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Why good goalkeepers are worth their weight in goal

Mark Schwarzer in action for Australia
Mark Schwarzer has played over 450 games in the Premier League

By Pranav Soneji

There is a line from Lev Yashin which has done the rounds on the football circuit for years.

"What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed?" said the Russian great. "He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future."

While Yashin's philosophical assessment may have been poignant during the 1950s and '60s, he would probably revise his opinion in the tumult of the Premier League era.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been searching all summer for a perfectly balanced individual with fingertips of steel, the kicking ability of Jonny Wilkinson, the concentration of a Queen's Guard and an ability for organising defences.

Wenger has had two £2m bids for Mark Schwarzer turned down by Fulham, while Manchester City's Shay Given and Stoke's Asmir Begovic have been linked with possible moves around England.

Most top keepers are not transient - they don't float from teams to teams

John Lukic

Basic economics should dictate that a paucity of supply, coupled with high demand, should force prices to increase, although strangely that theory does not seem to apply for goalkeepers.

"A good goalkeeper is as valuable as a striker that's going to score 20 to 25 goals a season," former Arsenal goalkeeper John Lukic told BBC Sport.

"When I first started playing [in 1978] there was not a great deal of importance placed on keepers but Brian Clough was the instigator of the goalkeeper being an important part of the team when he bought Peter Shilton for Nottingham Forest [in 1977].

"And he went on to be proved right when they won European Cups and championships."

At 37, Schwarzer is clearly not a long-term prospect for Wenger, which explains the low price tag. But what the Australia international lacks in cash value he more than makes up for in experience, with over 450 games in the top flight.

A couple of seasons of Schwarzer would give Arsenal just enough time to turn either Lukasz Fabianski, Vito Mannone or Wojciech Szczesny into the next David Seaman.

Former Arsenal goalkeeper John Lukic
John Lukic made 223 appearances for Arsenal in eight years

"The top managers need someone who can stand there for 70 minutes and, when called upon, can make the saves they want him to make, as opposed to someone younger and inexperienced who might not make that save," said Lukic.

"If you have a track record and pedigree, which both Schwarzer and Given have, it's better than going for someone who is 25 or 26 who has played a couple of seasons who has done OK. Managers like keepers with experience."

Behind every great team is a great goalkeeper, an ever-present figure on whom championship-winning empires are built around. Think Shilton at Forest, Bruce Grobelaar at Liverpool, David Seaman at Arsenal, Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United or Petr Cech at Chelsea.

And according to Lukic, who made 223 appearances for Arsenal in an eight-year spell at Highbury between 1983 and 1990, the reason is rather prosaic.

"Most top keepers are not transient - they don't float from team to team," he said.

"They go to a team and stay there. Their services are retained because they are that good - it's as simple as that.

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"Myself and Dave Seaman spent the best part of 20 years at the club, but look at the number of keepers they have had since then."

Schwarzer would not be the first veteran goalkeeper Wenger has turned to in order to fill a sizeable gap. He signed a 33-year-old Jens Lehmann in 2003 to replace Seaman, and the German spent five seasons with the club until his departure in 2008.

But the interim period has seen Manuel Almunia's fortunes fluctuate between the posts, while neither Fabianski or Mannone have shown sufficient proficiency to convince Wenger they are ready for the long haul.

"I think Manuel has been unlucky - there have been errors but you are in control of your own destiny as a keeper," said Lukic.

"Rumours only start circulating when question marks are placed against you and it seems it has been placed against Manuel. Schwarzer may or may not happen, but Almunia is the one who remains incumbent and has to deal with whatever is thrown at him."

Time is running out for Wenger, and the Premier League's other goalkeeper-deficient managers, as the summer transfer window deadline fast approaches on 31 August.

They may not be as tormented as in the days of Yashin, but a reliable modern-day goalkeeper with all the trimmings will always remain an in-demand - and increasingly rare - commodity.



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see also
Fulham warn Arsenal on Schwarzer
20 Aug 10 |  Fulham
Mancini eager for Given to stay
14 Aug 10 |  Premier League
Birmingham clinch Foster transfer
19 May 10 |  Birmingham


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