has continued to impress with his consistency and ability. Laurent Blanc handed him the captaincy and that speaks volumes about the 25 year old’s maturity and importance to the them. His good form was rubber stamped when he was this season voted Ligue 1’s Goalkeeper of the Year for a third time.

In reserve, France have the considerable talents of Steve Mandanda. The Marseille captain’s agility and reactions have always been evident, but his handling often let him down. In the last couple of seasons however, this has improved markedly and he now looks a far more reliable keeper. He’s get into several of the sides at Euro 2012 as a first choice, but will find it hard to leapfrog Lloris in the years ahead.

The third choice is Cedric Carrasso of Bordeaux. He’s the oldest of the three, but has only one cap to his name. That’s largely down to bad timing as his peak years have coincided with the rise of Lloris and Mandanda. He’s hugely agile and capable and won’t look out of his depth in the unlikely event he’s called into action.

Sweden
Despite not making the grade at Juventus or Manchester City, Andreas Isaksson has forged a good career for himself at PSV and become Sweden’s undisputed number 1. The 30 year old is closing in on his century of caps for the national side. At 6′ 6″, his height doesn’t compromise his agility. He’s an excellent shot-stopper and even though he’s not textbook perfect, he has the knack of getting something in the way of the ball. He may parry a little too often, but he’s a reliable first choice. For a keeper of his height however, his command of the aerial battle is below standard. He needs to take charge of what can be an uncertain Swedish defence.

Johan Wiland is the most senior keeper in terms of age, but he’s the junior in terms of international caps. The Copenhagen keeper has eight to his name and at 31, may find himself behind Isaksson for most of his career. Like Isaksson, he’s a little unorthodox, but he gets the job done. His reflexes are top class and he’s brave in one on one situations.

Par Hansson is the youngest of the three goalkeepers and the one least likely to see game time. At 25, he’s very highly rated in his homeland and he will get his chance in future. His reactions are great and he’s very quick – he really is an exciting prospect for the future. One thing he may need to work on is his aerial presence. He stays on his line most of the time and to step up to the next level, will need to become more assertive.

Ukraine
The co-host’s preparation has been hindered by a severe dwindling of their goalkeeping options. The vastly experienced Oleksandr Shovkovskiy has been the first choice for the better part of the last two decades, but he has been ruled out after having to have shoulder surgery. The usual back-up of Maksim Dikan has been ruled out due to serious injuries picked up in a league game for Spartak Moscow earlier this season and another option, Oleksandr Rybka is serving a ban for testing positive for a banned diuretics whilst playing for Shakhtar Donetsk.

It leaves Andriy Pyatov as the man likely to start their campaign against Sweden. He has established himself as a firm favourite at Shakhtar Donetsk, particularly impressing in their Europa League run of 2009. Athletic and sharp, he won’t stand out as a weakness, but clearly he’s not the man most Ukrainians would want in goal.

If something does happen to Pyatov, then there’s problems for Ukraine. Mainly because between them, his two back ups have three caps. Two of them belong to Oleksandr Horyainov of Metalist Kharkiv. The 36 year old has plenty of experience at club level and he’s more than capable of filling in, but an ideal scenario would see him spend the tournament bench-warming.

Maksym Koval has just one cap to his name, but at the age of 19, that’s less of a concern. He has been ear-marked as a future star for some time now and will no doubt form a large part of Ukraine’s footballing future. He has made some gaffes in his short career, but it’s to be expected and his agility ad reflexes stand out as being exceptional. It would be a big ask to step into such a high pressure environment at such a young age, but the experience will stand him in good stead for the years to come.


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Euro 2012 – a semi-final would be a great result for England

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Thoughts of England winning Euro 2012 should be secondary thanks to the team’s troubled lead-in. It should all be about the learning for brighter days ahead says Shaka Hislop

It’s strange to see England go into a tournament with such little expectation. The messy situation Roy Hodgson has inherited seems to have dampened the usual hype you normally see around the team. It’s no bad thing. Normally they’re doomed to disappoint a nation, but this time around a run to the semi-finals would surely count as progress.

It’s early days in the Hodgson era, but there are some good signs. In his two friendlies, England were a well organised and disciplined side. They didn’t dominate in the way some people would like, but they have some real strengths heading into the tournament.

With Welbeck, Young and Walcott, they’ve got real pace and are well set-up to play on the counter attack. Added to the mix is Ashley Cole, who is simply one of the best left-backs in the world, let alone Europe. They’ll be dangerous on the break.

England have been unlucky with injuries, especially in defence, but Roy will have whatever team he puts out there well-drilled. That counts for a lot in international football were the margins are generally very thin. With France playing well, it’s hard to see England claiming top spot and that means big trouble. With Spain likely to top Group C, it would make getting further than a quarter-final nearly impossible. If however, they started with a win over France and got the right results against Sweden and then Ukraine, topping the group could be huge. That would most likely mean playing Italy, Croatia or the Republic of Ireland – all of which are substantially more achievable challenges.

