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.

Why David de Gea will and won’t succeed at Manchester United

David de Gea at Manchester United

It looks like a deal is done. All it needs is for the paperwork to be finalised and Rio Ferdinand to take him on a tour of Manchester’s finest hotspots. David de Gea looks certain to being leaving Atletico Madrid for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson has chosen the young Spaniard as the man to fill the sizeable gloves of Edwin van der Sar and the task of replacing a legend in goals begins again. It’s not always a task Fergie has performed with aplomb.

Despite having what Fergie described as a last-minute ‘wobble’,van der Sar heads off into the sunset. The rumours, speculation and posturing from agents looking to push their clients into the frame can come to an end and we can concentrate on arguably the hottest prospect amongst the emerging talents of the goalkeeping ranks as he makes his way at Old Trafford. For some time now, I’ve been certain that de Gea is good enough to make it at Man Utd. But – there’s always the get-out clause of a ‘but’ – his success at Old Trafford will depend on various intangibles we don’t know enough about at present. Here’s a look at the case for and against a long and successful stint at Old Trafford for de Gea.

Why It Will Work:
Quite simply, de Gea has the raw talent to make it at Old Trafford. He’s very agile, he’s got good hands, he’s generally confident in dealing with the high ball, he’s quick off his line – he’s a really solid all round performer. Making the comparison with van der Sar may seem overly convenient considering the timing, but long before there was talk of a move to the Premier League, the resemblance to the Dutchman in terms of physical build and style was obvious.

There was something rather gangly, lanky and almost rigid about van der Sar. At first glance you’d question if he has the agility to make it as top class goalkeeper, but it didn’t take long before he’d hurl himself across the goal with speed that seems to defy the psychical capabilities of his stature. Combined with that, he had the softness of hands to ensure he gathered almost everything at the first attempt and an uncommon ability to do the simple things with a minimum of fuss or drama. A lot of the same can be said about de Gea. Admittedly, his career in top flight football has been going for less than two seasons as opposed to the two decades of van der Sar, but already in that time he has shown himself to be talented and in time he will hope to achieve the remarkable consistency of his predecessor in the United goal.

What has perhaps impressed my most about the young Spaniard has been his attitude. It would be deeply disingenuous to suggest he’s been flawless since arriving in the Atletico Madrid first team. There have been errors and it’s these moments the critics will highlight as being major weaknesses. In response I would make the following points. Firstly, every goalkeeper will make mistakes and that’s an unavoidable constant. Whether it’s Iker Casillas in a World Cup final or a meaningless five a side with friends, there are going to be those moments when you cringe at the simplicity of an error. Secondly, the frequency of the mistakes de Gea makes is relatively low for an elite goalkeeper of any age and especially low for an elite goalkeeper of his tender years. And – without wanting to entirely shift the blame to someone else – playing behind a defence like Atletico’s last season is likely to leave you more exposed than most.

Even when he has made his mistakes, I’ve been impressed. He recovered well and didn’t inhibit his future decisions. At once, It was cleared out of his mind and he carried on continued to command his penalty area with authority and play like a goalkeeper bubbling with confidence. His response when asked about the relatively colossal transfer fee involved in his move to Manchester United spoke volumes about his character and focus. “The fact that I could become one of the most expensive goalkeepers ever does not interest me. The value that really counts is what you do on the pitch,” he insisted. Placing too much emphasis on the obligatory answers given by footballers in interview situations is dangerous, but I find the focus and determination to be extraordinary for a young man and in terms of his attitude, the Premier League should hold no concerns.

