The season is over, and the long summer has begun. With no World Cup to distract us (not that it was exactly riveting viewing last year), we have nothing but three months of scurrilous transfer rumours, antagonistic agent quotes and the drama of the fixture announcement. What a day that will be.
In fairness, this summer does promise to be busier than normal – plenty of players look to be on their way out, and the obvious deficiencies of the squad mean that more should arrive. But before we get to that, I wanted to look back over the season as a whole, marking each individual player and suggesting where their future lies. I’m not one for wholesale changes, so you won’t see me calling for fifteen departures, but there are certainly those whose time appears to have passed.
This is part one of a four part player review, examining the goalkeepers. The defence will come later today, followed by those further forward.
1. Manuel Almunia
Almunia started the season as undisputed number one, with his rivals either considered too error-prone or raw to challenge him. He ended it behind Fabianski, Szczesny, and even the returning Lehmann. He had only one highlight – a terrific performance in the Nou Camp when all others were injured, but the lowlights were many. On the opening day, he was beaten at his near post by a Ngog fizzer, and a string of wobbly displays hit their nadir in September’s home defeat to West Brom where, despite saving a penalty, he had an absolute shocker. A mystery elbow ‘injury’ followed, presumably of the ‘frozen out’ variety, and he returned only for the occasional cup match (again, when injury meant he was the only rotational option) and that fine display in Barcelona, which is the only reason his rating is not even lower.
Season Rating: D-
Future: A dead cert to leave this summer, perhaps on a free transfer.
13. Jens Lehmann
A remarkable story. Retired from all football, he was re-signed late in the season due to a freakish set of injuries, and should be commended for a) coming in when he did, b) being in such good shape considering he is now 41 and c) working so hard to help the team. His only appearance came at Blackpool, and had advantage not been played for Blackpool’s goal, he could easily have been sent off, but his presence around the squad has been great, if only for the inevitably strongly worded points he has made. A coaching career beckons.
Rating: No rating
Future: Continuation of his coaching qualifications, followed hopefully by a return to the club in that capacity some day.
21. Lukasz Fabianski
Woeful in pre-season despite repeated chances to prove his worth, he was put back on the bench for the start of the season, and did not convince in his early cup displays, particularly at White Hart Lane, where he allowed Robbie Keane’s tame effort to slip past his limp hand. But when Almunia was frozen out, he came in for an extended period, and began to assert himself, replacing errors with the fine saves he has always been capable of, none better than at Wolves, where a string a terrific stops won us a very tight game. Other impressive performances against Man City and Everton boosted his confidence further, and he looked set for a long stint as first choice until injury curtailed his season. With Szczesny’s subsequent emergence, Fabianski is likely to have gone full circle, back to number two.
Future: Surely certain to stay, as deputy to Szczesny.
24. Vito Mannone
Every club needs three keepers, and Mannone is certainly behind Szczesny and Fabianski in the current pecking order. For most young keepers, that is an acceptable position, particularly when you get the opportunity to gain experience by going on loan, as the Italian did this season. His problem is that he isn’t backing up older keepers – he is 23, while Szczesny and Fabianski are 21 and 26 respectively. With the Poles set to stay and hold the gloves for the foreseeable, chances will be limited at best for Mannone.
Rating: No rating
Future: Depends on his ambition. If he wants to play, he may have to leave. Perhaps another season on loan as a last chance to push on.
53. Wojciech Szczesny
What a season the younger of the Poles has had. Began the campaign as third choice at best, he ended it with many calling for him to be handed the gloves for the next ten years. Commands his area like no other keeper on our books, he is brimming with confidence bordering on arrogance. Still needs to improve – some of his decision making is rash at present, but at 21 those mistakes are inevitable. He is not number one because of his age, he is number one because he is, right now, the best keeper we have. Some say he isn’t ready and should be number two for another season, but signing a keeper better than the young man would be prohibitively expensive, and will not happen. He is our number one.
Future: Bright. Hasn’t been confirmed that he is ahead of Fabianski (the Poles haven’t been fit together since Szczesny’s run) but surely is first choice now.
Click below for part 2 – the case for the defence, and come back tomorrow for the midfield and attack. In the meantime, please leave your comments and ratings in the comments below.