Spain’s goalkeeping options put England’s in the shade

With Robert Green looking like he’s heading to the World Cup as the nations and Fabio Capello’s number one, if we cast an enviable glance across at Spain, the quality of England’s goalkeeping options is in a stark and depressing contrast to that of Del Bosque’s favourites.

Everyone knows this country hasn’t been the best at producing quality keepers over the last decade or so and although the likely three to go to the World Cup –  Robert Green, Joe Hart and David James all have their merits you’d hardly place any of them in a world class, or even continental bracket of quality.

Robert Green was poor against Chelsea and although an exceptional shot stopper, a must for a World Cup campaign, he is prone to errors and the high ball, which is very much in keeping with other option David James’s career to date. Joe Hart does represent a brighter future though and he’s a keeper’ of great potential, if he continues the great form that he’s shown this season next term for Birmingham then Hart could be an England stalwart for years to come, but at just 21 years old there is obvious room for improvement and he has a long way to go before he could even compete with some of Spain’s goalkeepers and this summer’s World Cup could be a tournament too early for him to truly make his mark.

Real Madrid stopper, the agile Iker Casillas has been Spain’s number one now for nearly a decade, and he boasts an impressive 102 international caps to go along with his haul of 4 La Liga’s, 3 Spanish Super Cups and 2 Champions League winners medals. He may play for one of the biggest sides in the world but Real have been bobbins at the back for years now and in the 2007/8 season he faced the most shots of any keeper in La Liga conceding the least amount of goals, just 32 of them in 36 matches, so he’s no slouch. He has been first choice at Madrid since the age of 17, quite an achievement and although he’s not been at his best this season he’s still along with Buffon and Julio Cesar arguably one of the three best keeper’s in the world.

His back-ups are enough to make you long for the days of Banks, Shilton or even Seaman. Liverpool colossus Pepe Reina is no.2, probably the best number 2 at International level in the world it has to be said and he’s been immense for Liverpool this season patching up where his shoddy defence can’t. Diego Lopez, Reina’s understudy at Villareal has emerged from the Kojak lookalike’s shadow to emerge as a keeper of true potential and Sevilla keeper Andres Palop is his main competition for the number three jersey.

Throw in youngster Sergio Asenjo at Atletico who has performed brilliantly in his first season and Victor Valdes at Barca and you have real strength in depth. For what other country would a two times Champions league winner and  3 times La Liga not be anywhere near the squad? Valdes although he has his flaws would still definitely make the England squad and push for a number 1 slot on reputation alone. He is the current holder of the Zamora Trophy for the best keeper in Spain that he earned last season and is this season’s frontrunner too. As error prone as either James or Green, Valdes does have the benefit of a solid defence in front of him with Puyol, Pique and Marquez all solid centre halves but with Dani Alves buggering off up the pitch at any given opportunity and Eric Abidal nothing more than cumbersome things have to be put into perspective and his performance in last season’s Champions League final against Man Utd marked him out as a player of true quality.

Looking at England’s fourth choice and it’s probably Ben Foster, third choice at Man Utd at present after failing his audition for the number one jersey earlier this season with a string of error prone performances between the sticks. Then there’s Paul Robinson at Blackburn, and although he’s rebuilt his reputation at Blackburn as a solid keeper at Premiership level he’s out of his depth at international level Spaniard Manuel Almunia is probably England’s sixth choice (I refuse to name that bloke he played against Croatia) at the moment just down to the sheer lack of competition in the area. Although Capello has stated he won’t pick anyone who isn’t English the fact that Almunia, a keeper of average ability at best, is not even on Spain’s radar really brings the point home that our goalkeeper’s are just simply outclassed at international level. Moreover, our goalkeeper’s look like they’re made of balsa wood and look set to injure themselves at the drop of a hat.

Spain’s squad has so much strength in depth that they have rightly been awarded the tag of World Cup favourites and the talent at their disposal is a frightening prospect indeed. Put this in perspective with our threadbare squad, particularly in the goalkeeping department as just a case in point and it shows you how far England truly are from being world beaters. Yes we have Rooney but Spain have Torres, Villa, Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas – with the superb Arsenal skipper only flitting in and out of the side.

Their talent is scary and to my mind anyway it just highlights England’s standing on the international stage, we’re a decent and organised outfit that overly relies on a player or two to offer us something and if that goes wrong there’s no plan B. We’re still a quarter-final team but this time with a world class manager and although he may be able to get a little more out of troops than previous incumbents Schteeeve and Sven, no matter how good the manager is you can’t beat quality players all over the pitch, something England sadly don’t have at present. On that rather depressing note, I’m off for a lie down.

Written by James McManus