Saturday 6 June ~
Injuries to David James and Ben Foster leave England forced to choose between Scott Carson, Robert Green and Paul Robinson to face Kazakhstan today. Three goalkeepers that many would accuse of lacking that oft mentioned, never defined quality of "international class". The fact that the two players missing are a 38-year-old Portsmouth goalkeeper who is primarily famous for blundering just when it isn't needed and a reserve keeper whose biggest achievement was being the best player in a relegated Watford team a couple of years ago would perhaps hint that this isn't purely a temporary problem, but an overall dearth of English goalkeeping talent.
If you listen to the some people, great goalkeepers are one of the things that England had in the good old days, alongside an empire, bobbies on the beat and a willingness to settle for unadventurous cuisine. Foreign goalkeepers were not to be trusted and were rarely imported. Give them a cross to catch and they'll punch it, give them ball to hoof up the pitch and they will throw it to a libero with no thought for territorial advantage. They were good shotstoppers but nothing more (although, to my mind, never has a goalkeeper been accused of being a bad shot stopper but worth putting in the team for his ability to catch crosses).
Have the tables turned? Certainly, English goalkeeping at a low ebb, although the fact for four decades essentially four men did all the work between the sticks for England (Gordon Banks, Ray Clemence, Peter Shilton and David Seaman) means it only takes one good keeper to paper over the cracks for a whole generation. Since the battle between Shilton and Clemence no England keeper has come under any sustained pressure from a wonderfully performing understudy; the closet being the unamusing double entendre of a choice between Seaman and Flowers.
Of course the longstanding argument is that the England team’s recent failures (which are no worse than in previous decades, incidentally) are due to the influx of foreign players in the Premier League restricting chances for younger players, and for goalkeepers this is perhaps most keenly felt where there is only one spot available. Far less than half the Premier League have first-choice English goalkeepers and, much like British managers, the top teams seem so terrified of dropping out of the top four that they will never gamble on a man who hasn’t proved himself beyond doubt already. It is unlikely this will change anytime soon. Josh Widdicombe