At football’s highest levels, earning results often comes down to the smallest margins. For the man positioned between the sticks, these microscopic details hold the most significance, and is why recruiting well in the goalkeeping position can be make or break for a side.
In crucial relegation battles, or equally in avoiding being dragged into such late season scraps, a top quality shotstopper can be the deciding factor.
Therefore a premium exists for a good goalkeeper and clubs looking to strengthen that area must box smart.
Of course, there is always the chance of unearthing a hidden gem with a risky punt from Europe. Newcastle United have found that in Martin Dubravka, who they plucked unexpectedly from one of the continent’s less acclaimed leagues and been duly rewarded with performances far outweighing his cheap price tag.
However, for every success story, there are five or more failures of such a business model. Newcastle themselves found that out when they signed promising Belgian Matz Sels, only to discover the player’s aerial weakness meant he simply wasn’t cut out for the demands of English football.
The other option, obviously, is buying domestically. This is where clubs have to be equal parts reactive and intelligent, so as to secure top talent without extortionate prices.
As the table currently stands, however, there looks to be a real option set to become available for other Premier League clubs should they want to do just such a thing and improve their goalkeeping department.
Cardiff City find themselves five points adrift in the relegation zone currently, with crucial games against Burnley, Brighton and already relegated Fulham in the coming weeks. Should they not get the results Neil Warnock needs in these games, and they will be joining Huddersfield and the aforementioned Fulham in the Championship next season.
That would leave the door wide open for other clubs to snap up possibly one of their star players this season; goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.
Now yes, it certainly sounds bizarre to consider a goalkeeper at a relegation-threatened side to be a top player and a good transfer target for other clubs, but the truth comes down to that, without Etheridge, Cardiff’s situation – and certainly their goal difference – could have been a lot worse.
The Philippines international has made the second highest number of saves this season in the Premier League at 114 – and many have been good saves at that too.
Yes, he has made more saves partly because a weaker defence in front of him has meant more chances for his opponents to try their luck, but the other relegation-threatened and already relegated sides have had the same situation. The key difference; Etheridge is keeping more out.
In their most recent game against Manchester City, Etheridge continually denied and frustrated Pep Guardiola’s world-class talent and, even despite the 2-0 defeat, looked genuinely impressive.
For a player who’s career nearly ended when he was released from Fulham a few years back, he has roared back determinedly having been given a second chance at Cardiff and proven he has the quality to deserve his place between the sticks in England’s top league.
Should the 29-year-old’s current club not manage to retain their place in the top flight, then there are a number of teams who will have scraped in just above Cardiff – and who have had real issues in conceding too many goals – that should consider a move for the player.
He still remains a somewhat underappreciated player it seems, and so may well cost less than a number of players of equal or perhaps even slightly lower ability may do.
It’d certainly be worth an enquiry should the Bluebirds go down come the end of the season.