Five keeper rotations for Man Utd and Chelsea to learn from…

Date published: Wednesday 16th September 2020 7:48

Chelsea and Man Utd look set to have a couple of keepers vying for their No.1 spot. Can it work?

With Edouard Mendy heading to Stamford Bridge and Dean Henderson remaining at Old Trafford, it seems both Chelsea and Manchester United are hoping that some stiff competition will bring out the best in their under-performing Spanish stoppers. But can having two keepers capable of being No.1 work?

Here are five occasions when managers pitted their keepers against each other with varying results…


Tim Howard and Roy Carroll
One of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest headaches at Manchester United was finding a competent replacement for Peter Schmeichel. Fabian Barthez made a better fist of the job than Mark Bosnich but the Frenchman was still seen as too erratic to keep United’s goal. So when Barthez was dropped in 2003, in came Carroll – two years after he moved to Old Trafford – to play the final three games of the 2002/03 title-winning season.

With Barthez on his way and two experienced internationals having failed to fill Schmeichel’s gloves, Ferguson took a different approach in signing New York/New Jersey Metrostars’ 24-year-old goaltender Howard. The American started the following season but neither he nor Carroll could nail down the No.1 position over two years of duelling for the spot.

Howard started and finished the 2003/04 season as first choice but Ferguson’s gesture to replace him with Carroll for the last few minutes of the FA Cup final win over Millwall indicated that the manager was yet to be convinced to put his complete faith in one over the other.

Howard began the following season but the gloves changed hands three times throughout the campaign with both keepers committing costly errors. As United goalkeeping coach Tony Coton revealed later in his book, in a chapter entitled ‘Tim Coward‘, Howard wasn’t interested in analysing those errors, which included one that set Jose Mourinho on the path to his first Champions League title: “Tim didn’t feel he needed help, but the fact that he spent the entire 2004/05 season sharing goalkeeping duties with Roy Carroll should have given him an idea that the manager was coming to the conclusion that he just wasn’t good enough.”

Indeed, Ferguson had reached that conclusion by the end of the season and though Howard outlasted Carroll, who failed to agree a new deal and joined West Ham as a free agent, United went back down the experienced route by signing Edwin van der Sar from Fulham. Which worked out rather well.


Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jasper Cillessen
Ter Stegen had already been made to share the Barcelona gloves with Claudio Bravo, who moved to the Nou Camp during the same summer in 2014 when Victor Valdes and Jose Pinto departed. Luis Enrique made Bravo the league stopper while Ter Stegen became the cup keeper. Indeed, it took more than a year for the German to taste La Liga action.

The following season followed a similar pattern, by which time Ter Stegen had grown tired of job-sharing. “In the long run, these 25 games per season are not enough for me,” he said in March 2016. “The decision is made by the coach. I hope that the quality I’ve shown recently is rewarded.”

It appeared it might be when Bravo was sent to Manchester City to become the Premier League’s first hologram goalkeeper. But Barca reinvested the Bravo cash in Jasper Cillessen, the Holland No.1, who was not coming to the Nou Camp with the intention of serving as stand-in.

That, though, was the way it transpired. Ter Stegen saw off Cillessen’s challenge to establish himself as Barca’s No.1, with Cillessen getting his gloves dirty on a regular basis only in the domestic cup. In three years, Cillessen made only eight appearances in La Liga or Champions League. But when it came time to leave, Barca recouped £31million – more than twice the amount they paid Ajax.

The Dutchman was a dutiful deputy, perhaps at the expense of his own ambitions, and Ter Stegen parted with Cillessen on good terms, perhaps because he rarely felt like his place was under threat.

Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia
The former Arsenal keepers endured a far less cosy relationship than Ter Stegen and Cillessen. Indeed, according to Vito Mannone, “they were trying to kill each other“.

