Seaman's dilemma: should I go or stay on as goalkeeping coach

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The Independent Football

Whichever way you look at it, there will be no happy ending to David Seaman's Arsenal career. The decision facing the 39-year-old FA Cup winner this morning is simple and yet impossibly complicated: stay at Arsenal as the goalkeeping coach and drop down the pecking order on the playing side, or leave his "home" of 14 years and join another Premiership club as No 1.

Bob Wilson, Seaman's long-time friend and coach, confirmed after the game that the big Yorkshireman's future almost certainly lay away from Highbury. "It probably is his last game for Arsenal," the Scot said, "so he deserved to finish on a high."

Seaman now faces what Wilson described as "a horrible dilemma". "He really doesn't know what to do," he said. "There have been no offers as of yet, but if one did come in from a Premiership club then he would probably take it and have to leave Arsenal. David just feels he is still good enough to play on."

Wenger's ideal solution would be for Seaman to replace Wilson as the goalkeeping coach, while remaining on the playing staff just in case the new No 1 got injured. That, though, clearly does not fit into the player's own plans. Behind the broad grin and booming voice, there is a fiercely competitive and proud man; someone who will not be bullied. Seaman proved, as he himself pointed out when asked after the game if he was now contemplating hanging up his gloves, that there is "still life left in the old dog".

There was a neat reminder of Seaman's claim half an hour before kick-off, when Arsenal's "Road to Cardiff" was being replayed on the two giant screens inside the Millennium Stadium. There were plenty of highlights for their fans to savour, but none received a greater cheer than the incredible demonstration of elasticity from a 39-year-old man.

For the first time in a long while, the talk among football supporters was not of ponytails, 35-yard lobs, or even enforced retirements. Instead, as in the old days, the words David and Seaman were being used in a positive context. Unfortunately for the Arsenal faithful, it now seems certain that the goalkeeper's gravity-defying stop in the semi-final victory over Sheffield United, not to mention yesterday's faultless display, will not be enough to persuade Arsène Wenger to renew his contract.

Not so many heroics were required yesterday, as Seaman became the oldest keeper to play in an FA Cup final. He had little to do throughout the game, although when he was called upon he did not disappoint. Alert to the danger posed by Chris Baird's audacious right-foot curler on 18 minutes, the big keeper got down well to his left to parry the shot before gathering the ball at the second attempt. Seaman's next intervention – a firm header just outside his penalty box – was less spectacular but no less important, as the Southampton striker Brett Ormerod was bearing down on goal at considerable speed.

He proved his mettle again in the second half, as he kept Southampton out. No matter that he was not kicking particularly well or, for that matter, looking all that comfortable on corners, Seaman was still shining. His near-post save nine minutes before the end, from Ormerod's point-blank shot, was typical of the man who is supposed to be too old and slow.

Three interventions do not a world-class keeper make, but Seaman is not just about saves. His mere presence creates an aura of calm and confidence, a crucial factor on the big occasions. As his former team-mate Lee Dixon points out: "David is a really reassuring figure to have behind you. When he's there and you can hear his big voice shouting orders, you feel more confident."

Unlike Wenger, Dixon clearly feels that Seaman is still a hugely important player for Arsenal. "David is vital to the defence, particularly now that Tony Adams has retired. I think the club still need him while they settle things down at the back." Robert Pires said simply that "David is an Arsenal monument".

So will he stay or will he go? Neither Seaman nor Wenger will say, although the manager's post-match words suggest the decision has been made. "David's performance showed that he is still England's best keeper," the Frenchman toyed, before adding, "but he is almost 40 and cannot carry on forever." Wenger's refusal to bury the issue yesterday is as good as a non-endorsement.

Only the veteran knows what he will do, but if this fifth FA Cup final does turn out to be his last appearance for the Gunners he will be able to look back on it with pride. Two excellent saves and a clean sheet: what else would you expect?

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