Could anyone use a world-class keeper who's going spare?
Given may be sidelined at City, but a series of slips highlight the weaknesses elsewhere
Tuesday 17 August 2010
Shay Given spent yesterday contemplating a thirty-something footballer's favourite subject – the future. Even if comments made in the United States by his one-time Newcastle team-mate, Warren Barton, that a deal with Arsenal "is being hammered out as we speak", are premature, the Irishman's departure from Eastlands cannot be far off.
However, since the richest club in the world ended up relying on a keeper from the Faroe Islands after Given himself was injured last term, it may have to be on loan.
Thirty-four-year-olds with more than a century of caps for their country cannot afford a season on the bench and Joe Hart's display at White Hart Lane against a rampant Tottenham may have been decisive and definitive and an invitation for Given to keep goal in the Europa League may not be enough.
The Donegal man was typically generous on Saturday afternoon, congratulating England's newly-anointed No 1 and even smiling to himself when Hart made one of a series of breathtaking saves. However, there would be a tiny part of him that would recognise Eamon Dunphy's remark in his classic account of a football season, Only a Game? When you are dropped you need your replacement to fail and your team to lose. Hart did not fail and City, for all of Tottenham's pressure, did not lose.
When Given decided to quit St James' Park in the wake of a 5-1 humbling by Liverpool in December 2008, his solicitor, Michael Kennedy, made it clear that Arsenal were a club he would be very interested in. Although Arsenal are expected to increase their offer for Fulham's Mark Schwarzer, a move for Given is still a possibility. However, in Glasgow, Celtic have been talking up their chances of tempting back a keeper who first joined them as a 16-year-old.
Manuel Almunia, who has been Arsène Wenger's uneasy first choice since Jens Lehmann's retirement and who was at fault for Liverpool's opener on Sunday, admitted it had been hard to focus with his future shifting beneath his feet. "If somebody else comes in, I will have to talk about my future at Arsenal," he said.
"To be honest, it is hard to concentrate because Arsenal are such a big club and speculation is always everywhere. The only news I have is from third parties; people at the training ground. When I go out or come back from training, I switch off. It is not easy, though, because every time you go out people around you are football fans and you have to be polite and smile."
There were plenty of goalkeepers with plastic smiles on the opening weekend. Chris Kirkland, who but for a persistent back injury might have been part of Fabio Capello's squad in South Africa, emerged from the Wigan dressing room after their jaw-dropping humbling by Blackpool to say he had endured a "bad, bad day". Pepe Reina, who but for the brilliance of Iker Casillas would be Spain's No 1, allowed others to speak for him after almost throwing in Arsenal's equaliser at Anfield. His error, along with Robert Green's blunder against the US in Rustenburg and Tim Howard's at Blackburn on Saturday, will no doubt be recycled on a host of Christmas DVDs. Reina's fabulous fingertip save from Tomas Rosicky may not be allowed to linger so long.
That is the way with goalkeepers. Think of David Seaman, who won three championships with Arsenal, and you think of the 40-yard-shot from Nayim that cost them the Cup Winners' Cup in 1995. On the flight back from Paris, the VIP fans who had paid to travel with the team went over to tell Seaman that "it wasn't your fault", which led to Lee Dixon grabbing the plane's Tannoy to demand, jokingly, "Whose fault was it, then?" The question so many goalkeepers ask themselves.
Although only two have ever been voted Footballer of the Year, Roy Keane never forgot Brian Clough's dictum that goalkeepers win championships. It is how he justified spending £9m on Craig Gordon, although he proved no Peter Shilton, who contributed as heavily to Nottingham Forest's title in 1978 as Peter Schmeichel did to Manchester United's 18 years later. Would Jose Mourinho's success at Stamford Bridge have been so instant without Petr Cech, who has since lost the air of invulnerability? Could Manchester United have held off Liverpool two seasons ago without the 1,311 minutes that Edwin van der Sar, who belongs in the pantheon with Schmeichel and Shilton, spent unbeaten?
Van der Sar will be 40 in October. Brad Friedel is 39, Schwarzer 37, Given 34. It is why Hart's success at 23 was so refreshing. As Mae West once quipped: "It's not the men in my life that worry me, it's the life in my men."
Five to forget the goalkeepers who blundered in opening games
Pepe Reina Scooped ball into own net against Arsenal after Marouane Chamakh's header struck post
Scott Carson Spilt Didier Drogba's free-kick, allowing Florent Malouda to open the scoring for Chelsea
Rob Green Failed to properly clear Ashley Young's cross, before parrying to Stewart Downing for a tap-in
Chris Kirkland Unable to block a Marlon Harewood shot and allowed Alex Baptiste to score from byline
Tim Howard Dropped the ball under no pressure at Blackburn, leaving Nikola Kalinic with an open goal
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