Of all the positions on the field, there is one more than the others that any manager would like to fill and forget about: goalkeeper. Consistency is a big plus between the sticks, it gives the team a defensive referent who is on the pitch game after game and allows the player to gain in confidence as he becomes comfortable in a high-stress role. Goalkeepers rarely get carded — at least they do so a lot less than outfield players — so needing to sub for them usually has more to do with injury than suspension.
An undecided goalkeeper position, however, can generate doubts across the team, especially on the defensive end. Nothing gives defenders more confidence that a solid goalkeeper, and nothing bothers them more than not knowing who’s behind them.
One team suffering greatly from indecision at this key position is England. David James has gotten by far the most time in goal but has never been able to generate any confidence either with teammates or any of the last 3 coaching staffs. Scott Carson’s appearances in between have been, if anything, even worse. England’s No. 1 at the last World Cup, Paul Robinson, isn’t even in the picture anymore, having completely lost the faith of coaches and fans.
Based on what I’ve seen, the three keepers for England should be Robert Green, Chris Kirkland and Ben Foster. If Foster got regular playing time for Manchester United he might jump to the top of the list. Another possibility is Joe Hart, who I hope will be elsewhere next season if Manchester City won’t give him a shot.
I actually back Chris Kirkland for No. 1. But he’s so injury-prone that you know you can’t depend on him to be there. And I prefer all four of those over David James (and definitely over Scott Carson).
The Spanish option
Many people have suggested that a solution to the problem might be nationalizing Arsenal’s Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. I just don’t see him as adding that much quality over and above those four. He might represent a very slight upgrade and probably a bit more consistency, but do you really want to make such a significant move (bringing a completely non-English player into the England squad) over “just a bit more”?
And yes, I’m aware that non-English players have played for England before, but even John Barnes wasn’t too far off from being English. At least his native language is English.
Spain has three top-notch keepers in Casillas, Pepe Reina and Diego López, and can probably find 1 or 2 more if those three are catastrophically lost (such as Andrés Palop at Sevilla and José Manuel Pinto at Barcelona, whenever he finally replaces the carcass of Victor Valdés in goal). I don’t see Almunia getting a sniff.
It really speaks to Spain’s wealth of options at goal. I’d definitely select any one of their three keepers as No. 1 in England.
The best solution to this problem may still come with Ben Foster taking over for Edwin van der Sar at Manchester United.