Manuel Neuer is the world’s best

Manuel Neuer

There’s many different ways of deciding who is the best goalkeeper in the world. Some value current form over long term reliability, whilst others are prepared to keep the faith for much longer. I try to do both and with that in mind here’s my Goalkeeper World Rankings for April.

1. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
It’s a simple pick right now. He’s been excellent since arriving in Bayern Munich and his performance on Wednesday night against Real Madrid highlighted his development. He made some excellent penalty saves, but it was his leadership and authority that was most encouraging for me. His ability has always been obvious, but now he’s got the experience to know when to take command of situations and when to take a step back, he’s reaching his potential.

2. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
I’m a big believer in Iker Casillas. He was a little bit shaky by his high standards on Wednesday night in the Champions League semi-final, but he still saved a penalty in the shoot-out and made some important interventions in open play. As ever, when he makes a mistake or doesn’t get something quite right, he bounces right back up and it rarely costs his team a goal.

3. Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
Buffon has been one of my favourites for a long time and given how Juventus are doing in this season’s Serie A, he has to be included. They’ve the league’s best defensive record, conceding just 18 goals in 35 games. It’s not all down to Gigi, but he’s certainly played his part. After injury trouble in the last couple of years, it’s great to see the agility is still there and the reflexes, calmness and leadership make him one of the world’s best.

4. Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
It’s been a great year for goalkeepers in the Premier League, but I still rate Hart as the best all-rounder. He was voted in as the goalkeeper in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and I wouldn’t argue with that. He’s incredibly mature and he’s improved his decision-making considerably over the last twelve months or so.

5. Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
It’s been another difficult season for Lyon, but Lloris comes out of it with big credit. Agile, ultra-reliable and still young, I’m a big fan and there’s more to come. Every time summer rolls around, the speculation liking him with a move somewhere seems as common as the smell of barbecues. Spurs are reportedly looking at him as a replacement for Brad Friedel and he’d be a great addition to the Premier League. Wherever he heads, I’m sure he’s destined to be an even bigger star than he is now.

After the couple of weeks Chelsea have had, it’s impossible not to give Petr Cech a mention. He had to be immense if Chelsea were to have any chance of ousting Barcelona and he delivered big time. He’s definitely on the fringes of my list.

In his first full season as Arsenal’s #1 Wojciech Szczęsny has proven himself as reliable, unflappable and truly world-class. Second in the PL behind Hart in my opinion, it’ll be great to see how those two develop over the coming years.

It was also hard to leave out Michel Vorm. He’s had a fantastic season for Swansea although he won’t be happy with conceding four against Wolves over the weekend. He’s got top class reflexes and he’s amazingly agile. He’s definitely one of the best in the Premier League this season.

Ali Al Habsi has had a fantastic season for Wigan too. He made one absolutely world class save against Arsenal and those contributions are crucial for a team like Wigan. If that goes in, Arsenal probably come back and win the game and all of sudden there’s no amazing run of results and they’re going down. He’s been doing things like that all season and he deserves an honourable mention.

I’ve also been impressed by Kiko Casilla for Espanyol. He’s made a few mistakes lately and he get dropped, which set him back. He’s still some way from being in my top five, but he looks like he’s heading in the right direction and I look forward to seeing how he develops next season.

Newcastle Form Fires Krul Into World’s GK Elite

Tim Krul

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my World Goalkeeper Rankings and with 2011 drawing to a close, I wanted to round-off the year by revising my list to take into account some interesting developments in recent months. As ever, I’m trying to balance the current form with long-term performance. Knee-jerk reactions are keenly avoided – one mistake doesn’t mean you can automatically consign a goalkeeper to the category of ‘calamity’ and one great save doesn’t necessarily count for much if it’s sandwiched between bouts of uncertainty and silly errors. With that in mind here’s my end of year totally subjective and unscientific World Goalkeeping Rankings.

