Julio Cesar Unlikely To Be An Option For Man Utd

Julio Cesar

Ever since Edwin van der Sar announced he would be retiring at the end of the season – and for a long time prior to that – there has been speculation about who will claim one of the most high-profile goalkeeping jobs in world football. Pretty much every elite level keeper – and several who certainly aren’t amongst the elite – has been mentioned as a target. In recent weeks, speculation suggested a move for Julio Cesar was becoming more and more likely. I’ve written previously about how his extensive experience fits the profile Sir Alex Ferguson likes in his goalkeepers and his outstanding agility doesn’t hurt either.

For all his good points, I cited one issue which I feel would be a big turn off for United. Cesar is an excellent keeper in a number of respects (as shown here), but his tendency to punch – or at least not catch – is a concern. Without wanting to sound like a nostalgic ex-pro longing for the 60s and 70s when you were allowed stab the keeper and not concede a free, he does it to often. I’m not against keepers punching or parrying when it is the best course of action, but if it happens too often, you have to ask yourself if the keeper is doing it because he sees it as being the best course of action for his team or because he doesn’t trust his handling skills. As time goes by, it looks more and more like Cesar knows his handling is suspect and hence his reluctance to hold on to the ball.

The weakness was highlighted against Bayern Munich. In fairness Arjen Robben hit his shot sweetly and there was a bit of zing to it, but at the same time, it was pretty much straight at Cesar and any goalkeeper wanting to be considered top class should expect to gather it cleanly. Cesar spilled it and left Mario Gomez with a simple tap-in that puts the Germans in charge of the tie and the defending champions on the verge of elimination. To his credit, Cesar made a number of good saves throughout the game, but that will be forgotten after an error such as this. Being at Man Utd, pretty much every game is high stakes. One high-profile mistake may be forgiven, but he won’t get away with it too often. You get the feeling Fergie may have scratched Cesar off the list of potential replacements.

PS: In a bizarre footnote to Cesar’s error, it turns out he walked home from the San Siro after the match.
Nothing says ‘I care’ more than leaving your high power sports car in the club car park and making a moody short walk to your million-pound villa.

Given Injury Leaves Ireland With A Problem

Keiren Westwood

Out of the blue, Ireland have a problem. Giovanni Trapattoni spent much of January urging Robbie Keane to leave White Hart Lane for basically anywhere that could offer him first team football, but he was less plussed about Shay Given. ‘Goalkeepers are different’ was the crux of his argument – a striker needs playing time to be at his best, but apparently a goalkeeper can spend months on the bench and not suffer any huge downturn in performance. It’s an interesting theory, but not one we’ll see the conclusion of in the near future.

Given has been ruled out of Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia .A shoulder injury picked up in the warm-up for the Europa League game against Aris means he’s likely to be out of action for a month and – according to more pessimistic reports – it’s possible he won’t be seen in competitive action again until next season. In his absence, Trapattoni is likely to turn to Keiren Westwood. The Coventry keeper is one of the most highly rated keepers outside of the Premier League, but with little room for error in their bid to reach their first major tournament in 10 years, having to blood an international rookie is far from ideal.

To a degree, it’s also a problem of Trapattoni’s making. “I am disappointed that Shay will not be able make it in for the Macedonia qualifier due to a shoulder injury,” Trap is reported to have said in a statement so uncharacteristically brief it can only be the words of whoever writes the FAI’s press releases. While Given’s pursuit of an unassailable haul of international caps shows a refreshing desire to represent his country often absent from the modern star, it has had some negative consequences. When his first choice has been available, Giovanni Trapattoni has decided against giving the understudies much in the way of experience, but he may yet reap an unpleasant harvest when it comes to the crucial Euro 2012 qualifier next month.

That’s not to belittle the skills of Westwood. He’s an excellent keeper well capable of making light of Given’s absence, but he simply hasn’t had a whole lot of exposure to the international arena. It’s a psychological thing rather than a question of him being out of his depth. The tasks asked of him on the night will be strikingly similar to what he’s expected to do for Coventry a couple of times a week, but with the expectation of a nation on his shoulders, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. International football is littered with players who could do it at club level but not in the national jersey and equally players who look average at club level but then find their best form when handed the responsibility of representing the nation – the latter should be called ‘Klose Syndrome’. We don’t know what to expect from Westwood simply because his time with the national team has been so limited. At this stage, he should have amassed more than the handful of caps he has earned.

Mistakes from Westwood shouldn’t be considered inevitable. He has a touch of class about him. During his team with the Sky Blues he has regularly claimed awards both from the club, the fans and the league. To watch him play is to watch a natural go about the job they were destined for. His reflexes, his reactions and his agility all seem to come remarkably easy to him. It’s easy to see why a move to the Premier League has been talked about for some time and was reportedly coming as Wigan expressed a strong interest in January. There are weaknesses however. Even this season, he has made a few concentration based errors by letting straightforward shots through him. His judgement in coming for and collecting crosses isn’t flawless either. When he gets it right he’s a commanding presence and his hands are good, but there have been times when those hands haven’t been in the right place at the right time.

