Celtic tracking Hammarby’s Hopf

Celtic are said to be tracking the highly-rated Hammarby goalkeeper, Johannes Hopf.

Sources within Swedish football have revealed scouts from the SPL club have watched Hopf on numerous ocassions in recent months with Celtic’s director of football development, John Park receiving regular updates on his progress.

Fraser Forster is the current first choice at Celtic Park, but with his second loan spell at the club coming to an end at the culmination of the season and Newcastle likely to demand a large fee to make the move permanent, the Glasgow club are likely to be in the market for a less costly alternative. Neil Lennon has turned to Łukasz Załuska for brief periods in the past, but despite backing the Pole publically, it’s thought the Celtic boss would prefer a more reliable option in the longer term.

Hammarby endured a difficult season in the 2nd tier of Swedish football, but Hopf emerged with immense credit following a string of impressive displays. With the strikeforce failing to fire at one end, he produced several top quality saves in the run-in which earned his team crucial points in helping avoid relegation and the division’s relegation play-off. Despite his youth, the 24 year old Swede has a good deal of first team experience under his belt and usurped former Arsenal goalkeeper Rami Shaaban as first choice for the Stockholm club in 2010, going on to be voted the club’s Player of the Season for that year.

Hopf was the subject of a failed transfer bid from an unamed Barclay’s Premier League club during the summer transfer window. On that ocassion his club rejected a bid thought to be in the region of £300,000, but with the club’s financial situation having deteriorated in recent months, sources inside the club have indicated a bid of between £200,000 to £250,000 may be enough to secure the transfer, most likely in January before the Swedish side commence their preparations for the new season. A very high profile Bundesliga side and one of Serie A’s major powers are also rumoured to be tracking him.

For more on Johannes Hopf check out:
highlights video
an analysis of Hopf

West Brom in for Bill Hamid

West Bromwich Albion are said to be stepping up their interest in highly rated US goalkeeper, Bill Hamid. The 20 year old has been first choice at DC United for little over a year and has been fast-tracked into the international set-up, although he is yet to make his senior debut.

As the evidence below highlights, he’s immensely agile with quick reflexes. With Ben Foster’s loan deal expiring at the end of the season, Roy Hodgson needs to pad out his goalkeeping ranks and signing Hamid would make sense.

That said however, he’s still a little rough around the edges and would need to work on his handling in particular to be a viable 1st choice. I’ve railed against the notion goalkeepers need to catch every single shot and cross perfectly, but having watched him several times during the MLS season, I think he opts to parry and punch too often. Or at least often enough to earn unwanted ‘flapper’ labels from pundits and journalists.

He’d be an interesting addition to the Premier League if it was to happen, but success is far from guaranteed.

Premier League: Arsenal goalkeeper leads an impressive generation

Szczesny

Potential is always the great imponderable.
It’s easy to identify, difficult to quantify and never guaranteed to be fulfilled.
It’s capable of vanishing in front of your eyes quicker than clubs that actually want to sign Carlos Tevez. If anything, it’s even harder to examine when looking at goalkeepers who may have to wait months and years for their chance in the 1st team, but one of the main storylines of the Premier League season has been the number of young goalkeepers making huge strides towards delivering on their undoubted natural ability. Here’s a look at some of the youthful generation impressing in the early stages of the campaign.

The irony of Arsenal finally unearthing a world-class goalie only for the rest of the team to suffer high-profile difficulties is something that’s been pointed out by various people – some with more joy than others. Since being promoted to the starting role in the Arsenal team, Wojciech Szczesny has performed to a level that suggests he’s a player of real quality. He has earned some flack for a couple of errors, but thankfully he has shown the mental strength to bounce back and more than that, improve markedly. Over the summer, he seems to have not only matured, but improved his already impressive agility, handling and command of his penalty area. His team-mates haven’t helped much by way of keeping his sheets clean, but taken in isolation, he has been in excellent form and looks to be the long-term solution to the Gunners’ goalkeeping issues. There will be blips in the future, but he’s displayed the mentality to suggest he’ll be able to great through any future issues.

