The goalkeeping position remains the most unique in football: requiring an all together different skill set from the outfield positions; an emphasis on maintaining concentration throughout a game’s 90 minutes and developing an understanding with traditionally the four defenders in front of him.
Recently however Manchester United and Tottenham have rotated their top two goalkeepers and could this be a pattern emerging that would alter the criteria of the position or are these merely isolated cases of teams with selection dilemmas?
It is often said that every great team has an ever-present spine that starts from the goalkeeping position. Last year’s Premier League champions Manchester City boasted Joe Hart, who Wayne Rooney last week proclaimed on Twitter as the ‘best keeper in the world’, and United and Chelsea have had Edwin van der Sar and Petr Cech respectively in between the posts as they claimed their titles in recent years.
And reflecting upon last season retrospectively, David De Gea’s understandable trouble in convincingly holding the keeper’s jersey, replacing the retired van der Sar, may have contributed to their end-of-season dip as they surrendered an 8-point lead to their city rivals.
This season, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has adopted a committee approach to the position rotating Anders Lindegaard and David De Gea explaining that giving the two experience will help him in the long term manage his team. Ferguson added that in the course of his experience, one will emerge as a natural number one.
England great Gordon Banks commented that whilst De Gea was a ‘great shot-stopper’, the 21-year-old Spaniard was somewhat of a liability in dealing with crosses and through-balls.
This could explain why Ferguson has tended to select Lindegaard to bare the aerial physicality of the Premier League whilst De Gea has been chosen for the two European fixtures thus far this season. Like with the other outfield positions, could we be beginning to see managers alternating their goalkeepers to make the most of their individual attributes?
Tottenham Hotspur signed French captain Hugo Lloris for £11m and manager Andre Villas-Boas started him for the first in the Premier League in last weekend’s win over Aston Villa. Yet, Villas-Boas was not prepared to declare the French goalkeeper as his no.1 and with two equally adept, experienced goalkeepers, the young manager will somehow have to juggle the demands of both Lloris and Brad Friedel over the course of the season.
But can rotating two goalkeepers effectively work? The aforementioned Gordon Banks noted that the constant rotation of the two goalkeepers at Manchester United have unsettled both, with neither looking commanding in the box and the instability has undoubtedly been a factor in United’s uncharacteristically shaky defence.
What separates the goalkeeping situation at Tottenham from United is that Andre Villas-Boas has two assertive goalkeepers at his disposal. Moreover, with 41-year-old Brad Friedel coming to the end of his contract at the end of the season, Lloris can at least be certain that he will be the club’s unconditional number one next season.
Chelsea may face a similar situation in the coming seasons if Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois returns to Stamford Bridge from his loan at Atletico Madrid. 20-year-old Courtois signed in 2011 on a five-year deal and has since been enjoying a loan spell in the Spanish capital. As Chelsea project him to one-day replace Petr Cech, the approach of rotating goalkeepers may very well suit Chelsea in looking after both their current and future interests whilst appeasing both goalkeepers.
For United, however, the employment of two goalkeepers as Ferguson looks for one to emerge as a number one, may actually suggest the absence of a true number one. With questions marks over both De Gea and Lindegaard, how long will it be before United and Ferguson consider an alternative or will the rotation policy pay dividends for United’s goalkeeping department?
image: © James Boyes