Posted by: mdegeorge | September 2, 2010

All aboard the England goalkeeping carousel

There’s a part of me that regrets the inordinate amount of joy I receive from England’s goalkeeping debacle. Then there’s the portion that hopes it devolves to the point where Fabio Capello has no choice but to have defender Phil Jagielka don the gloves.

Right now, the latter sentiment prevails. That’s why Capello’s call up of Arsenal reserve keeper James Shea, all of 19 years old and fourth on the Gunners’ depth chart, so tickles my fancy. He’ll be the understudy for Joe Hart in the next round of internationals during which Capello may hire a squad of people to rub lucky rabbit’s feet in defense of the Manchester City starlet’s health.

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So if you would, follow me through the graveyard of England number 1s amassed over the last several less-than-distinguished years:

Paul Robinson’s howler against Croatia in Euro 2008 Qualification was emblematic of Steve McClaren’s ineffectual reign, and the then-Tottenham keeper was swept up in the house cleaning that came with Macca’s dismissal. Robinson had no place in the Three Lions for two years following the Croatia gaffe and when he finally did, it was as a benchwarmer during the David James era (more on that later). Put off by his snub from the World Cup squad, Robinson announced his retirement earlier this month at the ripe old age of 30 after (yes, after) Capello selected him for the Aug. 5 friendly against Hungary. Whether Robinson’s done for England, we’ll see, though it’s pretty definite he’ll never play under Capello again.

David James became Capello’s go-to guy in 2008 when Fabio rescued him from almost three years in the international wilderness and put him between the posts in each of his first 13 matches at the helm. Injuries for club and country slowed the 40-year-old, consigning him to a substitute’s role in the lead up to the World Cup. But he was pressed into action after the team’s opening draw with the USA and acquitted himself well until the 4-1 thrashing by the Germans. James’ England days aren’t officially over, but at 40, it’s highly likely the all-time leader in Premier League appearances who now plies his trade with Bristol City in the Football League Championship has played his final game in an England shirt.

Robert Green, not unlike Robinson, will likely have his entire career epitomized (fairly or not) by one incompetent moment in the limelight. Green seemed the unquestioned number one in South Africa despite only 10 appearances for his country (though he had been included in squads dating to the 2006 World Cup). In retrospect, it may have been almost by default thanks to James’ injuries and Capello’s reticence to wager his World Cup fate on a 23-year-old. Even with the upheaval for the post-World Cup friendly, Green wasn’t in the discussion, perhaps to make a point more than anything else. He’s only 30, playing regularly at West Ham, and has the luxury of a national team program that has been known to grant reprieves after long hiatuses, though I don’t think he’s waiting by the phone.

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– We’ll just refer to Joe Hart as the silver lining. He’s been fantastic for Manchester City this season, putting in two man-of-the-match performances already on the young season. At 23, he’s one of the nation’s young stars, so much so that he’s forced Shay Given—undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in the Prem over the last decade—to the bench. The keeper’s gloves are Hart’s until injuries or his play say otherwise.

Ben Foster became another aficionado of the England pine, often finding himself just high enough on the pecking order to warrant a plane ticket. Years on the bench or on loan have severely hampered the development of a once bright prospect, leaving behind a 27-year-old with only 142 league appearances at various levels over a decade of football and four caps for England. He has the chance to fill Hart’s shoes at Birmingham, a place he can finally call home without mother club Manchester United hovering over him, and could still work his way into the mix. But knowing him, it’ll be for an understudy role at best.

– Remember when people debated if Chris Kirkland, Green, or Foster would hold the honor of England’s goalkeeping future? The question wasn’t if, but which one it would be. It was only about five years ago, but now it looks like all three are firmly entrenched in the Three Lions past. Kirkland survived burial in the Liverpool reserves and much like Green, has had the luxury of five years as the number one at his own club, Wigan. While he was used to turning in daring performances for defensively-challenged Latics teams perennially cheating relegation, he has been atrocious this season, failing to paper over the gaping crevices of his defense. The door isn’t symbolically closed for him as it is for Green, but it’ll take a major paradigm shift in his career for England to come calling again.

– I almost forget Scott Carson in this whole mess. Truth be told, I’ve kind of lumped him, Foster, and Kirkland into one anonymous, three-headed underachieving monster. They all have only a handful of caps (three, four, and one, respectively), were buried in Big Four clubs (Liverpool for Kirkland and Carson; Man U for Foster) where they could never unseat established veterans to fulfill their “goaltender of the future” label before being loaned out and eventually sold to mid-table teams (West Brom, Brum, and Wigan, respectively). Carson’s only advantage is that he’s 24, so he can wait for the other’s bodies to break down and spend a decade waiting for Hart to get injured or foul up.

– Here’s where things start to get weird(er). Once you get past the obvious names (and since only one keeper can play at a time and only three can make a roster, who would fathom having to go this far?), the head-scratching intensifies. In the Hungary friendly, Capello turned his attention to Under-21’s Frankie Fielding and Scott Loach. Loach at least has a stable job with Watford but has never sniffed the Prem (though Green did get his England call while still with Norwich City in the Championship), while Fielding has yet to make a league appearance for his parent club, Blackburn Rovers. Both players are too busy for the opening round of Euro 2012 qualifiers, on duty instead for the final European Championship qualifiers for the U-21s.

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– The next candidate in this increasingly dubious queue is David Stockdale, who’s been drafted into the side for the Euro qualifiers. You know, David Stockdale? Of four games with Fulham (though tons on the bench) and rampant success in League Two and the English Nationwide Conference (that’s tiers four and five of English football)? Still nothing? He at least has represented England before, earning one cap in 2005…no wait, that was for England’s C team, comprised of non-league players (players below the fourth division). He’s a great rags to riches story, but not exactly the caliber of player England want gracing the pitch.

– With Foster, Carson, and Stockdale all out of training for the time being due to injury, the final rung on the ladder is Shea, Arsenal’s reserve team keeper who might soon be handed a chance at the Emirates thanks to the Gunners’ unsettled goalkeeping situation. Shea, who was born a year after David James made his professional debut, worked out with the squad while they were in London. His Wikipedia page is just a stub that has him listed as being Irish, and coupled with Capello disdain for being labeled a “jackass”, I’m not buying he’ll be in goal for England any time soon.

So that’s the gamut, distinguished group that it is. As for me, I’ll be sitting back waiting on the results of Manuel Almunia’s visa application (though that looks more promising than his play of late) and counting the ways in which Ben Alnwick could find himself traveling to Poland and Ukraine in two year’s time.


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