Almost a carbon copy of the Pole is Tim Krul of Newcastle United. I questioned Alan Pardew’s apparent willingness to let Fraser Forster leave for Celtic, but at the moment the decision to entrust the Dutchman as first choice looks inspired. He has showcased his fantastic reflexes and agility numerous times this season, but the most encouraging aspect of his performances is his ever improving calmness. Krul had a tendency to litter his performances with ill-advised decision-making that undermined his skill, but during the off-season – whether consciously or otherwise – he seems to have developed a better sense of when to take command and when to leave it to his defenders. He has been excellent and without him we may again be talking about another Newcastle side playing nice football, but with little to show for it apart from an array of frozen beer-bellies on the terraces of St. James’ Park.

David De Gea is an obvious choice. The knives were out for the young Spaniard after a shaky start to his Man United career, but he has shown great resilience under pressure to recover. At one point the temptation of going with the in-form Anders Lindegaard must have been hard to resist for Sir Alex, but De Gea’s performance at Anfield was one that highlighted the attributes that eventually persuaded Fergie to part with a substantial sum of money for his services. The excellent saves garnered many of the non-racism row headlines, but the best part was seeing the authority with week he commanded his penalty area and took charge when required. That’s an important step in his development at Old Trafford and talk of ‘turning a corner’ may still be pre-mature, but it’s certainly not without justification.

John Ruddy of Norwich is another goalkeeper I’m more than happy to eat a large slice of humble pie over. In my pre-season preview of the goalkeepers of each Premier League club I expressed doubts about his level of experience and his reliability, but aside from the dismissal at Stamford Bridge, he has looked every bit the Premier League standard goalkeeper. Mistakes blighted him last season, but the early evidence is he’s now a more focussed player and the Canaries are reaping the benefits. Wayne Hennessy is also worthy of a mention, but in his case his improvement has been over the last couple of seasons rather than over the summer and on a similar theme, Asmir Begovic has continued his longer term renaissance for Stoke.

There’s certain to be be mistakes and bumps in the road to the top for all of the Premier League’s young goalkeepers, but the indications are there’s a generation of talent emerging in the top flight at present.

Everton would be a dream move says sought-after Hopf

Introducing the first in what I hope will be a long and insightful series, this is a feature I’m calling ‘State Of The Union’ – providing it doesn’t infringe on copyright. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be asking goalkeepers across all levels and abilities about the pressures, challenges and general observations they have on the life of a goalkeeper.

First up is a goalkeeper I’ve raved about in the not too distant past; one who I think is genuinely destined to end up in a top league playing for a top club (impressive video evidence here). In recent months, several Premier League, Bundesliga and Serie A clubs have been following his progress, so he’s a man you may be hearing a lot more about in future.

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Johannes Hopf

Name: Johannes Hopf
Age: 24
Club: Hammarby IF (Superettan)
Nationality: Swedish

There’s the general impression goalkeepers are a different breed to others. In life do you feel like you’re part of the mainstream or a little different?
Goalkeepers are often a little different. As I see it, goalkeepers are the ones most determined to win and who really really hate to lose. The ones I’ve met in my career have been either totally mad or the nicest and calmest people ever. I absolutely consider myself a goalkeeper in mind too and I mix between the totally mad and the nice, calm guy. I wouldn’t see it as being very different.

Do you think the outfield players you’ve played with down through the years fully understand what you go through as a goalkeeper?
No, no one that has not played a game as goalkeeper knows or understands.

Do managers and coaching staff you’ve worked with fully understand it?
Luckily enough we have goalkeeper coaches but often in video analysis before games the head coach will comment on the opposing keeper and say that he is weak at crosses and then show some corners or crosses that no keeper in the world should ever try to attack.