Why It Won’t Work:
If the talent isn’t in doubt, then the questions marks must arise elsewhere. How he handles the intense scrutiny that comes with the territory of being the Man Utd first choice goalkeeper is the main area of concern. The suggestion implicit in that claim is that his temperament is suspect which is hugely unfair on de Gea. I could probably claim to be a closer acquaintance of the Queen than I am to the Spaniard, so I lack any sort of personal insight, but from what I’ve cobbled together from interviews and the dubious accuracy of Google translate de Gea seems to be a young man of uncommon maturity, focus and levelheadedness. It’s speculative, but his career to date paints a picture of a character comfortable in the spotlight. He already has Europa League and European U17 Championship medals to his name and although that won’t compare the pressure that comes with the latter stages of the Champions League or a crucial end of season Premier League game, it’s more than the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Although Atletico are no longer amongst the elite in La Liga, their substantial fanbase means they continue to receive extensive coverage in the pages of the Spanish sports dailies. He’s well accustomed to microphones being thrust into his face and seemingly innocuous comments being twisted and shaped into something more interesting and significantly less factual. The spotlight is nothing new to him, but just how brightly it shines at Old Trafford may take a while to get used to. I have little knowledge of the Spanish sports press, but it would take something remarkable if they could match the vicious vitriol their British counterparts launch in to every time a goalkeeper commits – in their informed opinion – a ‘howler’. In my opinion, the ridicule of Robert Green in the British press following his error at the World Cup was a disgrace to rival some of the most shameful moments in Fleet Street history and my concerns about de Gea succeeding at Manchester United are almost entirely based on the pack of wolves viciousness of the press.

If he makes a couple of errors early on in his Old Trafford career, the labels will start to fly. He’ll be called a flapper, spoken of as a waste of money and tarred with the brush of being another one of Fergie’s ‘continental’ keepers who just doesn’t have the machismo to make it in the man’s world that is Premier League football. Application of the ‘continental’ label would be particularly erroneous as if anything, de Gea is more British in style than the geographically vague categorisation that comes with being from mainland Europe. The accuracy of the labels is something of a red herring anyway, because my point is, for all their struggles with truly understanding the nature of goalkeeping, the British media are experts on establishing consensus, regardless of how true a reflection of reality it is. If they start to bang the drum that de Gea isn’t good enough, it’s only a matter of time before it takes hold with the fans and the pressure builds. Fergie may pride himself on being his own man, but rarely in his entire tenure at Old Trafford has his selection policy differed too greatly from the notions of the fans. He may have occasionally stuck with a player for slightly too long, but – unless out of absolute necessity – it’s rare that he’ll persist with a player that the fans have identified as being sub-standard. de Gea appears to be mentally strong enough to ignore the press, but as a young man in his 20s in a new environment, losing the confidence of a manager who has convinced to him make the trip is another matter.

We wait with immense interest and fans of football and goalkeeping will hope that we see the best of de Gea in coming years.

Reina To Stay With Liverpool

Reina To Stay With Liverpool

Pepe Reina’s announcement that he has no plans to leave Anfield is the best news Liverpool fans have had since they got £5 million for Emile Heskey back in 2004. We’ll probably never know if the rumours of departure were genuine or just newspapers filling space until another Newcastle player assaulted someone [they didn’t have to wait long], but for several weeks it looked plausible.

Talk of Fernando Torres not being the biggest fan of Roy Hodgson didn’t help matters. The star striker didn’t seem happy and that was reflected in some indifferent displays. The word coming out of Anfield has always been that there’s always been a great camaraderie amongst Liverpool’s Spanish contingent and Reina’s unhappiness may have stemmed from the issues his compatriot was having. It’s amazing what a few goals can do, because the alleged frosty relationship seems to have thawed. It would be a surprise if a man as traveled and thoughtful as Hodgson was doing something to upset his foreign players, but we’re not privy to what happens on the training ground so there was always the potential that something was amiss behind the scenes.

Losing Reina would be more damaging to Liverpool than losing Gerrard or Torres. It’s a bold statement, but quite simply there are only a handful of goalkeepers capable of replacing him and most of them would not be interested in a move to Liverpool. Reina is world class, one of the best in the world. The same can be said of Gerrard and Torres, but if they were to move on, there are several candidates who could come in and possibly compensate for their absence. It may necessitate a change of style and tactics, but the effect would not be catastrophic, particularly in view of the transfer fee involved. Admittedly Liverpool’s 1st choice isn’t having his best season at the club. He has made a few mistakes, but a lot of that can be explained by the uncertainty in front of him. Even allowing for his errors, he still brings a net gain to the club. Against Chelsea he was far from flawless, but kept the champions at bay when the were threatening a comeback. That’s the hallmark of Reina – good performances in general and frequent moments of brilliance.

