Hart the last man standing in case of the vanishing England keeper

Fabio Capello has had to go rooting around in the Championship to fill his squad. Where have all the goalies gone, asks Sam Wallace
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The Independent Online

It is a worrying reality for Fabio Capello that among his combined England squad and staff who fly to Sofia today for tomorrow's Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria, there are more goalkeeping coaches than there are current Premier League goalkeepers.

At his disposal on his coaching staff, Capello has his compatriot Franco Tancredi, who won 12 caps for Italy and played in the 1984 European Cup final for Roma, as well as the great Ray Clemence, with his 61 caps for England which, as everyone knows, would have been many more had his career not coincided with that of Peter Shilton.

It goes without saying that Capello would gladly take a modern-day equivalent of Clemence's quality to cover him for his last 10 months in the job. The injury England can currently least afford to cope with is one to Joe Hart, undoubtedly one of the brightest young goalkeepers in Europe but a man who has seen off all the other contenders to the extent that many have simply quit.

In the current squad, Capello has David Stockdale, the Fulham goalkeeper currently on loan in the Championship with Ipswich Town. Stockdale is a decent enough prospect but his start to the season at Portman Road has already included 7-1 and 5-2 defeats. Frankie Fielding, of Derby County in the Championship, was a late call-up to this squad when Robert Green, another Championship goalkeeper, withdrew on Monday night with injury.

And the rest? Ben Foster, the obvious choice to be Clemence to Hart's Shilton, has taken an indefinite sabbatical from international football. A very talented goalkeeper who was unfortunate not to make the grade at Manchester United, Foster has been spoken to at length by Clemence but has not changed his mind. It is not clear whether he will even return after Capello leaves next summer.

Green has not played for England since his mistake against the United States in the first game of the World Cup finals last summer. In March he told Capello he wanted to retire after he was overlooked for the friendly against Ghana but agreed to come back into the squad as a late replacement for the qualifier against Switzerland in June. It would be fair to say, when it comes to Capello's England, Green's heart does not seem in it.

The same goes for Scott Carson, currently injured, who asked to be left out of a recent squad because of the imminent prospect of his wife going into labour and has been an irregular pick for Capello for so long that he knows he is only there to make up the numbers. His chance came when Steve McClaren threw him into the Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia in November 2007, and it went badly that night.

As Hart himself pointed out this week, it is hard enough for young goalkeepers to get a shot at the Premier League. A case in point is Fielding, who was previously behind another England goalkeeping refusenik Paul Robinson – he officially retired last year when called up to a squad – at Blackburn Rovers. After eight loan spells with five different clubs, Fielding eventually had to accept a move down a division to Derby this summer.

Hart said: "We need three English goalkeepers and obviously, with injuries and other people making decisions about their futures, we've got the three best we can. All I can do is affect myself and my decisions, not the rest of the squad. I was so lucky to get a chance to play in the Premier League as it's very hard. There's one spot only and I was really lucky to get that opportunity a few times now. That's half the battle, as there are a few good English keepers who could hold down a Premier League spot and be in the England squad, but it's just getting that opportunity.

"David [Stockdale] has gone on loan to Ipswich because Mark [Schwarzer] is playing well at Fulham and Frankie's been called up as well. I'm sure his ambition is to get into the Premier League with Derby or find a club to take him on. There's ambition there, but it's just hard to get that chance."

More worrying for Capello is a mentality among English goalkeepers that they do not even want to be involved with the national team unless they have a chance of playing and, with Hart in possession of the No 1 shirt, despite a wobble against Switzerland in June, that is not an imminent prospect. Capello has looked at John Ruddy, at Norwich City, one of the few Englishman who is a first-choice goalkeeper at a Premier League club but has decided he is not yet ready to make the step up to international football.

"I can only really talk about myself," Hart said. "I personally want to play every time so I understand that, but at the same time it's different with England. It's not like your day-to-day club. I just want to play and do my best, whether it's for Man City or England."

The story repeats itself in the Under-21s. Manchester United's promising goalkeeper Ben Amos has played at every junior level for England and been on three loan spells away from his parent club. But at 21 he now finds himself behind David de Gea, who is seven months younger than his English team-mate. Amos, like his fellow Under-21s squad members Jack Butland at Birmingham City and Declan Rudd at Norwich, may well be good enough one day for a place in the senior England squad. Finding a Premier League club at which they can play could prove more difficult.

Three Lions: Capello's current goalkeepers

Joe Hart

Club Manchester City

Age 24

Caps 11

Premier League appearances 127

David Stockdale

Club Ipswich (loan from Fulham)

Age 25

Caps 0

Premier League appearances 8

Frankie Fielding

Club Derby County

Age 23

Caps 0

Premier League appearances 0

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