With the responsibility that comes from being a goalkeeper, do you suffer from nerves before or during games?
I am a very calm guy and I usually don’t get that nervous before games but when I do I try to convert the nervousness into focus during pre match warmup. During games you’re usually too busy controlling your team so you don’t have time to worry over what might happen. It’s when you start to over think situations you make mistakes.

Does your mind wander?
No, I really try not to let my mind wander. It’s up to you as a goalkeeper to control your team so you’re always busy screaming at and talking to your team mates. If they’re too far away, then it’s up to you to keep your body warm and your mind cool. It’s a hard job being a keeper and you are often totally exhausted after a game, even if you haven’t been running as much as your team mates you have to be 100% focused every single second of the game.

Are there times when you’d prefer to be the one banging in the goals?
I started playing football at center back and enjoyed scoring goals but what I really miss now as a goalkeeper is the physical game, to make a perfect sliding tackle in wet weather. You can never compare the life of a striker with the life of a goalkeeper. A striker can do nine horrible misses and score once and become the hero and the keeper can do nine super saves and do one mistake and become the scapegoat for a long time. But hey, we all know that is reality, life between the posts isn’t always fair!

How do you feel the fans treat you?
I love my fans and I know that they love me. They are very supportive and thankful towards me and I get a lot of comments like “what would we do without you” and “you are our only hope”. I’m very lucky, because I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone.

What to you think of the way the media treat goalkeepers?
It is quite clear that the members of the media are no experts at goalkeeping. This summer one of Sweden’s biggest newspapers’ leading expert wrote an article on how keepers shouldn’t “take a chance” at attacking crosses or breakaways but instead stay on the goalline and just wait and hope to be hit. We do love our ice hockey and handball in this country but that article was a real joke. They pay absolutely no attention to the keepers who command their box and avoid the drama by stamping out chances before they arise, but if you stay on the line and make one decent save you’ll automatically get at least 3/5 stars.

What’s the one save of ours that sticks in our memory?
I´ve got a couple of important saves and some not so important but great looking that sticks. The most important ones must be from the two penalty shootouts in the swedish cup quarter and semi-finals last year. A save that has stuck is a top corner reflex save in muddy conditions last fall where I managed to fly and deflect a hard volley shot just over the top right hand corner. Another one that stuck is a top left corner save in the swedish cup final where I didn’t see much due to the green mist of dozens of flares, I managed to fly and get a hand up to deflect the ball on the crossbar and out.

Is there one mistake that still haunts you?
No, I haven´t had any great “Green-mistakes” in my career so far that will haunt me forever. If you make mistakes, and you will do, being a great goalkeeper is all about forgetting, forgiving yourself and moving on. There’s always a ball coming in your direction!

If everything goes to plan, where will you be in 5 years?
In 5 years time I plan to be an established goalkeeper in Britain. I can see myself in clubs like Everton, Stoke, Newcastle or Tottenham. They’re all great clubs and I really think I could offer them something. It might seem big-headed and I need some luck to get there, but I know I’ve got the potential and I know that I got the will to make it happen and I will give it my all to make it so.

What is the one piece of essential advice you’d give to a fellow goalkeeper?
Always train harder than everyone else, identify your weak spots physically, technically and psychologically and try to remove them. And most importantly, keep humble and never let a mistake take you down.

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This is intended to be the first of many explorations into the mind of the goalkeeper. If you’re a goalkeeper at any level and you’d like to answer some questions along the lines of the above. Email me or contact me on twitter (@MinistryOfGlove)

Given Stars Again For Aston Villa

After spending a prolonged period on the bench for Manchester City, there were fears Shay Given may have gathered a rust he may not have been able shift and his growing list of injury troubles would have kept the Villa Park medical staff very busy.

Thankfully, his superb start to his Aston Villa career has demonstrated that he retains his awesome talent. The injury concerns still linger, but there’s no doubt he remains one of the Premier League’s finest goalkeepers.