It’s something of a freebie for Hodgson. With all the turmoil surrounding England in the last few months, he’s done well to steady the ship. There was criticism of the way he handled the Rio Ferdinand and John Terry issue. I can see it from both sides. I totally sympathise with Rio, but I can see legitimate footballing reasons for his omission. In a squad like this, you don’t really need two centre backs over the age of 30 with a lack of pace. The leadership and experience of one will suffice and Hodgson clearly believes Terry is the better defender.

England will get out of their group, most likely as a runner-up. That puts them on course for Spain in the quarter-final and that’s where the story could end. It’s not crucial for Roy on this occasion, but he’ll be expected to deliver in future. Hopefully England can make progress deep into the tournament, but the more realistic aim is that everyone involved learns from the experience and they’re better placed for success in 2014.


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International football presents a different challenge for an England GK

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Roy Hodgson’s England goalkeeping selections for the summer have provoked much debate. No-one can quibble with Joe Hart but there was far less consensus when it game to bringing Rob Green and John Ruddy (and now Jack Butland) to Euro 2012. Many people lament the continued absences of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson, whilst others made a case for Scott Carson who is out of sight and presumably out of mind in Turkey.

The first thing to say is club football and international football are totally different. International football is a lot slower. It’s a different mindset. I got called up to an England B team back in 1996. David Seaman was out injured and then Tim Flowers went down with an injury so I got bumped to the A squad. Nigel Martyn was the first choice and I sat on the bench for the game against Chile at Wembley.

Nigel summed up the differences between the club and country game perfectly. He told me “in international football, you’re generally going to be resigned to taking goal-kicks and picking the ball out of the net.” That’s because the game is a lot slower. In club games, the play is at a much higher tempo and you’re going to have maybe 14 or 15 saves to make. In international football, you’re normally only going to have to make three or four saves.

The teams are trying to work the ball into positions where they’re only a few yards out, so when the shots do come in, you’ve got much less of a chance of keeping them out. At that level, you’ve got to be prepared to do little else but take goal-kicks and pick the ball out of the net. Those requirements don’t suit every goalkeeper. It’s takes much more mental toughness and concentration. To play a long season at club level where you’re making a much higher volume of saves, it’s more suited to the younger and more physical goalkeeper.

From my own experiences, I’m fully aware of the psychological differences between being first choice and second choice both for club and country. At World Cup 2006, I was largely 2nd choice at West Ham, but I was thrown into the limelight for the national team. I knew exactly what was required, so it was no problem to step in and change mental approach.

It’s something England will need. Everyone will hope Joe Hart stays fit and healthy, but if he doesn’t you need to have a certain type of player around. Rob Green is the right man for the job. I’ve always liked him as a goalkeeper. He obviously had a disappointing World Cup in 2010 by his standards. It really knocked his confidence, but he’s going to Poland and Ukraine as a number 2. It’s a completely different mindset when you know you’re the back-up. You know you’ll play the odd game at most and you’re prepared for it. He’s experienced enough to know what international football involves, so it’s worth having him around. He can play that role as well as anybody.

I thought is was a good idea bringing John Ruddy along to give him a taste of senior tournament football. It’s not now going to happen thanks to his broken finger, but it was the right thing to do. Hopefully Jack Butland won’t need to see any playing time and he take build up his experience to play a bigger role in future.

Ruddy the surprise GK choice in England Euro 2012 squad

John Ruddy – A surprise choice in Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad

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.

Szczesny Stars For Arsenal – 10 Goalkeepers Who Had A Good 2011

10 Goalkeepers Who’ll Look Back On 2011 with Fondness

Szczesny

Tim Krul (Newcastle)
Much improved on the Krul of old. For years the talent was obvious but the confidence was lacking. Last season was a case in point whereby his ability to make big saves was undermined with rushes of blood to the head and a string of inexplicable decisions. The 2011-12 season has seen a much improved Krul. He has developed an air of genuine authority and dominated his penalty area like never before. He has had a string of truly exceptional performances for Newcastle and established himself as one of the best in the league.

Wojciech Szczesny (Arsenal)
Not dissimilar to Krul, Szczesny seems to be a more commanding and mature presence this season than the earlier version we had seen. After an impressive start to his Arsenal career, he made a handful of slip-ups that in some quarters warranted the application of the lazy and grossly unfair label of being ‘another Wenger keeper’. Since then however, he has responded superbly and his superb performances early in the season prevented a bad start to the season being a whole lot worse. Since then, Robin Van Persie has taken centre stage, but the contribution of the young Pole is not to be underestimated.