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

Iker Casillas remains on top by virtue of his consistency and ability to bounce-back immediately from any semblance of a blip. He’s been typically reliable in Real Madrid’s surge to the top of La Liga and even in their defeat to Barcelona he was virtually foot perfect and showed leadership throughout. It’s ironic that the only goalkeeping error of El Clasico came from Victor Valdes and he ended up on the side that won with relative ease. It was a rare error from a goalkeeper with the passing skills that wouldn’t look out of place in the centre of midfield. Aside from his quality distribution, his concentration remains supreme and he’s the perfect goalkeeper for a Barcelona side seeking footballing perfection. It’s been a trying few months for their compatriot, Pepe Reina. The Liverpool goalie has been very good, but he’s been making more handling errors than we’ve become accustomed to due to the high standards he’s has achieved in the past. The mistakes were punished against Tottenham and Fulham, but there have been a smattering of other occasions when he got away with it. Reina is good enough that even when he’s not performing at his best, he’s still world-class, although slightly less world-class in recent months.

Another Premier League struggler is Petr Cech. Again, Cech has been excellent for much of the last few years, but this year has been difficult. At times he has shown the brilliance he is capable of, but hasn’t maintained it for long periods. A Chelsea defence struggling to adapt to life under Andre Villas-Boas hasn’t helped his cause and injuries has also disrupted his rhythm. He was uncharacteristically off the pace when Arsenal scored five at Stamford Bridge and at other times has been less than fluent in dealing with shots he has Again, he’s quality is not in doubt, but he’s not in his best form. Cech has bounced back from slumps in the past and there’s every reason to think a resurgence is in the pipeline.

Hugo Lloris feels like he’s been on the scene for years and it’s easy to forget that this Christmas will only bring his 25th birthday. Every time I’ve seen him, he has been hugely impressive. His reflexes, athleticism and composure are a delight to behold and as he gets older, he continues to add leadership to his box of tricks. He has been one of Europe’s best keepers for the last couple of seasons and it’s only a matter of time before he looks beyond Ligue 1 and towards the leading lights of European football for his next big challenge.

Tim Krul has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season and contrary to the views of cynics, for once that’s not a position earned by default. The competition for that accolade has rarely been more fierce, but the Magpies number 1 has been so exceptional in so many Newcastle games, he is the pick of a strong crop. More than the impact of Alan Pardew, the shrewd acquisitions of Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, Krul’s form is arguably the reason for Newcastle’s surprisingly strong start to the season. For all their attacking play and improved organisation, they would a fraction of their points haul were it not for the numerous top quality saves he has come up with high in several games so far this season. The awesome display of agility and reflexes at Old Trafford may have been his most high-profile performances of the season, but in reality he has been excellent in virtually every game. He has progressed significantly since last season. Then he looked very capable, but also anxious and too prone to bad decisions and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Now he looks more composed, mature and seems to fill his goal far more than just a few months ago. The latter point may largely be down to the psychology of perception, but Krul is understandably more confident and it’s easy to see in his on-field demeanour. He makes his debut on the list after a stunning run of form that’s impossible to ignore.

Manuel Neuer was one of the world’s best whilst still at Schalke and he has enjoyed a tremendous start to his time at Bayern Munich. He set a club record for number of minutes without conceding a goal and although that run has come to an end, he is still making significant contributions to the Bavarians’ cause. Despite being top of the table, Bayern haven’t been flawless and Neuer has been there several times to make the difference between a win and careless dropped points. Style-wise, he’s the goalkeeper most resembling Peter Schmeichel in the game at present and if he continues to progress, he should enjoy similar levels of success to the Dane.

Shay Given is another regular feature on the rankings to have switched clubs over the summer. Clearly the older Given is more susceptible to injury than ever before, but already he has shown is immense ability by pulling of some fantastic saves for Aston Villa. He’s replicated that form for Ireland (one sloppy goal conceded against Estonia aside) and remains one of the world’s best. Gigi Buffon will no doubt empathise with Given on his injury troubles. The Italian missed a large part of last season with troublesome knocks he struggled to shake off, but since returning towards the end of last term and getting a run of games under his belt, he looks like the world-class keeper of old to the point where the debate about who deserves to be Italian number 1 that recently looked valid, as been relegated to the status of being almost laughable.