He was excellent against Newcastle, making several high class saves and he was even a little unlucky not to keep Leon Best at bay from 3 yards out. This was the pick of the bunch however – a full stretch save to get to Cabaye shot that looked destined to nestle in the back of the net.

Premier League and La Liga GKs dominate latest Goalkeeper World Rankings

Guillermo Ochoa

It may have been a relatively barren summer with little by way of regular football fare, but it’s back and it’s been no sleepy start the season. It’s especially the case when it comes to the goalkeepers with a multitude of storylines to witness unfolding with fascination.

David De Gea dominated much of the goalkeeping related headlines for July and August. First there was the anticipation if seeing him line out for Manchester United in their pre-season programme. Then came the excitement of seeing him try the role in something more akin to the heat of battle with the Community Shield and the first league games as United the bid for league number 20. Sadly, it hasn’t been the start De Gea dreamed of, but although his fee comes with the expectation of near perfection, his age means a certain amount of slip-ups are to be expected. The frequency and nature of the mistakes have been surprising, but it’s too early to push the panic button. The media have once again displayed their remarkable ignorance of the goalkeeping position by essentially writing him off as a Fergie flop with immediate effect, but a less sensationalist analysis is required to thoroughly diagnose why the young Spaniard looks so far removed from the dominant nigh-on wall who impressed so for Atletico and the underage Spanish sides in recent seasons. It’s speculation on my part, but I believe his errors stem from over-thinking as a result of the realisation of the pressure at United. Having watched him closely for the guts of 2 years, I’m utterly convinced he has the ability to be a huge success at Old Trafford and he will overcome his difficulties in time. That said, at the moment his status in the Top 10 is under threat and his progress will be one of the more interesting subplots to the season.

A goalkeeper more than capable of speaking about putting short-term disappointment behind him is Shay Given and the early stages of Aston Villa career suggest his sustained period of inactivity at Manchester City hasn’t blunted his ability. Even throughout his spell of bench-warming, he was highly regarded by me and although being continually overlooked by Roberto Mancini meant he had to be eased out of the rankings, I have little difficulty in reinstating him into the Top 10. It’s a little harsh on Steve Mandanda who has really come along at Marseille, but in short – do I think Given has proven himself to be a better goalkeeper than the Frenchman? Personally I think he’s better than players higher up on the list, but time will tell if he can recapture the startling consistency that has made him one of Europe’s top goalkeepers for much of the last decade and return to his lofty position of the past.

At the top of the rankings, what we’ve seen from Iker Casillas suggests he will continue performing to the high standards now almost taken for granted. Two Super Copa games and 5 goals conceded isn’t the most compelling of stats to back up that claim, but his performances in keeping brilliant Barcelona at bay was far better than the scoreline suggested. Serie A hasn’t yet resumed so we haven’t seen Gigi Buffon, but will surely remain one of the world’s finest keepers. Petr Cech only managed one game before suffering an injury likely to keep him out for a month. That game wasn’t his most convincing and due to Pepe Reina’s good start to the season for Liverpool, the Premier League pair swap places. Hugo Lloris has been playing well for Lyon, but Manuel Neuer’s career at Bayern Munich hasn’t got off to the perfect start, either on or off the pitch. We’re more concerned about what happens on the pitch and for those reasons, he takes a slight dip in the rankings.

The most impressive performance from a goalkeeper this month came from a goalkeeper yet to break into the top 10. Guillermo Ochoa has long since been spoken about as the hottest goalkeeping property outside of Europe, so it was a surprise to many when he signed for newly promoted Corsican outfit, Ajaccio in Ligue 1. He has since explained that the move is in part to rehabilitate his reputation after allegations of doping and also as a stepping stone to one of Europe’s bigger name clubs. He may not stay with the islanders for long, but while he’s there the locals will be treated to some show. Already he has put in a couple of performances of remarkable agility and athleticism. He doesn’t yet break into the Top 10 on account if the fact I haven’t seen enough of him to be sure of his consistency, but more of the same and he’ll be there and most likely in a lofty position. He’ll have to make do with Goalkeeper of the Month honours for August.