Michel Vorm (Utrecht, now Swansea)
Dutch football has few issues in producing top class talent, but the record of that talent flourishing in the Premier League is more patchy. Vorm had caught the eye while at Utrecht and thankfully his transition to English football has been more Van Nistelrooy than Kezman. His speed, agility and athleticism have lit up the league and already Swansea know they’ll have a job on their hands fending off the advances of the cash-rich vultures in the summer. Buy of the season? There’s a few months to go, but he’s already established a useful lead.

Manuel Neuer (Schalke, now Bayern Munich)
2011 wasn’t exactly his breakout year, but it did see him claim his place amongst the world’s elite. He was outstanding in Schalke’s unlikely run to the semi-finals of the Champions League and since he has handled the move to Bayern Munich very well, particularly in view of some of the pointless vitriol aimed at him by a small minority of Bayern ‘fans’. It’ll take another decade of high quality performances to establish himself as one of the greats in Bayern’s storied history, but the early evidence is he’s well positioned to do it.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Monchengladbach)
These are halcyon days for German goalkeepers and amidst a range of young custodians currently impressing in the Bundesliga, ter Stegen is arguably the most remarkable. He made his senior debut for the club as an 18 year old back in April of this year and has since has establish himself as not only first choice, but one of the most exciting goalkeeping talents in European football. Agile, aggressive and with a penchant for vocal organisation of his defenders, he’s very much in keeping with what we’ve come to expect from a German goalkeeper and it’s only a matter of time before he puts pressure on Neuer for the starting berth with the Mannschaft.

Ochoa

Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio)
The football world has known about Ochoa for several years now, but after a minor drugs controversy the interest of Europe’s big clubs dropped of substantially. Cognoscente of this fact, the Mexican made the surprise move of joining unfashionable Corsican outfit Ajaccio over the summer. Ochoa has always indicated this is intended as a step in the rehabilitation of his reputation with a view for moving up the ladder of European football at a later date and so far the gamble has paid off. Although his team sit at the bottom of the league with the worst goals conceded record, he has been in exceptional form, putting in a number of excellent displays to at least give the campaign a semblance of respectability. Ochoa will be moving on at the end of the season (if not sooner) and his performances in 2011 will be a large part of the reason why.

Thibaut Courtois (Genk, Atletico Madrid via Chelsea)
For Courtois 2011 merely continued the whirlwind that began the year previous when he broke through during Genk’s championship winning in Belgium. Immediately he stood out as something special, but there was still a degree of surprise when Chelsea snapped first and signed him for a fee rumoured to be around the £8 million mark. It was going to take a while before he truly challenged Petr Cech for the starting spot, so he was sent out to Atletico Madrid to learn his trade. This season has been typically turbulent for the red and white half of the Spanish capital, but the youngster has emerged with great credit for a series of athletic and mature displays. Given the startling collapse in Cech’s form, the eyes of the Chelsea coaching staff will be watching closely in coming months. If the call comes in 2012, Courtois might well be able to answer it.

Willy Caballero (Malaga)
As both clubs have regularly occupied the same tier of Spanish football in recent years, it feels a little odd to say that Malaga plucked Caballero from obscurity when they signed him as emergency cover from Elche earlier this year. With their petro-dollars however, the Anchovies have become an undisputed big fish of La Liga and Caballero has established his own place in the pond with a few months of solid performances. In a league filled with supremely talented goalkeepers, he doesn’t stand out as the most naturally gifted of players but he has an uncommon determination about him and that invaluable knack of always being able to get some part of his body in the way of the ball. The millions burning a hole in the pocket of the owner may mean they soon go more a more high profile name between the posts, but for the moment Caballero is a reliable part of the revolution.

Jason Steele (Middlesbrough)
Young, gifted and English has been something of a curse for goalkeepers in the last couple of decades, but this season Steele has suggested there’s something more to him than bluster and a nation’s desire to build up young goalkeepers only to knock them down. Boro have the best defensive record in the Championship this season and although he can’t claim all the credit for that, he has certainly played his part in it. You couldn’t exactly classify Tony Mowbray’s men as rampant free-scorers and as such, Steele’s saves have been hugely important in seeing his team through games that are balanced on a knife-edge. He’s got the agility and reflexes to become a top class keeper and although the plan will be to go up with Middlesbrough, he may find himself in the Premier League next season regardless of how the promotion push goes. There’s going to be a few blips along the way, but Steele has enjoyed a good year and it may be the first of many more.

Brad Friedel (Tottenham)
During his last few months at Aston Villa, Friedel gave the impression he was a goalkeeper coming to the end of his career. He was still capable of producing a moment of brilliance, but the legs seemed heavy and his limbs unable to execute the impulses of his brain. Were it not for financial difficulties, retirement may well have been the order of the day, but some bad investments have necessitated extending his career into his 5th decade. Unsurprisingly, Harry Redknapp wasn’t put off by his age and the risk has been rewarded with a series of high quality performances for Spurs. Again, he may not be around for much longer, but he’s enjoying a wonderful Indian summer and fans of goalkeeping would be well advised to enjoy it while they can.