If all goes well, Ireland won’t notice Given’s absence. And if it goes very well, Ireland could have at least one goalkeeper playing first team Premier League football next term.

David de Gea Update

I’ve become a big fan of David de Gea since I first saw him roughly a year ago. He’s impressed me with his maturity, agility and handling. Clearly I’m not the only one as he’s been heavily linked with a move to Man Utd. Whilst I think he’d be an expensive gamble for Fergie at this stage in his career, there’s a very promising future ahead of him.

I’ve been watching him a lot – and not in the stalkery way. For the vast majority of the time, he’s been reliable and consistent. He did have a few blips before Christmas when his decision-making wasn’t always spot-on and he generally didn’t look as assured as he once was. Judging by events on Monday night he looks to be back on form. He pulled off a string of fine saves in Atletico Madrid’s 3-0 win over Mallorca and made a fine penalty save, some of which can be seen in the below brief clip:

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.

Goal Reversal

We’ve got a bit of goal reversal here. What’s more fun than a goalkeeper scoring a goal than an outfield player saving a penalty? It’s so exciting you may just spontaneously combust with excitement.

First up, as soccer continues to grip America, literally hundreds of people across the country witness Columbus Crew custodian, William Hesner scores a dramatic late equaliser against Toronto. In fairness, given that amount of time and space, we reckon even a deceased Lev Yashin would have been able to stick it away.

And from Mexico, we’ve got this fine example of an outfield player stepping in to save a penalty after a goalkeeper gets sent off. Normally examples of this ilk are thanks to a lame penalty from the attacker, but this one was heading for the corner before Juan Carlos Rojas dived full stretch to make the save. We’ll ignore the fact he was nearly standing beside the taker by the time the penalty was actually taken and savour the goalkeepery goodness.

Van der Sar Howler

Edwin van der Sar

The little known curse of the blogger strikes. After praising him to the rafters only last week, Edwin Van der Sar goes and commits a howler that will rank up there as one of the worst in his career. After earning his team several points with some fine performances this season, this in an example of costing them a valuable couple.

It was a misjudgment compounded by poor technique and little else. Ignore what the knee-jerk reactions say about being a sign of age – it could have happened to any keeper at any stage in his career. We’ll see just how much appetite Van der Sar has for the game in his response over coming games.

Edwin Van Der Sar Howler v West Brom

Who Wants A David James?

FOR SALE: One (very) experienced goalkeeper. Excellent shot-stopper, but everything else still needs work – even after all this time. Will command large pay packet, but can write newspaper column if required.

It was a surprise to see so many clubs respond so eagerly to the possibility of signing David James. Namely two. At 39 years of age, there’s a touch of the long serving public servant about him. His wages will be high, but the end product won’t necessarily justify the relatively high outlay. With Artur Boruc gone to Fiorentina, it’s understandable why Celtic are interested in James, but at best he’s a stopgap solution. In Lukasz Zaluska and Dominic Cervi, the Bhoys have two keepers who may eventually be first team regulars, but for the moment they are far from the finish article.

More curious is the interest of Sunderland. In Craig Gordon, they have an excellent young goalkeeper. Injuries has seriously hampered the progress he has been able to make in the Premier League, but even so the Black Cats have capable understudies in Marton Fulop and Trevor Carson. Whilst Fulop is the more ready-made deputy, Carson has the potential to be a long term successor to Gordon. Northern Ireland has a history of producing top class keepers disproportionate to the small size of the country and Carson is the latest along the conveyor belt. They seem to have cover, which again begs the question, ‘why sign James?’

It’s fashionable to belittle James, but the fact remains he is a very talented athlete and that rare breed of Premier League footballer with a social conscience and awareness of the privilege lifestyle the game has given him. He will bring experience and intelligence to whatever club he joins, but is also likely to cost a few goals over the course of a season.

His case sums up the underlying problems with English goalkeepers. He has always had the raw talent of a top class goalkeeper, but it speaks volumes that after the better part of three decades worth of working with English goalkeeping coaches, he is still plagued by the technical issues that dogged him throughout his twenties. Richard Wright, Scott Carson, Robert Green and now Ben Foster are amongst recent England goalkeepers who showed an early potential that hasn’t yet been coached to its optimum.

Some might have seen the World Cup as a nice natural way for James to bring the curtain down on his career, but it’s only natural he tries to extend his career for as long as possible. He’ll never earn the type of money he currently earns once he hangs up the gloves and whilst he’s as agile, healthy and motivated as he apparently is, he should keep going for as long as he can. The question is, who wants to give him that opportunity?