As English football opened its centre of excellence yesterday, Gordon Banks warned that the Premier League's foreign influx has destroyed the standards of the country's goalkeeping.
While the man who can claim to be England's greatest keeper believes Joe Hart has the potential to become the best in the world, Banks argued he faces pitifully little competition for his place in Roy Hodgson's side.
There were a mere five English goalkeepers playing in last weekend's Premier League fixtures and, of those, Ben Foster of West Bromwich Albion has announced he no longer wishes to appear for his country while Newcastle United's Steve Harper, who is 37, might not have played against Manchester United had Tim Krul been fit.
That left Hodgson with two alternatives to Hart; Norwich's John Ruddy, who has been called up into the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Poland, and Reading's 22-year-old Alex McCarthy. They conceded six goals between them at the weekend.
"Joe Hart is the best English goalkeeper by a mile, no question," Banks said. "But what concerns me is that there is nobody challenging him for that position. I don't want him to get overconfident to the degree where he doesn't have to worry about his place.
"Alf Ramsey would always make a point of going round all the players in the hotel after we had played a Wednesday night international and say goodbye before the lads from the North got the bus to the station. I once said to him: 'See you then, Alf.' He stopped and replied: 'Will you?' It was just a reminder you couldn't pick yourself for the next match.
"We have no strength in depth [in goalkeeping] whatsoever. And the reason is that, with the Premier League, you have foreign players taking the positions of the home-grown lads."
It has long been argued that the flood of overseas footballers has raised the standards of English players by allowing them to perform alongside the likes of Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo or Gianfranco Zola. However, Banks' argument is that, if you are a goalkeeper, the nature of the job makes it impossible to learn by playing alongside anyone. "You are either in the team or you are not."
Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool and Banks' former club Stoke do not have Englishmen as reserve keeper. At Tottenham, all three keepers are foreign.
Ross Turnbull, a graduate of the Middlesbrough Academy, has been understudying Petr Cech for more than three years at Chelsea, during which time the 27-year-old has played four Premier League games. It might have been better for his career, if not his bank balance, had Turnbull, who spent much of his time at Boro in the shadow of Mark Schwarzer, had looked lower down the league for a club.
"You can't really stay if you are not first choice," Banks said. "When Shay Given lost his place to Joe Hart, he did exactly the right thing by asking to move to Aston Villa. He was too good to be someone's understudy."
Banks, speaking at Old Trafford to mark the 90th year of the Littlewoods Football Pools, argued that neither of Manchester United's keepers were in Hart's class. Sir Alex Ferguson, who spent £20m on David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard, has said he regrets rejecting an opportunity to sign Hart when he was with Shrewsbury.
"I am sure he does wish he'd signed Joe Hart," Banks said. "If you have a good goalkeeper, it makes the job of the back four so much easier."
Endangered species: English goalies
Percentage of home-produced goalkeepers league by league:
Bundesliga 83 15/18 German
La Liga 75 15/20 Spanish
Serie A 6012/20 Italian
Premier League 25 5/20 English
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