A number of clubs will complete their spending this weekend as the transfer window draws to a close but it is unlikely the big deals will involve goalkeepers.
Aside from the £32.6million Juventus paid Parma for Gianluigi Buffon in 2001 and Manchester United’s £18.9m acquisition of David de Gea from Atletico Madrid two years ago, the men between the posts rarely command the highest fees.
Goals win games and those most associated with producing these decisive moments have the largest price tags, meaning the art of goalkeeping is on the undercard to the top billing held by match winners.
Yet former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson believes the role of goalkeepers should not be undervalued since their job is becoming more complex than ever before.
This season’s Premier League ball — the ‘Incyte’ made by Nike — continues the move towards a lighter and more aero-dynamic design, making its flight even more unpredictable than before. Combined with the supposed decrease in protection afforded to goalkeepers by referees and the increase in the overall pace of the game, the last line of defence can seem like the toughest.
Tottenham head into Sunday’s north London derby facing the first major test of their credentials in their post-Gareth Bale era but Wilson believes the Welshman could not have made the impact he did without Hugo Lloris enjoying a fine debut season at the other end of the pitch.
“Lloris has been very calm and is a very consistent goalkeeper,” Wilson told Standard Sport. “I like his confidence and his style. People point to Gareth Bale’s influence on Tottenham’s season but they forget that in many of the games he helped to win, Lloris made three or four vital saves that were equally important.
“Goalscorers earn the big bucks and get the headlines while goalkeepers are undervalued — they should be valued the same as the Bales of this world if they are good enough.”
Lloris, 26, comes up against Wojciech Szczesny, who has endured criticism over his indifferent form which can be traced back as far as Euro 2012.
He entered that tournament as Poland’s poster boy and exited after 70 minutes with a red card in the opening game against Greece.
Wembley woe: Hart was criticised after England v ScotlandThose questions continued after his concession of a penalty in Arsenal’s defeat by Aston Villa at the start of this campaign but Wilson believes the scrutiny of Joe Hart’s form for Manchester City and England is proof that some people are missing the point.
Wilson, 71, said: “The criticism of Wojciech and the suggestion that he has lost his form is ridiculous and I use that word in relation to all the other goalkeepers in the Premier League.
“Joe Hart was criticised for failing to stop Scotland’s first goal at Wembley but any goalkeeper would have found that difficult to keep out.
“Nobody understands when you have three players in front of you how hard it is to keep track of these modern-day balls. They’re now are a joke, as they move around all over the place. They’re designed to ensure more goals are scored, so the crowd are entertained and that gets more bums on seats.
“The mistake Hart made in not claiming that cross against Cardiff [on Sunday] was a pure goalkeeping error — those happen. I am talking about Hart with reference to Wojciech because there isn’t one Premier League goalkeeper now who doesn’t make at least 15 mistakes a season.
“Give me Petr Cech, Asmir Begovic, any of them — they all make mistakes. That is because it is so different from the day when Pat Jennings, myself and Peter Bonetti played. Goalkeeping has always been a crazy job.
“I used to be famed for going to ground at players’ feet but that has gone out of the game now because of the diving and cheating that goes on. The game is so fast you have to rely on instinct.”
Perhaps that shift explains why Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger took Szczesny, 23, out of the firing line for five matches last season amid rumours the Pole was suffering with the mental side of the game.
With speculation persisting that the Gunners would sign a new goalkeeper, Szczesny’s future at one stage looked uncertain but Wilson believes he is the right man to continue in the job. “I remain a big fan of Wojciech,” said Wilson, who made 308 appearances for Arsenal between 1964-74 and worked at the club as a goalkeeping coach for 28 years until his retirement in 2003.
“I make sure I say to Wojciech whenever I see him to trust his instincts. I want Wojciech to continue to be as bold and courageous in his decision making. Yes, there is room for improvement in that area but I think that is one of his great skills.
“He is a thoughtful guy who cares very deeply about his game. The only time I have been disappointed with Wojciech was when somebody suggested that mentally he wasn’t right towards the end of last season.
“I would be amazed if that actually came out of Wojciech’s mouth.
“You never admit that publicly as a top-level goalkeeper in the game, no matter what is going on, because so much of goalkeeping is about exuding confidence. After 15-20 games playing for Arsenal, I felt like I belonged as the club’s No1 and that’s how you have to be. Of course, you may have doubts but you would never, ever show any weakness.”
Bob Wilson’s charity, Willow Foundation, is organising the London Football Legends Dinner & Awards in March 2014. Visitwww.willowfoundation.org.uk/londonfootballlegends for more info.
**** What Wilson said about the goalies being undervalued is so true. I have been saying so for years. The goalscorers get all the credit because they score the goals to help the team win of course, but sometimes a goalie can be a game changer. Lloris is more a footballing goalie. He is certainly gifted and had it not for him, Spurs would have lost BIG to not only to Arsenal over the weekend but on many occasions.