If recent reports are to be believed, then Jose Mourinho can add a goalkeeper to Manchester United’s shopping list this summer.
There’s always been something uneasy about David De Gea’s presence between the Old Trafford sticks ever since his dream move to Real Madrid was scuppered by a dodgy fax machine in summer 2015 and it appears the final chapter in the transfer saga could be written this summer with the Bernabeu calling once again.
No doubt, the Red Devils will have been preparing for this situation practically the minute since the paperwork missed La Liga’s transfer deadline. But as we approach a summer window that appears likely to see the departure of United’s three-time Player of the Year, two candidates have emerged to succeed him that wouldn’t have even been on the peripheries of United’s thinking two years ago – Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel and Manchester City’s Joe Hart.
Back then, Schmeichel had just helped Leicester City stave off relegation by the skin of their teeth and was preparing for another season fighting it out near the foot of the table, where his goal would be peppered from all angles.
Hart, meanwhile, had claimed a fourth Premier League Golden Glove in the space of five years, was England’s undisputed No.1 and about to embark upon eighth straight campaign as the resident glovesman at United’s bitter rivals.
But two years is a long time in football and Schmeichel is now a Premier League title winner, playing as important a role as any of his team-mates in the Foxes pulling off one of the greatest underdog achievements of all time. Hart, on the other hand, finds himself exiled to Torino by Pep Guardiola because he can’t string a pass like Andres Iniesta, following some admittedly enquiry-deserving howlers at Euro 2016.
Schmeichel’s stock has magnified almost beyond proportion, Hart’s has been knocked down more than a few pegs; but both now find themselves in the same situation – tipped as potential replacements for De Gea (by Sky Sports and The Independent respectively) ahead of a huge summer at Manchester United. But who can step up to fill the void of arguably the best shot-stopper in world football?
Looking at the statistics, it’s not hard to tell which goalkeeper has endured the least impressive season. In many ways, Hart’s benefited from keeping himself out of the eye of the Premier League audience; there appears to be a tacit assumption that he’s performed well for Torino simply because he’s England’s goalkeeper seemingly lowering his level to accommodate a mid-table Serie A side, but Torino actually have the fifth-worst goals conceded record in the Italian top flight this term, despite conceding only the eighth-most shots per match.
Hart’s been in the firing line a little more than he’s used to at Manchester City, but goalkeepers – especially those of the 30-year-old’s ability – usually excel when being almost overworked by waves of attack. It’s no coincidence goalkeepers from the Premier League’s bottom clubs nearly always make the most saves, and nearly always find themselves linked to a top side during the summer. In direct contrast, however, Hart has produced less than two saves per goal, and committed a whopping five errors directly leading to goals for the opposition.
Yet, moving goalkeepers from the middle of the Premier League to its top order is always a bit of a sink or swim process as the emphasis moves from simply shot-stopping to a complete all-round game and the pressure for consistency intensifies.
Whilst a shot slipping in at the near post may receive 10 seconds of replay airtime on Match of the Day if you’re at one of the clubs in or around the relegation battle, the same mistake committed at a club challenging for the title will be dissected, analysed and replayed time and again by every football-related production out there. Suddenly, doubts creep into the minds of team-mates and supporters – and once that monkey’s on a goalkeeper’s back, it becomes incredibly hard to shake off. Just ask Simon Mignolet or Claudio Bravo.
In the context of Hart and Schmeichel, it’s almost a case of the better the devil you know. And whilst Hart’s misgivings at top level are already well-documented, namely his occasional flaps and an uneasiness when coming off his line, the Danish international’s all-round game is yet to be scrutinised in quite the same way.
As you can see from our infographic, distribution may well emerge as the biggest weakness; Mourinho doesn’t place a great emphasis on his ‘keepers to play out of the back, but inaccurate distribution can obviously have a huge effect on a team’s ability to gain territory or build attacks from deep. In fact, extreme examples would see the direction of play going just one way – back towards the penalty box where the ball just came from.
But there are other aspects to Schmeichel’s game that suggest a move to Manchester United wouldn’t just be a romanticised notion of him following in the footsteps of his famous father. The 30-year-old’s had to battle from the depths of the Football League to make himself a Premier League champion and that highlights his character; aggressive, driven and determined.
He’s always barking orders to Leicester’s backline and has the self-confidence to treat the members of United’s defence in exactly the same way, regardless of whether many can claim seniority over him. Likewise, in terms of collecting crosses – something most goalkeepers struggle with when arriving in the Premier League – Schmeichel is one of the division’s best. He didn’t look out of place in the Champions League this term either, keeping five clean sheets from eight appearances and saving a huge penalty against Steven N’Zonzi in the process.
Nonetheless, signing a new first-choice goalkeeper is always a bit of a gamble – and something Sir Alex Ferguson struggled with for years after Schmeichel senior’s departure in 1999. Should De Gea depart as speculated, Mourinho will be left with a huge void to fill and a difficult question to answer this summer.
But we at FootballFanCast always look to bring the fans into the discussion as often as possible. So, United supporters, is Schmeichel the man to fill De Gea’s void next season? Let us know by voting below…