Manchester City’s hopes of a top-four finish took a mighty blow last weekend with the news that first-choice goalkeeper Shay Given would miss the side’s Premier League run-in with a dislocated shoulder. With the newly-crowned PFA Goalkeeper of the Season Joe Hart out on loan at Birmingham City and usual deputy Stuart Taylor out injured, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was forced to call upon Faroese international Gunnar Nielsen to replace the injured Irishman during City’s recent clash with Arsenal at the Emirates. Prior to this substitute appearance, Nielsen’s only previous taste of competitive football in England had occurred during a brief loan spell at Conference National side Wrexham last year. Understandably perturbed by Nielsen’s lack of top-flight experience, City, much to the chagrin of other top-four contenders no doubt, successfully received dispensation from the Premier League to recruit another goalkeeper (Sunderland’s Hungarian international custodian Márton Fülöp) on an ‘emergency loan’ deal for the remainder of this season.
This ‘assistance’ from the game’s governing body has irritated Tony Cascarino, who, speaking to The Times, argued that the conditions setting out ‘emergency loans’ were not intended to deal with the scenario at Eastlands. Cascarino asserts that, the “rule should be for skint teams in Coca-Cola League Two with squads of 18 players who have been hit by an unprecedented injury or illness crisis, not to get the richest club in the world out of a hole caused by their failure to build a balanced squad.” Does the well-travelled former Republic of Ireland international have a point or is he yet another in a long line of pundits looking to having a go at the world’s richest club?
Cascarino has condemned the construction of Manchester City’s “lopsided” squad, pointing to the ludicrous fact that, whilst they have nine first-team forwards on their books (five of whom are currently out on loan), they possess an evidently inadequate reserve of goalkeepers. It does seem baffling that a club with a gross spend of nearly £240m over the last two seasons would fail to prepare themselves for such a situation.
Having successfully acquired Fülöp, it seems likely that the Hungarian will make his debut for City this weekend ahead of Nielsen. Cascarino argues that this merely serves to highlight Mancini’s lack of confidence in the Faroese international, and as such does not constitute an ‘emergency’ situation at Eastlands.
Quite rightly, Chelsea fans will point to the fact that they faced a similar goalkeeping ‘crisis’ earlier this season when Petr Čech and Henrique Hilário were struck down by injury. Unlike City, Chelsea brushed off this ‘crisis’ by fielding third-choice goalkeeper Ross Turnbull and promoting academy product Rhys Taylor to the Stamford Bridge bench. Why couldn’t Manchester City have done the same thing? Aside from Given and Taylor, they have four other professional goalkeepers on their first-team and reserve team books. Surely one of them could have kept the bench warm whilst Nielsen deputised for Given?
Tottenham fans have understandably complained about this decision by citing how Harry Redknapp has dealt with their recent right-back injury woes (first-team regular Vedran Ćorluka is out injured, whilst Alan Hutton is on loan at Sunderland) by fielding left-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto in the right-back berth. Unlike versatile outfield players who can often play in several different positions, replacing a goalkeeper is a much trickier task. Similarly, goalkeeping injuries generally tend to be few and far between, and to have multiple goalkeepers injured at the same time is an even rarer occurrence.
The little sympathy I have for Manchester City in this regard is compounded by the fact that they failed to put a recall clause in Joe Hart’s loan contract. Rumours circulating around the internet have suggested that the fact Birmingham City paid Manchester City a small fee at the beginning of the season for Hart’s services would negate the existence of such a clause, but if this isn’t the case, it represents an extremely foolish lack of foresight and planning on the Citizens’ behalf.
Personally, I do not believe that Manchester City’s recent goalkeeping problems represent an ‘emergency’ per se, and fully agree with Cascarino’s claim that their claim for dispensation is more indicative of their lack of belief in Nielsen’s ability. It seems strange that a club with such unbelievable wealth at their disposal would fail to put together a well-rounded squad, but then nothing surprises me when talking about a club who thought Joleon Lescott was worth £24m.
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