England's World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, believes Fabio Capello has made a serious error of judgement leaving Paul Robinson out of his squad for South Africa. The goalkeeping position, with no obvious No 1 contender, is a strong concern as England hope to progress deep into the tournament next month.
Last week, Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce expressed incredulity that Robinson, who earned the last of 41 caps during a defeat against Russia in October 2007, was omitted, given Capello's oft-quoted assurances that he picks players in form.
While the Rovers manager could be accused of bias towards his own man, he has found a strong ally in Banks, who knows a thing or two about goalkeepers. "Paul Robinson should have gone," says Banks. "Blackburn picked up halfway through the season but even when Robinson was letting goals in, they weren't necessarily his fault. He could still be doing his job properly and Blackburn could still be losing. For me he should definitely have been included."
Not just because, says Banks, Robinson hit decent form for his club. Experience, he says, is key in the cauldron of a World Cup finals. "The experience he has had playing for England means he wouldn't be too anxious or too nervous. The back four have to have confidence in the man behind them so they can do their job a little bit better. They can concentrate on their job rather than thinking 'is he going to drop it?' or 'is he going to make a mistake?'"
Banks, whose save against Pele in 1970 remains one of the iconic moments in football, remains, even at 72, a student of the English goalkeeper and is worried about how a position that was once the envy of the world has fallen behind other established footballing powers.
He blames foreign Premier League managers for not giving English keepers sufficient exposure. Robert Green, Joe Hart and David James – the three on the plane to South Africa – are all prone to brilliance on their day, says Banks. Yet the dearth of young English keepers breaking through is a big worry to him.
"The type of ball kids use these days has got a lot to do with it. It moves about so much more. They can't get hold of it so they play outfield instead. But that's not the main problem. We have all these fantastic academies in this country, with goalkeeping coaches who are giving advice. I cannot believe that we don't get any young, good lads coming through at big clubs.
"Unfortunately for us, England have so many foreign managers that even if the first-team goalkeeper gets injured, they won't take a chance on a young English goalkeeper, at say 19 or 20. Unless the youngsters get the experience of playing in the Premier League, they won't be any good."
Banks cites Ben Foster, who has just joined Birmingham City from Manchester United, as a case in point. Sir Alex Ferguson may not be foreign but he is just as responsible, says Banks, for failing to bring through a quality English goalkeeper and allow him to fulfil his potential. "I was tipping Foster to play [in South Africa]. Of course, they will make the odd mistake, every goalkeeper does. But managers have very little patience. Don't ask me why. 'Get another one in' seems to be the thinking."
Banks does not dispute the ability of James, Green or Hart. But Robinson, he repeats, would have been a more reliable bet, at the expense of the much-touted Hart. "Although he is very, very consistent, Hart is a young lad and he hasn't got the experience of playing international football. To be put on a stage like that is a lot of pressure. There is this great expectation. He is definitely one for the future. After this World Cup, I'd start pushing him and seeing how he performs. If he does well, keep him in."
Banks would start with James against the United States on 12 June because of experience, but admits he is vulnerable. "I saw him in one game where he came for a cross at the far post and didn't get anywhere near it. James could come in and stop three or four goals that no other goalkeeper would have stopped. Then again the opposite can happen. We could be playing really well, maybe 1-0 up, then he makes a couple of bad mistakes and we lose 2-1. That is what I am saying: they are very much of a muchness. You can never tell whether they will do good or do bad. That's one of the things he [Capello] has to suffer with."
Gordon Banks was speaking at the launch of the official Marks & Spencer World Cup suit