Earlier this season Harry Redknapp admitted he only continued to select Heurelho Gomes because he had no choice. Speaking after the Brazilian goalkeeper had trailed morosely off Craven Cottage after another grisly error sent Tottenham tumbling to defeat Redknapp said: "We've got to keep believing in him because he's the goalkeeper. It's no use me caning him because I've got nothing else."
Three months on and nothing has changed in respect of that bald fact when it comes to Redknapp's team selection for tomorrow's Carling Cup final. Gomes plays because there is no real alternative. Carlo Cudicini, signed in the January transfer window, and the new first choice in Premier League matches, is cup-tied having played in the competition for Chelsea and the only other goalkeepers are untried rookies.
So Gomes is under the spotlight again, and he is looking forward to it. "It's my first time at Wembley and I'm very proud," he said after making several decent saves against Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday. "Wembley is a great stadium, a legendary stadium and when I walk out there it will be a great moment for me and my team-mates."
It is the type of occasion Gomes hoped to feature in when he joined Spurs in the summer for £7.8m. It was a sizeable fee for a keeper but the Brazilian international had served PSV Eindhoven with distinction for four seasons impressing in the Champions League. At White Hart Lane, however, he soon found himself behind a ramshackle defence in a failing team. Gomes kept one clean sheet in his first dozen matches and made a series of embarrassing errors. A series of minor injuries did not help, but it was argued, by coaches at Eindhoven, that the 6ft 3in keeper was struggling to adapt to the sheer weight of crosses delivered in the English game.
This he effectively admitted when he said: "You have so much more body contact here than in Holland or Brazil. Every ball is fair game. I couldn't understand how a player would come straight at you and the referee would not give anything."
Fulham, after which Redknapp admitted he did not even know the name of the club's Austrian goalkeeping coach, Hans Leitert, proved the nadir. Gomes (right), given a lift in confidence by the methods of new goalkeeping coach, former Spurs keeper Tony Parks, showed improved form. Redknapp nevertheless signed Cudicini and has picked the Italian for the last four League games.
"It's been a difficult season," he admitted. "I started well but the team wasn't playing well. Then a couple of injuries came along and I have done my best to forget half the season. I have to look forward and forget about the bad times.
"The first four months were very difficult for me but now I'm OK and playing much better than before. When you lose every game it becomes very difficult as a goalkeeper. The most difficult thing was that I wasn't 100 per cent fit when I was playing. I was on the pitch [often with a pain-killing injection] for the good of the club."
Spurs fans, publicly at least, kept faith with him, which was appreciated. "Every game the fans sang to me, 'Gomes we love you'," he said.
The media were tougher but he insisted, "I don't think about the criticism, I just think about my job. Every game I just think about trying to play better and better. I'm not 100 per cent, maybe 80 per cent right now. I've had a couple of injuries but now I'm okay and I think my performances are now much better than before.
"It was tough at the start to play in a new country and learn a new language but I believe in myself and know my qualities. I am a very, very good goalkeeper and I want going to prove to everyone – not least myself – that I can play in this league."
Tomorrow's match, against the Premier League champions and leaders, offers a good opportunity
"I'm expecting to be very busy," he said, "every goalkeeper is against United. I don't know if we can beat them. We have the quality but you don't know in a final. Man United are a great team but we are playing very well."