Last season’s top stoppers have found themselves warming the bench at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates this term. But instead of thriving off the competition between the sticks, they’re heading for the exit door . . .
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It’s a funny old game. One minute you’re up and the next you’re down. Just ask former No1s, Chelsea’s Petr Cech and Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal. But who could have predicted last season’s joint Barclays Golden Glove winners – who both kept 16 cleans sheets – would be dropped so unceremoniously by their respective clubs?
European clubs often have two experienced goalies at their disposal. It worked successfully for Bayern Munich when they brought in the former Barcelona and Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina to back up Manuel Neuer, and at Real Madrid, who added Keylor Navas to compete with legend Iker Casillas. But it seems to have backfired in the EPL this season.
The intention is to give your No1 competition, not drive them away. It’s a balancing act. The better and more experienced keeper is not meant to be subordinate to the new arrival. Chelsea legend Cech was never told why he was dropped in favour of Thibaut Courtois for their opening game of the season at Burnley. He has since played just five games this season as Jose Mourinho has made the 22-year-old Belgian his first-choice keeper.
So far Courtois has kept seven less clean sheets than glove rival Cech, 32, did last term, but after tens years of loyal service at Stamford Bridge, the Czech keeper will be off to another club come the summer. He has been linked with moves to, ironically, Arsenal and Liverpool – following the unconvincing performances of Simon Mignolet this season – PSG and Monaco.
As for Szczesny, it seems the pressure of playing second fiddle to David Ospina has become too much. The pole was axed due to some nervous displays, his bad attitude and that small matter of being fined when he was caught smoking in the Southampton showers after his St Mary’s horror show. He has watched from the sidelines as Ospina, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength – and now has the highest win ratio in the Premier League. If Arsene Wenger does go in for Cech, it will spell the end of 24-year-old Szczesny’s Arsenal career.
Manchester City’s Joe Hart faced a similar situation last season. He had a fight on his hands to maintain in No1 status against Willy Caballero, with Manuel Pellegrini proclaiming at the time he had “two number one keepers”. But the difference is the England goalie successfully fought off his competition, while Cech and Szczesny have struggled to mentally adjust to their new-found situation.
The No1 is created for a reason: so that you have a starter and an understudy. Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic is a fine example of this. When he started his career in England at Portsmouth he bided his time as second choice to experienced goalies, such as former England star David James and ex-Republic of Ireland keeper Dean Kiely. Now look at how far he has come and how he retains his place every week?
You could argue that Mourihno and Wenger’s keeper gamble has about paid off with Chelsea heading for the title and Arsenal flying high, but losing top-quality keepers is a heavy price to pay. For goalies, who are known for getting better with age, being dropped as first-choice keeper in the prime of their careers is damaging. It leaves Cech and Szczesny with no choice but to leave.
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