What’s changed for the men between the sticks?
With respect for the youth of today dwindling as rapidly as ever, it seems that this generation may be the least cherished in recent history. However, the world of political correctness that we currently live in demands equality through sexual preference, race or age. As an organisation, the Premier League is in the elite bracket with regards to its popularity, influence and respect. With this in mind, adhering to the PC-age is a necessity. Ten years ago, the notion of a Premier League club fielding a Goalkeeper who had barely left his teenage years would have been considered an absurdity. Now, the most exclusive clubs are relying on young talent between the sticks in the hope of finding a successful long term appointment as the last line of defence. Is this change in goalkeeping appointment method an adhering nod to political appropriation or simply an indication that the younger pool of talent arriving in the game are of a superior quality to the elder statesmen?
Rewinding back over a remarkable decade in the Premier League places us at the commencement of the 2002/03 season. Arsenal had a firm grip over English football having come off the back of a comfortable Premier League win the previous season. Thierry Henry had topped the goalscoring charts with Dutchmen Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Ruud Van Nistelrooy close behind. Keeping guard between the sticks that season were some of the most renowned goalkeepers that the Premier League has ever witnessed. Veterans Fabien Barthez, David Seaman and Nigel Martyn were some of the most ever present ‘keepers for the then elite teams that year. Reliable and experienced, these players were considered compulsory on the team sheet. How times have changed.
Skipping a few of chapters ahead to the present day and you will find that experience between the sticks means vastly less than before. Arsenal have traded the dependability, expertise and knowledge of Seaman for the exuberant, confident and athletic figure of Wojciech Szczesny. At just 22, the young Pole is now the sole bearer of the number 1 jersey and looks set to start the new campaign as first choice stopper at the Emirates. While Arsene Wenger is no novice at incorporating youth into his team, the goalkeeping position in North London has tended to be set aside for a veteran. However, Szczesny’s inclusion indicates a new trend for youthful exuberance in goal.
David De Gea is another perfect example of this. After just two seasons playing for his hometown club Atletico Madrid, the Spaniard was snapped up by Man United and has just established himself as their first choice goalkeeper. An oddity for the Red Devils, who have had major success under veteran ‘keepers Peter Schmeichel and Edwin Van Der Sar, employing a youngster as the last line of defence is a gamble that did show at times last season. Nervous errors were fairly regular in the first few games of De Gea’s United career. However, Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested that the 21-year-old will be at the club for years to come and to begin the process of settling the youngster now will pay off in subsequent seasons.
While the fearless, athleticism of the younger goalkeeper may be the new trend among Premier League clubs, the veteran still has a place in the English game. Brad Friedel just about holds the goalkeeping reigns at Tottenham despite being 41. West Ham have also turned to experience, enticing Premier League expert Jussi Jasskelainen to the capital. However, when these old timers hang up their boots and the young generation of ‘keepers continues its attack on the Premier League, attitudes may change and the kids might be alright.
Fans, Do you think gambling on young ‘keepers is the way forward? Have the likes of Hart, Krul, De Gea and Szczesny ignited a change in the thinking of clubs? Share your thoughts and hit me with your best shot on twitter @mattpegg1