If reports are to be believed, Asmir Begovic is getting closer to becoming a Chelsea player. An £8m bid has certainly been submitted, which falls halfway between their opening offer and Stoke’s asking price of £10m. It appears no longer a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’, with the Potters forced to prepare for the prospect of losing their No.1 goalkeeper.
The opportunity at Chelsea for Begovic arose when Petr Cech opted to end his 11-year association with the Blues and move across London to become a No.1 again at Arsenal. Cech spent most of last season on the bench. At 28, Begovic should be approaching his peak and the idea that he is willing to spend his premium years with his cheeks perched on the sidelines is an unfathomable prospect to many. It is viewed as a distinct lack of ambition.
Actually, the opposite is probably true. Begovic’s willingness to join Chelsea will be fuelled by many factors – ambition probably being chief among them. The goalkeeper should certainly not be discouraged from making the move.
Begovic had to scrap his way to the Premier League. Prior to joining Stoke in 2010, the goalkeeper played in every Football League division, during loan periods away from Portsmouth at Macclesfield, Bournemouth, Yeovil and Ipswich, as well as a brief spell in Belgium. After 160 appearances treading water with Stoke, the chance to test himself at Chelsea, where he can be part of a squad challenging for the highest honours, is an opportunity Begovic must find hard to resist.
Contrary to many people’s belief, it would be a challenge for Begovic too. The easy choice would be to remain at Stoke, where his form has gone a little stale over the last year, or push for a move to Aston Villa, say, with both clubs giving him the option to remain in his comfort zone. He would play every week without any real scrutiny.
Begovic will see Chelsea as a test rather than a chance for a breather. Thibaut Courtois is obviously Jose Mourinho’s No.1, but the new man will get opportunities to show what he can do, even if the Belgian avoids injury or a slump in form.
Few are better placed to advise Begovic than Carlo Cudicini, who spent four and a half seasons as back-up to Cech at Chelsea. “If you are a goalkeeper that wants to prove himself, it’s a club where you can definitely be tested,” was Cudicini’s message.
“The season is long; you have a lot of games to play. It happened last year with Petr Cech. You have space and time to show the ability and your skill, so why not?”
Cech played 16 games for Chelsea last season, including three in the Champions League and a victorious appearance in the Capital One Cup final. As well as that honour, another Premier League medal was hung around his neck in May. Would Begovic have swapped his 36 routine Stoke appearances for fewer games with Cech’s two medals? Evidently.
“I’ve been here [at Stoke] five years now,” he said in February. “I feel I’ve progressed, improved as a player. I’m now getting to the stage of my career where I want to achieve things, win things.”
Of course, for some players, it is all about the glory. Others are more motivated by the rewards the game brings.
Begovic would be richly compensated for playing second fiddle. Reports suggest he would earn around £75,000 a week at Chelsea, close to doubling his present salary. Stoke would not match that offer and nor would Villa. Begovic’s next contract may be the most lucrative he signs and only the naive would criticise him for taking such a hefty pay rise, regardless of the circumstances.
There is also the lure of Mourinho. The Chelsea manager has more than his fair share of critics outside the game, but there are very few players who would not want to work for him, given the opportunity. Begovic would certainly not be the first player to make sacrifices for Mourinho, especially if he feels undervalued at Stoke.
The spotlight will still shine on Begovic if he is sat on the Stamford Bridge bench. Nobody would forget what he is capable of if, in two seasons time at 30, he fancies a No.1 gig again. His stock might be even be higher if he has a couple of medals and some Champions League experience to speak of. Begovic’s best case scenario would involve the rumours of Courtois’ desire to return to Spain at some point containing some truth. Those whispers will not have escaped Begovic. Goalkeepers are typically confident cats, and the Bosnian will harbour hopes of promotion.
In the short-term Begovic must adjust to the different mental demands required of a back-up goalkeeper, but he incentives are clear. He may not be getting his gloves dirty every week, but Chelsea is an undeniably attractive proposition.