Friday 21 March ~
Amid the fuss about players on different parts of the pitch, England's goalkeepers for next week's friendly against France were confirmed yesterday as David James, Scott Carson and Chris Kirkland. The choice of one veteran, in some of the best form of his career, and two younger men whose careers have stuttered after a good start, illustrates a very English problem – that of the international goalkeeper.
Although everything suffers under an avalanche of hype, young English goalkeepers have a habit of not living up to those high expectations. Richard Wright, who today moved to Southampton on loan, once lost his place as Arsenal understudy to another great hope, Stuart Taylor, currently perennial number two at Aston Villa. Both were once thought of as England material. Another one time possibility and maybe yet to return as an option, Robert Green, didn't help his claim for an England place when West Ham lost 4-0 three times in the first nine days of March. His powers of self-reflection are clearly also a bit suspect, claiming that not one of these 12 goals was his fault.
Because English goalkeepers are so scarce when they do emerge in the Premier League they are immediately hailed as future internationals, even when not getting regular games for their clubs. Lack of opportunities and injuries are both factors in the downfall of the goalkeeper. Though named in the latest squad Chris Kirkland is a perfect example. When bought by Liverpool from Coventry in 2001 his £6 million fee made him the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history, at only 20 years old. With chances to impress limited by injury, by January 2005 he was out of favour behind Jerzy Dudek and ironically, new signing from Leeds, Scott Carson. Kirkland moved first on loan to West Brom before a permanent move to Wigan.
Portsmouth's 2-0 win over Aston Villa last weekend was decided by the two remaining keepers. James making his 161st consecutive appearance in the Premier League was outstanding whereas Carson was a fault for both goals. James's return to form has been genuine and impressive but he will be 38 in August and Fabio Capello has already started grumbling.
From a wider perspective, the dearth of reliable goalkeepers sheds further light on standards of coaching in this country. Specific skills and types of training are needed for a goalkeeper to flourish, something that is clearly not happening at the moment. The latest Under-21 goalkeeper in good form, and most recent to be hailed as a future international saviour is Manchester City's Joe Hart, already receiving plaudits from Sven Goran Eriksson and international manager alike. England supporters will hope that Hart can keep his domestic place, avoid the senior squad for a few months yet, stay fit, and above all, ignore the headlines? Ed Upright