Tuesday, 14 October 2008

United's Next No. 1

It was interesting to read today the comments of United's recently-appointed goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele. He was discussing an issue which is coming very sharply into focus - who is going to be United's next number 1?

"One or two will talk about Fabien Barthez and his contribution here but mainly people talk about Schmeichel and Van der Sar as being the best and in-between was a difficult time."

Whist I am one of those who looks back on Barthez's first year with fondness (some of the saves he made were just out of this world), "difficult time" doesn't begin to sum it up:

  • the two years of Tim Howard (that mistake against Mourinho's Porto) and Roy Carroll (Pedro Mendes' "goal" from the halfway line) make United fans hide under the table;
  • Barthez's second year was chock-full of comical errors in important games;
  • Mark Bosnich was woeful, and in particular his kicking and distribution were an embarrassment - have you ever known a professional footballer unable to kick a ball?
On that note, it is interesting how Steele describes United's ideal keeper:

"Edwin is a very, very experienced goalkeeper. He has been one of the finest in the world in terms of the sweeper-keeper role that this club needs...He will now be remembered for the famous save in the shoot-out in the Champions League final but I think it had been noted by the purists in the game that he was one of the finest in terms of playing out from the back.

"His distribution skills are tremendous and ideally what you look for now. He has been, and still is, one of the best. It is a joy having viewed him from a distance to now work with him. He has raised the bar."

This, of course, was something that Schmeichel also excelled at. But these comments could be mis-interpreted. I don't think that Steele is saying that the first criterion is distribution - more that this is the criterion which will separate the men from the boys. We must take all the necessary skills in the areas of shot-stopping and dominance of the penalty area as read before considering this point.

It is good to know that someone is personally taking on the job of transitioning us to our next keeper:

"When the time comes that Sir Alex Ferguson says 'who is going to replace Edwin?' I have to have an answer and reasons for the answer. My job is to give the manager as many options as I can.

"We have to get all the goalkeepers fit and competing and throw the gauntlet down to Tomasz Kuszczak and Ben Foster and say who is going to take over the mantle of the No 1 we have now. This is the time for Tomasz and Ben. This is what they were brought here for. "

I've set out my thoughts fairly clearly on Foster and Kusczcak here. And it's a bit too early to start looking at outside candidates, although there will be a question of whether we need an interim experienced signing/back-up like Brad Freidel and whether we can poach an existing top keeper from another club for a sensible sum.

Finally, Steele's comments on why the standard of keeping so far this season have been low are worth noting:

"I have been here 10 weeks but I missed the nucleus of what I believe is the mainstay of your season and that is the pre- season. Edwin came back late because of his involvement in Euro 2008. Ben was injured in South Africa. All of a sudden you are looking at players who have missed the conditioning work. We have been playing catch-up and have used the international breaks to get them up to speed.

"We have sat down with Tony Strudwick, who is head of sports science at United, and his team and set about doing sessions to bring them up to speed. The keepers needed that. We have caught up and it is only in the last two or three weeks they are at the level I would have wanted them at in August. It is about preparation. They You have to monitor where, when and how much work to give them."

And some good news to sign off on:

"They [Foster and Kusczcak] are both back from injury. Both are fully fit now to accept the challenge and Edwin knows it is there."

Good - well let's hope for a noticeable improvement from here on in. And I, for one, want to see Foster getting a lot of opportunities.

What are your views on the goalkeeping situation? Do you think Foster and Kusczcak are up to the job?


Gapi said...

I see Foster as the natural successor to Van Der Sar. I can't believe all the goalkeepers we're being linked with these days...

Penguinissimo said...

Yep, I know - we've been planning for EVDS's retirement from the day he arrived (unlike Schmeichel, when we were left a bit high and dry), and we have successfully acquired the most promising English goalkeeper around.

Signing a ready-made solution like Cech would obviously be ideal in one way, but damn expensive and quite short term.

If Foster lives up to his potential, he could be very very good for a very long time - continuity is what you need with a keeper.

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