Strength in Number (Ones): The Spanish Goalkeeping "Problem"
Is there a stronger country in the world than Spain when it comes to the pool of players they have at their disposal in goal?
The current custodian of this position is Iker Casillas, their captain and inspiration during their triumphant Euro 2008 campaign of the summer.
However Champions League teams Barcelona, Villarreal, Liverpool, Arsenal, and one time Champions League side Sevilla all trust a Spaniard between the sticks in their most vital games.
With Real Madrid currently struggling, and Iker Casillas shipping in an alarming amount of goals, this article is a breakdown of those breathing down the neck of "Numero Uno" should the lack of performances and confidence in Los Merengues back four spread to their goalkeeper.
DIEGO LOPEZ, Villarreal
Diego Lopez Rodriguez started his career at Real Madrid as a youth team player and back-up to Iker Casillas. He played only a few cup matches and on the one occasion that Casillas got himself sent off. However after a season where his only appearances came in weakened cup sides, Lopez decided it was time for a change and a 6 million EUR transfer to Villarreal followed.
It didn’t take long for Lopez to displace the Villarreal No. 1 Sebastian Viera and he has blossomed into a player that England manager Fabio Capello described as "Spain's best goalkeeper".
High praise indeed but anyone who saw his virtuoso display against Manchester United in Villarreal’s Champions League matchday 4 game at El Madrigal would know why.
As yet uncapped by his country, surely it isn’t long before Vicente Del Bosque takes notice of his displays and calls him up to the Spain squad.
VICTOR VALDES, Barcelona
Victor Valdez, or "VV" as he is affectionately known, has been Barcelona’s No.1 goalkeeper for five seasons winning the "Zamora" award for the league's top goalkeeper in only his second season as well as La Liga.
In 2006-07 he matched Spanish goalkeeping legend Andoni Zubizaretta’s Barcelona record of not missing a single minute of his team's league campaign. After shutting out Glasgow Rangers he also set a new club record of 466 minutes without his goal being breached in Europe's premier club competition last season.
So under-appreciated he is and such is the strength in depth of Spain’s goalkeepers VV has yet to be capped for Spain though he has represented Catalonia (the Basque region from which he hails).
He is however very much appreciated by his team mates, especially one Samuel Eto’o who after scoring against Real Sociedad went to his goalkeeper to celebrate, “Before going out on the pitch, I already had it all thought out in my head, because he always puts his arms up by himself while the rest of us are celebrating together.”
JOSE MANUEL REINA, Liverpool
Jose "Pepe" Reina is another goalkeeper from the Barcelona production line. Similarly to Diego Lopez however he looked to Villarreal to offer him first team football after struggling to get into the first team at Los Cules.
In his three seasons at Villarreal he earned a reputation as a penalty expert as well as a solid goalkeeper and caught the attention of the Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez who brought him to the newly crowned European Champions in July 2005.
He has since helped Liverpool to a FA Cup win and UEFA Champions League final with inspired penalty shoot out displays as well as being the Golden Gloves winner in 2006, 2007, 2008 for the most clean sheets in the Premiership.
He also has the Liverpool record for the fewest goals conceded in his first 50 games for the club, is the quickest ever Liverpool goalkeeper to reach 50 clean sheets and holds Liverpool‘s Premiership record of eight consecutive shutouts.
Unlike the first two 'keepers on the list Pepe has been capped for Spain, 12 times and is regarded as the next in line in the national squad.
ANDRES PALOP, Sevilla
Andres Palop will have the most experience out of the goalkeepers on this list of being an understudy. He spent many years doing just that to Santiago Canizares at Valencia.
However he never really made a name for himself until he transferred to Sevilla in 2005 and became a major part of the side which won the UEFA Cup twice, the UEFA Super Cup, the Copa Del Rey, and the Supercopa de Espana.
His most notable contribution being in the 2007 UEFA Cup winning side, where he scored a last minute equaliser against Shahktar Donetsk forcing the game to extra time where Sevilla won. In the final he set up the first goal, made a number of impressive saves in regulation time and saved three penalties in the shootout, taking home the Man of the Match award for his troubles.
Soon followed a call up to the national side where he has yet to be capped, however he was Spain’s No. 3 for the EURO 2008 winning squad.
MANUEL ALMUNIA, Arsenal
Manuel might have more chance of representing England than his own nation. Such is the dearth of goalkeepers in his adopted nation some in the media have talked of Manuel’s eligibility to represent England after his five year stay in the country and due to his wife being English.
The dyed blond keeper has remained coy on the subject but still doubts persist over his abilities at the top level.
Almunia never really threatened Jens Lehmann in Arsenal’s goal and often was the Carling Cup 'keeper and made an appearance in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final after his colleague was sent off.
However it wasn’t until two high profile blunders by Jens Lehmann at the beginning of the 2007-08 season that Almunia got an extended run as Arsenal’s No. 1 and he took his opportunity well.
Wenger has seen fit to keep the Spaniard as his No. 1 as he launches another assault on the Champions League and favours Almunia’s no nonsense approach to goalkeeping, his calmness and authority, as well as quick distribution to aid Arsenal’s lightening counter attacks.
He is now Arsenal’s No. 1 by name and number after taking Lehmann’s shirt number when the veteran German moved to Stuttgart. Almunia continues to win his critics over as the season progresses with his performance in the 5-2 Champions League win over Fenerbache being the stand out.
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