Merry Christmas! I hope you all had a wonderful time, and didn’t let the fact that yesterday’s football was a bit lacklustre spoil the holiday. To be honest, we were subjected to a particularly dire display of Premier League action! As highlighted on Match of the Day last night, it was certainly a day to celebrate the sometimes forgotten art of goalkeeping. In keeping with that, I have been studying the form and stats of some of England’s top keepers.
If fit, David James seems to be an automatic pick for the squad. Capello rates him not only as a shot-stopper, but seems to relish the invaluable experience that he brings. Let us, for arguments sake, assume that there are therefore two other seats on the plane to South Africa. The contenders I have identified are Robert Green, Paul Robinson, Ben Foster, Chris Kirkland and Joe Hart. I’m going to give a little run down of their credentials, and see who stands out as the natural choices.
Rob Green is undoubtedly favoured by the England boss, 7 of his 8 caps coming under the Italian. Although this season his statistics look somewhat bleak (3 clean sheets and 35 goals conceded in 19 Premier League appearances), after studying his career you see that to some extent these numbers can be attributed just as much to a West Ham side that leaks goals as to the slightly out of form Green. He keeps a good amount of clean sheets (1 every 2.7 games), and only lets in a goal after an average of 4.87 shots on target. As you will see when we study the competitors, these figures hold the Irons’ stopper in a favourable light.
Paul Robinson has the unquantifiable advantage of significant international experience. He has 41 caps, more than anyone else on my list, has been to two major tournaments and played every minute of England’s 2006 World Cup campaign. In the Premier League this season he has conceded 33 goals and kept only 5 clean sheets in 19 appearances. However, it is Robinson’s career statistics leave his place in my squad hanging by a thread. He keeps on average a clean sheet every 3.7 games which is by far and away the worst of these goalies. He also only saves an average of 3.55 shots before letting in a goal, which to be honest Paul, might just not be good enough.
Ben Foster, seemingly 3rd choice for United yet he’s still in with a chance of making the plane to South Africa. He must have displayed some unbelievable skills when he has been on the pitch, I hear you ask. Well, actually Foster’s stats do seem to back up his reputation - he has conceded on average a goal a game this season, but this is as good as anyone on our list. He has also kept three clean sheets in 8 Premier League appearances, which gives him a good ratio. However, if you, like I, have watched Ben Foster this season I am sure you will not be brimming with confidence. His tendancy to buckle in the big games (or even in the Community Shield) leaves a serious question mark over his inclusion in the squad. However, having said that, Capello seems very keen on the young United keeper and so he should not be ruled out. I suppose that his age (26) counts towards him, although the more cynical of us might suggest that the fact he has featured for England is mainly down to his club!
Chris Kirkland was apparently set for big things when he signed for Liverpool in 2001, and few of us doubt his natural talent as a shot-stopper. However, his unlucky tendency to attract injury at the worst possible times has hampered his career and restricted him to just the one substitute appearance for the three lions. His statistics, sadly for him, seem to confirm what his cap collection suggests - that he was more suited to U21 international football than a World Cup squad. Only 3 clean sheets in 17 appearances this year and a disastrous average rate of a goal after every 3.89 shots on target leave us questioning whether he ever fulfilled his potential.
Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, is the case for Joe Hart. He has been left until last, as it was his performance yesterday that inspired me to study English goalkeepers. One or two of the saves he made were magnificent, against some of the finer attackers the league has to offer. On loan to Birmingham from Man City, the midlands club are said to be keen to make his deal a permanent one. However, his fine performances will not come as much of a surprise to City fans, who know well that were it not for the acquisition of Shay Given, he could well be first team at Eastlands. Lets quickly run over the vital statistics: By far and away the youngest promising English keeper at only 22, an impressive 7 clean sheets in the League this year (second only to Petr Cech) and a promising rate of 1 goal conceded a game after 18 appearances. Perhaps most crucially, Hart has not yet displayed that most English trait in a keeper, the uncanny ability to buckle under pressure. For a young English goalie to have performed so admirably behind a back four of Carr, Ridgewell, Johnson and Dann should not be ignored by the England boss, especially when the Italian hardly has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
To conclude, I must make an admission. If it was not obvious by now, I have used today’s post to shamelessly forward the case of Joe Hart to be on the plane to South Africa. However, I am an England fan and only suggest what I feel would benefit the team. His stats easily outrank those around him, his age makes a mockery of the inclusion of the error-prone Ben Foster, and he showed us all this weekend how he reacts to the big stage. Capello, take note…