April 23 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Goalkeepers polarise opinion. It’s a fact of footballing life.
For every Edwin van der Sar, there is a Massimo Taibi. Chocolate one week, Marmite the next. You may gather from my previous statement I’m in the ‘hater’ category when it comes to that particular product. It’s the contradiction at the heart of the team game. The most exposed position on the pitch.
Miss a chance as a striker and if you’re in a half-decent side there’ll be another along in a minute. Miss a tackle as a defender; you have a colleague to bail you out. Miss a ball rolling harmlessly towards your goal as a keeper – just wait for the catcalls from opposition fans and derision from the media.
The higher profile the gaffe, the hotter the glare of the spotlight. Pity Rangers’ keeper Allan McGregor at the weekend after a long-range ‘dribbler’ from Celtic’s Badr El Kaddouri slipped through his grasp. An unwanted footnote on an otherwise memorable Old Firm comeback for the Gers.
John Ruddy has shared the agonies that come with the job spec of those drawn towards the goalkeepers’ union. Norwich City fans can all pick out one or two from the memory bank. Not because there are so many to choose from – on the contrary, because it’s the errors that always stick in the collective consciousness.
Not just for the men with the gloves. Fernando Torres finally looked interested in a Chelsea shirt at Old Trafford on Sunday, but his shift in the north-west will forever be remembered for the open goal miss rather than the deft flick that dragged the Blues briefly back into a one-sided contest.
Van der Sar was hailed by Sir Alex Ferguson as a modern phenomenon until he retired this summer to make way for David de Gea, another bright thing who has endured his own public hell at times during the early opinion-forming weeks of a blossoming United career.
The Spanish stopper, in his first television interview after completing his move to the champions, insisted he was replacing the best goalkeeper in the world. Warm words. Yet even Van der Sar occasionally slipped from his consistent perch.
For anyone with time to kill and curiosity to sate you should watch the Dutchman’s embarrassing spill against West Brom in last season’s Premier League encounter.
Somen Tchoyi was presented with the sort of gift only Santa usually bestows when Van der Sar dropped Chris Brunt’s hanging cross under no pressure at the feet of Tchoyi five yards out. I reprise it here to underline the eternal truth. No matter how good a keeper you have, a glaring error is always only a tame shot, a comfortable cross, a rash burst out of the penalty box away.
Ruddy is an excellent custodian for my money. His late stop to foil David Ngog at the weekend helped secure Norwich City’s first Premier League win of the season. The only genuine save the big man was forced to make – regulation penalty conceded aside, of course. Ruddy’s athleticism and shot-stopping ability have never been in doubt during his City career.
I had the privilege to witness a quite breathtaking fingertip effort deep in stoppage time at Elland Road last season that preserved a point with the Leeds’ hordes doing their best to suck the ball past the Canaries’ number one in a frantic finalé.
Ruddy was on a loser the moment he arrived at the start of last season. Like the man who has to replace Sir Alex eventually in the Old Trafford dugout, the glow surrounding Fraser Forster was still fresh in the memory. Another giant of a man who rightly deserved his personal plaudits for playing an integral part in League One promotion success. A feat matched by Ruddy 12 months later.
The man from St Ives is still only 24. Last season was the first time he had played in the Championship – allied to the one top flight appearance for Everton. Ruddy is only going to get better.
More experience, more maturity allied to his natural physical attributes equals another astute piece of business from Paul Lambert.
Ruddy is also a dying breed. An English keeper operating at the pinnacle of his profession. One of only four who played in the Premier League last weekend.
Joe Hart clearly deserves his pre-eminent position in that pecking order – but Ruddy’s rate of personal development is encouraging.
Both for his and Norwich City’s sake this season, we all hope the trend continues to curve upwards.