David De Gea drops out of the Top 10, but I stress that it’s not an abandonment of the belief that he’s something special and he’s destined to become one of the world’s best. Despite his excellent attitude and maturity beyond his years, he has struggled to get to grips with the Old Trafford spotlight. The standards at Manchester United are so high that there is little room for error and although he impressed hugely at Atletico Madrid, it would appear he is not quite the finished article – possibly more mentally rather than technically. Joe Hart takes a minor drop for a few errors in an otherwise good season for Man City. Like the rest of the team, we didn’t see the best of him in their abridged debut participation in the Champions League and he has been subject to a couple of lapses in concentration on the domestic front. It’s been an ongoing issue with Hart and one he needs to work on. The agility, handling and authority are all there, he just needs to iron out this one major chink in his armour.

It’s difficult to omit the likes of Michel Vorm, Woijech Szczesny and Guillermo Ochoa from the list, but it has to do done. Greatness comes with consistency and although they compare favourably with some of the other names on the list, they’ve not been operating at the same level for the similar length of time. Vorm has been nothing short of brilliant for Swansea. He has pulled off some breath-taking saves and is already a leading contender for the tag of ‘buy of the season’. Ideally he’d have more command of the aerial battles that are played out in his penalty area, but he’s so strong in other areas as to compensate for this short-coming. Szczesny has been excellent for Arsenal and before Robin van Persie grabbed the season by the scruff of the neck, he was their player of the season. He made massive progress in the off-season and even when the Gunners fumbled their way through the early part of the season, he was excellent. Guillermo Ochoa is a name I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the new year. His move to Ajaccio in Ligue 1 was a curious one, but not long after arriving in Corsica, it became clear he viewed it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Don’t let Ajaccio’s dreadful plight at the foot of the French top flight fool you, Ochoa has been brilliant in almost every game. He has been supremely agile with good hands and without him, they would have conceded far more than the 36 they’ve shipped in their 17 games to date. He will be going somewhere at the end of the season and it won’t be Ligue 2. Which is more than can be said for the club.

Agree, disagree or think I’ve missed out on someone?
Have your say in the comments section.

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)

Goalkeeper World Rankings – June 2011

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

With the European season coming to an end, there’s been a lull in major activity in my Goalkeeper World Rankings, but there was one major movement that kept me ticking over. The retirement of Edwin van der Sar leaves a hole right at the top of my World Rankings. When it became clear that this would be the Dutchman’s last season as a player, I worried that his lofty place in the rankings may have had too much to do with nostalgia and an over-sentimentality. As the season went on and van der Sar performed with assurance and no lack of agility, it was clear that despite his age, he was still very much one of the world’s elite.

His performance in the Champions League pretty much summed it up. There were some questions asked of his positioning, but I genuinely believe his hesitancy had more to do with the wide variety of attacking options in the Barcelona arsenal rather than error. With los Cules cutting United apart, I think he was on his guard for the through ball and for Pedro and Messi’s goals was a pace or two away from the ideal starting position. Overall though, his performance was excellent and even though it ended with a runners-up medal, individually he went out on a high. Without him, the United could well have been staring down the barrel of a 4 goal defeat.

So despite not having the major European leagues to follow, I’ve spent most of my time looking back over performances from throughout the season to pick out the goalkeeper I think deserves to make it into the Top 10. I had a long hard look at South America and spotted a few keepers I’ll be watching closely in future, but they weren’t quite up to making the Top 10. I threw it open to the floor and I was given cupboards full of food for thought with a wide array of possibilities. In the end, I went for Steve Mandanda and he makes his first appearance on my immensely subjective and totally debatable chart. For a long time, I rated the sheer agility of Mandanda as being comparable to the very best keepers in the world. Where he always fell down for me was his handling. To me it was always a little too untidy and he couldn’t really be trusted to gather most shots at the first attempt, but this season there was a significant improvement in that part of his game. He looks far move comfortable in both his handling and his decision-making. If he continues his progress, he’ll be challenging Hugo Lloris for the starting position with Les Bleus.

There’s little movement elsewhere. Pretty much everyone moves up one to allow for van der Sar hanging up the gloves. The exception is David de Gea, the man entrusted with the responsibility of replacing the Dutchman at Old Trafford. I’ve bumped him up a couple of places based on the strength of his performances at the U21 Euros. His handling was excellent and his showed the agility and command of his penalty area he’ll need to succeed in the Premier League. There were a couple of blips, but what also impressed me is how quickly he seems to be able to get them out of his head and concentrate on the next task.

