Could the future of English goalkeeping be in safe hands at last?
The Weekend Dossier
Roy Hodgson was disappointed to lose Wayne Rooney to injury for England's last World Cup qualifiers, but it might have been worse. He could have been without Joe Hart. As if to underline how important Hart's continued availability is, on Tuesday, while Hart was playing Real Madrid, one of his understudies was also in action. By all accounts Jack Butland was in fine form, but he was playing for Birmingham City in the Championship against Bolton. Which is rather different to facing Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil in a Champions League tie in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
When the Premier League opened 20 years ago, 16 of the 22 goalkeepers were English-qualified. Last weekend six of them were, and that figure was bolstered by Reading's decision to drop Australian Adam Federici after an unbroken run of 50 League matches, allowing Alex McCarthy a rare opportunity, and an elbow injury to Newcastle's Tim Krul that enabled Steve Harper to enjoy a recall.
The other four Englishmen between the sticks were Hart, Ben Foster (West Brom), John Ruddy (Norwich) and Kelvin Davis (Southampton). Foster, 29 years old with five caps won over four seasons, no longer wishes to be considered for England, while Davis, 36 next week, has played one top flight season in a decade, a relegation campaign with Sunderland seven years ago. Which leaves Hodgson to select Hart and Ruddy almost by default, adding Butland whose experience prior to this summer came with England age-group teams and in League Two with Cheltenham.
Back in 1992 six of the English-qualified goalkeepers had already played international football and two more, David James and Ian Walker, would do so. Players as good as John Lukic, a title winner with Arsenal and Leeds, and Steve Ogrizovic, a top-flight regular for 14 seasons, would never win a cap. How Hodgson would envy such depth.
Not that he is the only one. When Ged Roddy, the Premier League's Director of Youth, toured the clubs to canvas opinion in the review of youth development which would ultimately create the Elite Player Performance Programme (EPPP), he asked managers what single improvement would they most like to see implemented. Arsène Wenger asked for a policy to produce more English goalkeepers.
Arsenal's last regular English keeper was David Seaman, a decade ago.Manchester United's was Les Sealey in 1990-91; Chelsea's was Dave Beasant in 1993 and the last Englishman to keep goal at Anfield regularly was David James in 1999. Liverpool now have four goalkeepers, none of them English.
As a consequence, since Seaman left Arsenal, Hart is the only English No 1 to have played more than four matches in the Champions League. Collectively Chris Kirkland, Ben Foster, Ross Turnbull, Scott Carson and Ben Amos played 14 times as deputies. While Butland had the useful experience of the Olympics he is no more likely to play in Europe in the near future than Ruddy, who has only one Premier League season behind him. Meanwhile, Spain have Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Victor Valdes, and David De Gea.
It is not as if there are a host of keepers in the wings. Eight of the 20 sitting on the bench last weekend were English, two of whom owed their place to the absences of Federici and Krul. Of the eight only Rob Green, whose replacement by Julio Cesar at QPR seems to sum up the fate of English keepers, and David Stockdale, Mark Schwarzer's understudy at Fulham, are England possibles.
There is, finally, hope on the horizon. Goalkeeper training, even at senior clubs, was often cursory and basic: shots and crosses. Now there is a much greater focus on handling, positioning, distribution, communication and the mental side. But the quality has still varied from club to club.
In future under EPPP all category one and two clubs must employ a full-time head of goalkeeping, responsible for drawing up a syllabus to coach keepers at all ages. He, and his staff, need to be qualified to Uefa B licence and Football Association goalkeeping B licence level. The latter qualification, a six-day residential course costing £950, is stage three on the FA's coaching pathway to the Goalkeeping A licence, which 65 candidates passed last year.
At present would-be goalkeeping coaches need equivalent outfield qualifications first, a ruling James, long an advocate of better goalkeeping coaching, has decried. When James signed for Liverpool in 1992 he asked who the goalkeeping coach was. "Goalkeeping coach? Ray Clemence never had a goalkeeping coach," responded Ronnie Moran, the coach at what was then England's most successful club. Which in part explains why, two decades later, only 20 per cent of the Premier League's regular goalies are English.
Premier League: Goalkeepers
Club Goalkeeper Nationality
Arsenal Szczesny Poland
Aston Villa Guzan US
Chelsea Cech Czech
Everton Howard US
Fulham Schwarzer Australia
Liverpool Reina Spain
Man City Hart England
Man Utd Lindegaard Sweden
Newcastle Harper England
Norwich Ruddy England
QPR Julio Cesar Brazil
Reading McCarthy England
Southampton Davis England
Stoke Begovic Serbia
Sunderland Mignolet Belgium
Swansea Vorm N'lands
Tottenham Friedel US
West Brom Foster England
West Ham Jaaskelainen Finland
Wigan Al Habsi Oman
(Started last weekend's matches)
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