Almost literally, as Lehmann revealed in his autobiography while explaining how the tension between the pair finally boiled over even while Almunia served as stand-in for three years after joining Arsenal in 2004. Lehmann wrote that Almunia was complaining about his rival for the gloves being too heavily protected in a practice match which the German did not take kindly to. “I went up to him: ‘Listen, when something’s happening at my end, you’re not to yell at the back.’ That was when all his rage broke out of him. ‘What do you want, bastardo?’ ‘What are you saying? Why are you insulting me?’ I shot back. ‘Shut the f*** up, bastardo!’ came the reply. ‘Ah, at least now you’re openly saying what you really think of me,’ I said. ‘This is your true character – insulting colleagues!’”

When Almunia finally usurped Lehmann as Arsenal’s No.1, it was never going to be well received by the Germany international. He told Kicker in 2008 after watching Arsenal’s season collapse from the bench: “For me personally, it is a tragedy, particularly since I did not have a chance to prevent it. To be sitting on the bench behind somebody who only started to play when he was 30 is not funny. I am very angry.”

Almunia fired back: “Every morning I wake up, I know it is going to be the same,” he told The Guardian. “I’ve had to put up with it every day since he was out of the team and even before then. I wake up and I know what it is going to be like. But I don’t care about him anymore. He can say what he likes. I come into training and I work with Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone. They are better goalkeepers than him anyway.”

Almunia will have been thrilled to see Lehmann return to Germany with Stuttgart but Arsene Wenger, proving he had a sense of humour, reunited the pair in 2011 by bringing Mad Jens out of retirement when Arsenal had a goalkeeping injury crisis.


Jerzy Dudek and Chris Kirkland
“Some days Sander has saved us. There’s no point in condemning him.” That was Gerard Houllier after Sander Westerveld’s late error had condemned Liverpool to a first defeat in 16 in 2001. Westerveld had after all been the Reds’ No.1 through the Treble-lite campaign just the season before. So you can understand the Dutchman’s confusion when, during international duty, he sees that Liverpool have signed not one new keeper but two.

Houllier bought Dudek for almost £5million from Feyenoord while Kirkland arrived from Coventry in what could have been a British transfer record for a keeper had the add-ons been triggered. Which most likely they were not.

Dudek came straight in as No.1 – Westerveld was relegated to fourth choice – and enjoyed a positive start to his Anfield career but the following season saw Kirkland come in after the Pole dropped a couple of clangers against Manchester United. Injuries deprived the former Coventry keeper of the chance to build on a 14-game run in the side, with Dudek profiting from Kirkland’s problems with his ankle, groin and finger.

At the start of 2004/05, Kirkland bounced back to regain the No.1 spot – only to lose it again after another 14-game run because of a back injury. Dudek went on to star in the Champions League final while Kirkland saw injuries ruin a loan spell at West Brom intended to kick-start his career. Not that Dudek thrived in his absence; Rafael Benitez brought in Pepe Reina to replace him after his Istanbul heroics.


Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence
A few decades before the likes of Scott Loach, Frankie Fielding and Joe Lewis were getting England call-ups, the Three Lions were awash with top-class goalkeeping options. Indeed, after Gordon Banks’ retirement, Shilton and Clemence each had stints as No.1 under Sir Alf Ramsey and Don Revie respectively. When Ron Greenwood took over he struggled to choose between the pair. So he simply didn’t bother.

Greenwood opted to alternate Shilton and Clemence in the hope that one would assert himself as the undisputed No.1. But both the Nottingham Forest and Liverpool keepers continued to excel when given their opportunities, despite their contrasting styles and physical attributes.

The job-sharing arrangement worked splendidly for four years until just before the 1982 World Cup finals when Greenwood agreed with both keepers that a decision had to be made over who retained the gloves. The verdict was reached almost by default. England had two pre-tournament friendlies against Holland and Scotland arranged for the end of May, when Clemence’s Spurs were involved in an FA Cup final that went to a replay. So Shilton kept Greenwood’s goal and continued to do so throughout the World Cup in Spain.

That tournament began an eight-year reign as undisputed No.1, with Sir Bobby Robson replacing Greenwood and immediately putting his trust in Shilton, who went on to become England’s record appearance holder.


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