Willy Caballero refuses to go away. A year on from helping Malaga through a mammoth Champions League run, in which they were seconds away from knocking Borussia Dortmund out and advancing to the semi-final, the Argentine veteran was on-hand once again to deny Atletico Madrid the league title at the Vicente Calderon, flashing a glove into the top corner to tip over Adrian Lopez’s curling effort.
There wasn’t really any surprise in that save; it was a magnificent leap from the Malaga keeper and he’s been doing that for much of the past 18 months. When Manuel Pellegrini opted to drop Joe Hart midway through last season due to poor form, Caballero was the candidate linked with stepping in, not to permanently take over, but to add sustained competition.
The big surprise is Caballero’s omission from the Argentina squad for the World Cup. As most watchers of Malaga’s trip to Atletico in the penultimate game of last season screamed, “Caballero, what are you doing?!” the response to Alejandro Sabella’s decision to overlook the goalkeeper was, “what are you playing at?”
Arsenal’s need for a backup goalkeeper has reportedly led them down the path towards Caballero. It was assumed the 32-year-old would leave Malaga last year, taking part in the exodus led by Pellegrini. But he stayed on and hasn’t lost any of that charm.
Arsene Wenger has already established his plans to retain Wojciech Szczesny as the team’s No.1. Last year, it wasn’t so clear. Julio Cesar was touted to come in and displace the young Pole, but Wenger stuck with what he had and instead opted for Emiliano Viviano to act as third-choice behind Szczesny and Lukas Fabianski.
Something similar is needed this time around. Bringing in another young ‘keeper is counterproductive. There is such a thing as too much competition. Having two youngsters, as good as each other, vying for the No.1 jersey is almost as if to will one to fall away and crumble.
Follow the Barcelona method of this summer. Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s reputation is well-known: he’s one of Germany’s brightest young goalkeepers and one who looks set to become one of the best in Europe. With Jose Pinto following Victor Valdes out of the club this summer, the smart thing to do is bring in a veteran who can relieve and guide the younger first-choice, which is what the club are doing in signing Claudio Bravo from Real Sociedad.
Caballero isn’t an international, he isn’t currently seated at a one of Europe’ elite clubs; there is unlikely to be much in the way of demands from the Argentine.
But Arsenal pick up injuries. The team go through 50-plus games almost every season, battling on four fronts. Mental fatigue can set in, form can drop. Szczesny has certainly improved this past season on what he produced for much of the two previous years, but there is no assurance that it will stick. Fabianski played his part in the resurgence of his countryman, producing a string of fine displays himself. There was a real threat that Szczesny could be dropped for a prolonged spell.
Wenger needs to retain that competition – albeit the right amount. Caballero knows what it means to play in high-stakes games and £7million, reportedly, is a decent price for such quality. At 32, there’s still a lot that can be extracted from one of Spanish football’s top goalkeepers.
Caballero would be a fine building block towards a genuine title contending team at the Emirates.