WHEN history comes to judge the first sporting decade of the 21st century (assuming history hasn’t got better things to do), it may well look with bemusement at a clutch of stories, which appeared throughout 2008, suggesting that Manuel Almunia might be the solution to England’s goalkeeping problem.
You may remember these stories started to surface after England were knocked out of Euro 2008, with Scott Carson copping flak for letting in a soft goal against Croatia, David James copping flak for some pretty eccentric displays and Paul Robinson copping flak for his baffling transformation from a world-class goalkeeper to the only man in the world even more accident-prone than the Chuckle Brothers.
(To prove the point, Robinson was even mocked on a regional TV news programme by the Chuckle Brothers – a moment which must remain the low point of his career.)
Because Spaniard Almunia will qualify for a British passport next summer, several reports suggested that he might be the man to keep goal for England. The reports rather glossed over the fact that the Arsenal keeper seems to commit a howler roughly once every three weeks.
Last night’s final match: Arsenal 1 Bolton 0
Commentator: Guy Mowbray
Almunia got away with his rush of blood to the head against Bolton yesterday, as he got into an almighty mix-up with Kolo Toure on the edge of his own penalty area as the two of them tried to deal with a hopeful Bolton punt upfield.
But the fact that a man seen back-pedalling hopelessly to try – and fail – to stop David Bentley’s 45-yard hit and hope in last November’s North London derby has even been considered for the England role is symptomatic of the rough ride home-grown Premier League goalkeepers get compared to their overseas counterparts.
Let me elaborate. Not so long ago, I spoke to Joe Corrigan, a man widely acclaimed as a great English goalkeeper in an era when there was practically one in every town.
I asked Corrigan, who is now the goalkeeping coach at West Brom, what he thought of the state of English goalkeeping today. And he was more than positive.
He said: “I’m not concerned about the state of English goalkeeping. There was a period a couple of years ago when English keepers were regularly being lambasted.
“But the Premier League is under so much scrutiny. If you look at the foreign goalkeepers in the Premier League, they are the best from their particular country.
“I can assure you that English goalkeepers are well above the rest.
“I was watching a video of Turkey versus Bosnia recently, and I don’t know why the Bosnia goalkeeper was wearing a pair of gloves.
“Peter Schmeichel made a massive impact in England, and Petr Cech has done the same. But they are one-offs.
“Joe Hart, Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland, Scott Carson, David James and Robert Green are all good goalkeepers.”
For what it’s worth, I agree with every word Corrigan said. And his point about the increased scrutiny on the Premier League is worth highlighting. That level of scrutiny just wasn’t there 30 years ago.
In the 1970s, Corrigan, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence were all great goalkeepers. But they all made mistakes. Remember Clemence letting a Kenny Dalglish shot through his legs at Hampden Park in 1976? And while we’re at it, can you figure out how Shilton managed to be outjumped by Diego Maradona for that ‘Hand Of God’ goal at the 1986 World Cup?
On the subject of Maradona, he made an appearance on last night’s Match of the Day, implausibly, sitting in the crowd at Stoke.
According to the commentator, Argentina’s head coach was there to watch Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano.
But I’d like to think he also wanted to get a bit of tactical inspiration from Tony Pulis.
After all, it’s Rory Delap who has the Hands of God now.
1. Fulham: 6 (GD: +1; CD: +1)
2. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0; CD: +2)
3. Middlesbrough: 5 (GD: 0; CD: +1)
4. Capello: 4 (GD: +1; CD: +4)
5=. Blackburn: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
5=. West Brom: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
5=. Bolton: 4 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
8. Stoke: 3 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
9. West Ham: 2 (GD: 0; CD: +2)
10. Newcastle: 2 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
11=. Gubba: 1 (GD: +1; CD: +1)
11=. Manchester City: 1 (GD: +1; CD +1)
13. Portsmouth: 1 (GD: 0; CD: +1)
14=. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Everton: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Hull: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Sunderland: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
14=. Tottenham: 1 (GD: 0; CD: 0)
19=. Aston Villa: 0
19=. Chelsea: 0
19=. Liverpool: 0
19=. Manchester United: 0
(NB: Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference: the number of times a team is last on Match of the Day with Tony Gubba commentating. If they are still level, they will be separated by Capello difference: the number of times a team is last on MOTD with Fabio Capello present.)