His progress is almost certainly going to be the main talking point when I look at the rankings next time around.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

Best Goalkeeper In The World Rankings – May 2011

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

Goalkeeper World Rankings

So there’s a deal done. The successor has been identified and the dotted line has been signed. You didn’t have to squint too tightly to read between the lines to see what Fergie was getting at. Whilst his team-mates had been begging Edwin van der Sar to reconsider his retirement plans, Sir Alex Ferguson responded like a man who has already bought the gold watch and arranged the catering for the retirement shindig. ‘Go away and enjoy your life, I’ve got my plans in place’ was the gist of what Ferguson was saying and such was the solemnity and unambiguity of his statements, that it was clear if he doesn’t have a replacement already secured, the process is at an advanced stage.

Having reached his forties still capable of excelling at the highest level, the calls for van der Sar to stay on are understandable. For much of this season I was worried that my assessment of the Dutchman’s performances was being coloured by over-sentimentality. Knowing we wouldn’t be seeing him for much longer, the temptation to eulogise decent performances into amazing displays of athleticism is always there, but van der Sar has been so utterly understated and reliable, the praise is warranted. He hasn’t made string of breath-taking saves (although to his credit, he still maintains the agility to do so), but his handling has generally been flawless, his command of his penalty area is supreme and his calmness has diffused throughout a defence that can do with all the reassurance it can get. As his long career reaches its final few games, van der Sar remains one of the best in the world and will be going out on a high. Just how much silverware is involved with this high will surely depend on how van der Sar maintains his level of performance throughout the month of May.

As enjoyable as van der Sar’s performances has been, there’s no doubt who remains number one in the world. Real Madrid didn’t come out of the El Classico series with huge credit, but again Iker Casillas did little wrong. He remains the world’s best and although there have been a sprinkling of mistakes in his performances, he retains a remarkably capacity to recover – both in the short-term sense of making a secondary save to cover for an initial mistake and in the long-term sense of showing mental strength when things don’t go quite right.

It’s been a controversial stance for some time (namely with Shaka Hislop who disagrees whole-heartedly!), but I still rate Gigi Buffon very highly. Throughout his injury troubles I felt it unfair to demote him down the rankings based purely on absence and I maintain that position. When he plays, he retains his talent and his form has been an important part in keeping Juventus in the hunt for an unlikely Champions League place. With Liverpool enjoying a resurgence, Pepe Reina is looking as sharp as ever. When things weren’t going well for the Reds, Reina wasn’t to blame, but playing in a more confident team has rubbed off on him. Petr Cech takes a small drop, mainly because of a couple of mistakes for Chelsea and the Czech Republic in the last few months. Overall however, he has still had an outstanding season and without him Chelsea would be struggling for European football next season, let alone a Champions League spot or even the title challenge they have somehow managed to string together. Joe Hart has dropped a few places, but that’s based on mistakes earlier in the year. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the rankings and although he has been better and still capable of producing amazing saves, those mistakes stick in the memory.

Manuel Neuer is the flavour of the month in goalkeeping circles lately. His performance in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final with Manchester United rightly earned the plaudits, but clearly the pundits who heaped the praise on him haven’t been watching him much in the Bundesliga where he has been putting in similar performances for much of the season. He hasn’t rocketed to the top of the rankings for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I try to make these rankings less knee-jerk and more long-term and as such, my views are based on watching over a reasonably extended period of time. Secondly, I still worry Neuer is more accident prone than is ideal. Every goalkeeper is allowed an occasional mistake, but there is a suspicion that for all his amazing saves, the Bayern bound goalkeeper still suffers from blips on too frequent a basis. In his defence, since first becoming aware of him a few years ago, the mistakes have been reduced dramatically and the sheer volume of work required of him behind the leaky Schalke defence means he’s in the firing line more often than some of his contemporaries on the list.

Although yet to make his debut on the list, Wojiech Szczesny deserves a mention for responding so well after disappointment in the Carling Cup final followed by injury in the Champions League. Criticism of him for going off at the Camp Nou was nonsensical as no-one truly knows the level of pain someone else his experiencing. Sure some people may have experienced dislocated fingers with little discomfort, but Szczesny’s personal physiology and medical history mean it’s may not be the same for him. He looks reliable and assured and Arsene Wenger looks to have solved his goalkeeping issues.

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.

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