Also in good form and narrowly missing out is Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal have had a troubled start to the season, but one major ray of sunshine has been the form of the young Pole. Over the summer, Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to make a move for a high-profile keeper was questioned, but it was always apparent that Szczesny would be his first choice and he looks to have repaid that faith by developing significantly during the close season. Confidence has never been an issue for the youngster, but his performances so far indicate he now is a more assured performer. The stunning penalty save from Antonio Di Natale in Arsenal’s Champions League was the cherry on top of the cake, but more impressive is the overall improvement in his game.

Another goalkeeper bubbling outside the Top 10 are Fernando Muslera who was simply brilliant at the Copa America. He’s another supremely talented goalkeeper who is yet to convince me of his consistency despite obvious ability. For a long time I had him pegged as something of a calamity keeper, but I’m more than willing to admit that may be an inaccurate reflection. I will follow his progress at Galatasaray keenly. Samir Handanovic of Udinese also impressed immensely in the Champions League tie with Arsenal and after getting a lot of good reports about him last season, he’ll be one to watch when the Serie A season finally gets underway.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
4. (3) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
5. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
9. (7) David de Gea (Manchester United)
10. (=) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)

Premier League 2011/12 GK Preview: Aston Villa

Aston Villa

Shay Given

1st Team Squad Goalkeepers: Shay Given, Brad Guzan, Andy Marshall, Elliot Parish

Overview: Replacing Brad Friedel is no easy task, but Villa have traded upwards with the acquisition of Shay Given. When he first lost his place to Joe Hart, I would have considered him one of the finest goalkeepers in the world, but for whatever reason – politics I suspect – Roberto Mancini opted for the young English man over the considerable experience of Given. It’s a decision that has worked out well, but a couple of times during the last season the Irish goalie deserved to be reinstated and was left sitting on the bench. From his outings in cup competitions and for Ireland, Given doesn’t look to have suddenly lost his ability. He has on occasion looked rusty, but the fundamentals – the reactions, the agility, the handling – remain solid and it’s only a matter of time before he regains his match sharpness. The main concern is hit recent record with injuries. By and large, Given has been relatively lucky with injuries throughout his career, but in the last couple of years, he’s picked up a couple of serious ones. Once the injuries start to creep in, it’s hard to shake them off. We’re not even talking recurrences of previous problems. It’s a bizarre phenomenon in elite sport by which once someone suffers a major injury to one part of the body, the frequency of other non-related injuries seems to increase. Hopefully Given can finish out the last few years of his career avoiding lengthy spells on the sidelines, but sadly it’s a concern. In reserve, Alex McLeish can call upon the services of Brad Guzan. I must admit, I assumed the American would be given his chance to replace his compatriot when Friedel moved to White Hart Lane, but he doesn’t seem to be considered a viable long-term option. Martin O’Neill didn’t seem to rate him and he spent some of last season on loan at Hull. He’s young enough to make it in the Premier League, but he needs to see more first team action and soon. Beyond the first two, the experienced Andy Marshall can do a job in an emergency, but hopefully won’t be required for too many games and Elliot Parish is likely to spend the season on loan somewhere.

Worst case scenario: With age catching up on him, Given’s injury woes won’t go away and he misses large parts of the season. Guzan steps in, but makes a couple of errors. With no real alternatives, Villa concede a few costly goals that their revamped attack struggles to compensate for and the relegation fears of last season resurface under the leadership of Alex McLeish.

Most likely outcome: Given may initially look rusty on his return to regular Premier League, but I fully expect him to return to something approaching his best. Even at his best, he was capable of making the odd mistake, but overall he’s a major positive for the team.