The FA Cup needed a fairy tale and West Ham United’s 9-8 win over Everton on penalties on Tuesday night fitted the bill, not just because it was a goalkeeper who scored the decisive spot-kick but because of who that keeper was.
In August 2012 the game looked just about up for Adrian. He had been at his local club Real Betis since he was 11 but his 26th birthday was on the horizon and, though he had waited patiently for his first-team chance, it still had not come. One year earlier, just when that opportunity looked imminent, he suffered a cruciate ligament injury which sidelined him for six months.
Doubts were now cast over his long-term fitness and the club were considering writing off the final year of his contract and letting him go. His then coach, Pepe Mel, already had two other keepers, Fabricio and Casto, but Mel had seen something in Adrian and he persuaded Betis to keep him on for his final year.
“I trained like a lunatic to get back as quickly as possible,” he recalled when I spoke to him at West Ham’s training ground just before Christmas. With two goalkeepers in front of him he knew it would not be easy but keeper No 2 upset Mel with an interview he gave and so Adrian found himself moving up one place in the pecking order.
Six games into the new season, the first-choice keeper Casto, was sent off against Malaga and Adrian climbed off the bench to replace him. “I ended up playing the whole season. It was the last bullet in the chamber – it was my last year, I was coming back from a long injury and it had looked impossible that I would even get the chance.”
Betis are a big club with history and support but they have been in and out of administration during the last five years and the same restraints that made them consider getting rid of Adrian meant they could not compete with West Ham when they came in for the player at the start of the 2013-14 season.
“Sometimes you have to move away to get appreciated,” Adrian said, but Mel claimed it was more that a Spanish club simply could not match a Premier League team’s offer.
After keeping West Bromwich Albion up last season, Mel is now back at Betis and on course to guide them back to La Liga after their relegation last season. He still has one eye on the Premier League and is not surprised Adrian is making it in east London.
“He has the physical presence you need in the Premier League as well as the agility that makes him such a good shot stopper,” he said. Mel played under the Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque, in the Real Madrid youth team and he told Del Bosque about Adrian when he emerged at Betis. Mel believes the time might have come for West Ham’s No 13 to become part of the international set-up. Adrian could well be named as his country’s third keeper behind Iker Casillas and David de Gea when the next squad is announced in March.
The one thing Mel admitted he did not know about his former player is that he had such penalty-taking prowess. “We would practise shoot-outs in training but he would be saving them, not taking them,” he said.
A forward in his very early playing days, Adrian did not go in goal for the first time until his Under-11 side CD Altair needed someone between the posts because their keeper had left. He said he would take the gloves until they found a replacement and ended up becoming the replacement himself.
“It’s probably too late to change back now,” Adrian said before Christmas. Well, permanently that maybe true. But there was a temporary flashback at Upton Park on Tuesday. In the FA Cup anything is still possible.
Shoot-out heroics: Keepers who scored
Adrian was not the first goalkeeper to score a winning penalty in a game involving English teams. Portugal’s Ricardo saved two spot-kicks against England before hitting the decisive penalty in a Euro 2004 quarter-final shoot-out.
* Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet and Middlesbrough’s Jamal Blackman both scored in the epic penalty shoot-out that decided their Capital One Cup tie at Anfield in September – Liverpool won 14-13.
* Both keepers, Scott Carson and Boy Waterman, were on target in the shoot-out at the 2007 European Under-21 Championship semi-final between England and Netherlands in Heerenveen. The Dutch won 13-12.
* But in the 1993 Charity Shield at Wembley, David Seaman missed Arsenal’s sixth shoot-out kick to give Manchester United victory.Reuse content