Seaman's standing unfairly undermined by rare mistakes

The howlers goalkeepers commit outlive them, the great saves are buried with their bones. David Seaman will always be remembered as someone who was undone by the high, looping ball delivered from extreme distance. There will forever be the videos of Nayim's outrageous winner for Real Zaragoza in the 1995 Cup-Winners' Cup final or Ronaldinho's free-kick in Shizuoka which denied England a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

The howlers goalkeepers commit outlive them, the great saves are buried with their bones. David Seaman will always be remembered as someone who was undone by the high, looping ball delivered from extreme distance. There will forever be the videos of Nayim's outrageous winner for Real Zaragoza in the 1995 Cup-Winners' Cup final or Ronaldinho's free-kick in Shizuoka which denied England a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

It seems strange he has been discarded, probably for good, by Sven Goran Eriksson a month after he produced, aged almost 40, what Peter Schmeichel reckoned the finest save he had ever seen. It was a point-blank reaction to Paul Peschisolido's header in the closing moments of Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final with Sheffield United.

The ball was behind Seaman and almost over the line when a glove scooped it to safety. It was on a par with Gordon Banks' block from Pele or Jim Montgomery's double save in the 1973 FA Cup final. If they show Ronaldinho's goal as evidence that Seaman's talent was waning, they must also show this.

Journalists debate the technical weaknesses of sportsmen at their own risk. In 1974, Geoff Boycott was dismissed four times by a nondescript Indian left-arm bowler, Eknath Solkar, and announced his retirement from Test cricket, mainly because he had had enough of Mike Denness's captaincy. The media decided it was because Boycott could not deal with left-arm bowlers and the Yorkshireman was amused and infuriated to read the "evidence" in newspaper diagrams that showed him being bowled by perfectly straight deliveries.

So it was, albeit with a slightly greater degree of sophistication, with Seaman, a fellow Yorkshireman who was brought up in a two-bedroomed terraced house in Rotherham which until he was 14 had no inside toilet. His friend and goalkeeping coach at Highbury, Bob Wilson, thought Nayim's shot was a fluke and considered Seaman blameless for the free-kick against Brazil.

"Only the cruellest of critics, or someone who does not understand the art of goalkeeping, would accuse Seaman of having made a crass mistake," Wilson said. "The curling parabola and arc of the shot made it impossible to save unless the keeper had a very early sighting." Seaman's view was partially obscured by Paul Scholes.

Wilson was surprised to see Seaman break down in Japan; he had never before, and he gave a TV interview in which he mumbled his apologies to the nation. Seaman has avoided the press since details of the break-up of his first marriage were revealed by the tabloids, whose scorn was given further ammunition when he adopted a ponytail. When Seaman delivered an indifferent performance against Macedonia in October it was thought his time with England was up, and, with his omission from the squad to play South Africa, those opinions appear to have been confirmed.

His Arsenal career may not stretch much beyond Saturday's FA Cup final; Seaman is undecided on whether to accept a new contract, although Arsène Wenger has stated that a coaching role is his should he want it.

Seaman's obituary has been written many times. Before Euro 2000, there were calls for his replacement by Nigel Martyn while Wenger's pursuit of Jerzy Dudek and Richard Wright suggested the Arsenal manager was not convinced. The use of the Carling Opta league table to "prove" Seaman was in decline infuriated John Lukic, whom Seaman replaced in 1990 for a then record fee for a goalkeeper of £1.3m.

"Working with him every day is to see his single-minded pursuit of perfection," Lukic said. "He is so much his own worst critic that the way he analyses any goal he concedes makes a lobotomy seem less intrusive."

Seaman is a private man whose passions away from football are fishing and, to a lesser extent, greyhound racing. "I know where I come from," he once said. "I have had tea with the Queen but I keep everything in perspective."

There was a time in the summer of Euro 96 when Seaman was a national hero. The penalty save from Gary McAllister led directly to Paul Gascoigne's winner against Scotland which was followed by Seaman's heroics in the penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final with Spain.

When shortly afterwards he paid a visit to Wimbledon, Seaman was rather embarrassed to receive an ovation from the tennis crowds. If this is goodbye, old "Safe Hands" deserves another round of applause.

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