Agility, strong command of his area, good distribution and still only 28 – Reina could potentially be Liverpool’s goalkeeper for most of the next decade. The common wisdom is you build from the back and if Liverpool want to start moving upwards, they need to hang on to this foundation stone.

David de Gea & Maksym Koval

Maksym Koval

The Nets Big Things?
We hadn’t heard about it before, but every decade or so, the lovely folks at Don Balon – a Spanish language football magazine publish their list of players they’re expecting to make it big. Only players born after the 1st January 1989 qualify on this occasion and at first glance, it’s certainly not the most ridiculous set of predictions we’ve ever read – although we do read Mystic Meg’s horoscopes every day of the week.

In the past, some of their predictions were spot on – Fernando Torres & Kaka – whilst others haven’t quite gone on the fulfil the potential the magazine had identified – David Prutton and Keith Kelly (now plying his trade in the Jamaican Premier League.

When it comes to goalkeepers they don’t tend to stick their neck out a whole lot, but we’ll cut them some slack because goalkeepers under the age of 21 who’ve broken into their respective teams rival ‘Louis Walsh heading home with a woman after a night out’ in terms of rarity. Their patchy record of prediction in this position may also go some why to explaining the reluctance to name names. In the 2001 version of the list, they put forward just two selections. The first was Chris Kirkland – then a highly rated youngster with Coventry. To give him his due, injury has had a huge impact on his progress, but with his 30th birthday coming next year, he looks unlikely to ever live up to the billing he was once given.

If the success of Kirkland can be argued, the choice of Rubinho can’t. Back in 2001 he had earned a hatful of caps for the Brazilian U20 side and was starting to establish himself as a regular with Corinthians, but since arriving in Europe the star-bound trajectory he was on has dipped. Again, to give him his dues, he was a regular with Genoa in Serie A for a couple of seasons, but things have taken a turn for the worse and now he’s on loan with Serie B side, Torino.

This year the folks at Don Balon have again tipped just two members of the goalkeeper union for stardom. The first being Atletico Madrid keeper, David de Gea. We’ve praised de Gea to the rafters at the Ministry Of Glove, so much so that anything other than his transformation into a 24 foot by 8 foot wall of impregnability would be classed as a failure. He continues to make huge strides and he looks destined to become one of the world’s top goalkeepers for the bulk of the next two decades. That feels a lot like a curse of the commentator in the making, so we’ll move on.

The second selection is a lot more out of left field. It’s Maksym Koval of Dynamo Kiev. He won’t turn 18 until December, but already he’s found time to be linked with a move to Arsenal, make several appearances for the Ukrainian U19 national team and play a handful of Premier League games for the club that nurtured him, Metalurh Zaporizhya. To be honest, there isn’t a lot of information out there about him, but it would seem making the grade at Dynamo Kiev is going to be tough. They seem to have an abundance of young goalkeepers to choose from and time may well see him drop down the pecking order. From the statistics we’re using, it would also appear that he’s amassed an interesting little collection on yellow cards from not a huge amount of games. Last season he picked up 3 of them for Zaporizhya in 19 games. It’s nothing conclusive but those rather hint at temperament issues.

Interestingly, a few more high profile goalkeepers who were eligible for the list have been omitted, most notably, de Gea’s Atletico team-mate, Sergio Asenjo. The lack of an English name on the list may be of a concern for Fabio Capello, but the chances are he’ll be long since departed from the England hotseat by the time it matters. Equally, we’ve put forward the case for Jonas Lossl here before, but he clearly hasn’t made enough of an impact to have grabbed the compilers’ attention.

Given the success of some of the previous predictions, that may not be a bad thing.

The full Don Balon list (from the Spoiler)

Progress Report: David De Gea (Atletico Madrid)

David De Gea
A few weeks back we had a look at David De Gea, the latest addition to the well populated ranks of young, talented Spanish goalkeepers. He looks to be progressing at a rate of knots and that opinion was only confirmed with a ‘finger in the dyke’ style performance for Atletico Madrid against the relentless waves of Barcelona attacks over the weekend. Los Colchoneros still went down 2-1, but without his efforts it would have been approaching double-figures.

In between the basics of picking up the ball with little difficulty, the evidence is on this video of De Gea’s performance: