The vast amount of money poured into the Premier League in recent years has ensured that the quality of football available to the select group of fans in their forties and beyond who can afford a season ticket has improved beyond recognition. To be able to watch the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Sanchez, Ibrahimovic, Aguero play makes you believe in the joy of watching football and you leave the ground content in the knowledge that you have seen players perform at a level that you can only dream of. Anyone who witnessed Eden Hazard’s superb goal for Chelsea last Saturday and then claimed “I could have done that” would never be invited to offer their opinions on football again.
However, there is one position where despite the riches on offer, the quality of performance has dramatically declined. The one position where a middle aged guy in his fifties, on leaving the stadium, can genuinely say, “I could have done better” and be met by nods of agreement. That position is the Premier League goalkeeper.
Once again, last weekend raised the bar in terms of levels of goalkeeping incompetence in the Premier League. In addition to his tactical masterclass on how best to organise a defensive wall last week against Chelsea, Simon Mignolet continued his excellent record of flapping at crosses, unable to decide whether to catch, punch or simply pray and gifted Hull City a goal. He then bettered that by charging out aimlessly to allow that renowned goalpoacher Oumar Niasse to score his first ever Premier League goal. Questions do have to be asked of Klopp’s mental stability when he can scream “No-one can beat us” and then pick Mignolet to play in goal in the next match.
However, Mignolet was not alone. Peter Cech, obviously still enormously grateful that Chelsea had let him go to Arsenal and thinking perhaps that Fabregas still played for Arsenal played a precise pass that split his own defence allowing Fabregas to lob the ball into an empty net. Wayne Hennessey apparently had not realised that you are not supposed to undertake the mannequin challenge when you are actually playing the game. His slow, pondering, lethargic movements as the goals rolled in was so bad I thought was watching an episode of Monty Python where the keeper was a Long John Silver impersonator. Fraser Forster was the subject of the headline article on Saturday in the Daily Mirror where a whole page was devoted to the fact that he had never conceded a goal against West Ham. He promptly let in three. England’s next goalkeeper in waiting apparently on the basis of the fact he has shown the uncanny ability to punch the ball into his own net and completely miskicked a ball in his own six yard area allowing Benteke to score for Crystal Palace. How the country which produced Gordon Banks can tolerate such ineptitude never ceases to amaze me
Unlike most Bournemouth fans, I was fortunate enough to witness a goalkeeping disaster at Goodison on Saturday from none other than the Holy Goalie himself, Arthur Boruc. Never mind the six he conceded but watch the replays of the goals for a masterclass of how to look totally clueless without even trying. When Barkley was scoring the final goal, savour the replay on your screen as Boruc actually dives to stop the shot outside of his penalty area as the ball is going into the back of his net.
Undoubtedly, levels of incompetence amongst goalkeepers have reached new heights this season. I could write a whole thesis on the failures of Claudio Bravo but even the likes of Hugo Lloris in his performance against Man City showed that being an international goalkeeper does not preclude you from having the coordination that was last witnessed when Ed Balls strutted his stuff on Strictly.
On transfer deadline day, I had to check my calendar to confirm that it was not the first of April. I am still totally bemused that Chelsea were considering a bid of up to four million for the thirty four year old Craig Gordon of Celtic. Yes, the same Craig Gordon who was released on a free transfer from Sunderland in 2012 and who did not play any professional football for two years. Let’s face it, anybody with two functioning hands could play for Celtic these days. They could still win the Scottish League without a goalkeeper. But how bad must Begovic be if Gordon is considered an adequate replacement? Then again if Bravo is worth seventeen million?
As a baby boomer, I grew up watching so many legendary keepers from Gordon Banks to Neville Southall. Goalkeepers in those years had nicknames which inspired confidence, such as “The Cat”. However my favourite was always Tubby Morton of Roy of the Rovers fame. Despite his junk food lifestyle and rather immense body fat ratio, he was impossible to score goals against. In my view the modern keeper is just too thin!
In those days, goalkeepers looked the part. They were physically intimidating. They commanded their area, they came of the pitch covered in mud carried off by the fans entranced by their performance. Even in the 1970’s, Brian Clough could claim that Peter Shilton would win Nottingham Forest an extra eighteen points. Can you imagine Jurgen Klopp saying that about Mignolet? Or Guardiola about Bravo? Or Big Sam saying Hennessey’s saves will keep us up. No – neither can I.
The modern keeper seemingly is more concerned with making showboating passes to his defenders or trying to nutmeg opposing forwards, often at a disastrous cost to the team. They are quite happy to have the glory of penalty saves (Stekelenberg , Mignolet) to impress the hordes of selfie stick wielding Far Eastern tourists, but not bother with the routine tasks of catching the ball at corners. And ever since Jimmy Glass scored that relegation saving goal for Carlisle from a corner, they see themselves as match winners not match savers.
Also, they never have to be worried about having a poor game, because I cannot recall a single match where the keeper has been hauled off at half time by an irate manager. These guys have it far too easy. I think that if each team could change the keeper without it affecting the total number of substitutions they can make it would shake them up. If Klopp had dragged Mignolet off after his aberration against Chelsea, what a positive impact that may have had on the team and the crowd.
Like many fans, a large part of my income goes on watching football. Is it too much to ask that I get to see a top class goalkeeper as part of the deal?
Bring back Tubby Morton!