Goalkeeping's bright future
With the transfer window still in its early stages, two signings have dominated proceedings. Manuel Neuer’s £25m move to Bayern Munich and David de Gea’s £18.3m switch to Manchester United have highlighted the embarrassment of riches currently among the young goalkeeping fraternity. It's widely thought that a keeper’s formative years come beyond the age 30, so the Germany international, 25, and the 20-year-old Spaniard should have high times ahead of them.
And Edwin van der Sar, who recently retired, is confident De Gea, 20 years his junior, has what it takes to fill his void at Old Trafford. The Dutchman said: “He’s very talented. I've spoken to him and it looks to me as though he can handle it.”
De Gea sprung to prominence over two seasons of high-flying firsts at Atletico Madrid. He made his senior debut in the UEFA Champions League at the age of 18 before saving a penalty on his La Liga debut. He went on to become a prominent member of Atletico’s UEFA Europa League-winning team and was selected in Spain’s preliminary squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, though he didn't make Vicente del Bosque's final cut.
Ascending at Atletico
De Gea followed this up by firmly cementing his place as Atletico's first choice between the sticks last season, starting every one of their league matches, before capping it off with some fine displays as La Roja won the UEFA European U-21 Championship last month – adding to the continental U-17 title he seized four years earlier.
However, De Gea’s move was preceded this summer by the much anticipated transfer of Neuer from Schalke to Bayern. The Gelsenkirchen native has risen to the fore of a crop of blossoming German goalies, with the likes of Bayer Levekusen's Rene Adler, Sven Ulreich of Stuttgart and Kaiserslautern’s Tobias Sippel also Bundesliga regulars.
Neuer's performances during last year’s third-placed finish at the FIFA World Cup brought him to worldwide prominence, but he had already been crowned Bundesliga goalkeeper of the year in 2007, aged just 21, and won the UEFA U-21 Championship in 2009 , when he also took the best keeper gong.
German goalkeeping legend Oliver Kahn said of Neuer: “I think he will become world class. [Iker] Casillas of Real Madrid, Chelsea's [Petr] Cech and [Gianluigi] Buffon of Juventus are world class. And Manuel Neuer can get into that category.”
A string of stellar performances in Schalke’s run to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals sealed his move, but Die Königsblauen fans shouldn’t despair too much - they’ve just resigned 22-year-old talent Ralf Fahrmann.
Another promising shot-stopper was seen opposite Neuer in Port Elizabeth during the third-placed play-off in South Africa last year, Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera. Having cemented his place in the Lazio first team after a rocky start to his career in Rome, the 25-year-old became a fan favourite as he was pivotal in claiming their last piece of silverware.
Having moved from Montevideo Wanderers, where he made his debut at 18, Il Castorino (The Little Beaver) won his way into the hearts of the Biancoceleste faithful with his showing in the 2009 Coppa Italia final. Following a 1-1 draw with Sampdoria over 120 minutes at a packed Stadio Olimpico, Muslera saved two penalties in the ensuing shoot-out to see Lazio lift their first trophy in five years.
Two other of South America’s heavyweights have promising goalkeepers of the future. Argentina's 23-year-old Sergio Romero is busy plying his trade at the Copa America, producing decisive displays in their first two games, and in the Eredivisie with AZ. Arch-rivals Brazil, meanwhile, have a huge talent waiting in the wings. Rafael is fresh from a Copa Libertadores triumph with Santos, and the 21-year-old is being tipped by many to be long-term successor to Julio Cesar.
France have an established youngster in Lyon’s Hugo Lloris, already with over 20 caps at just 24. A man whose talent has been well respected among European football for some time, he has had suitors across England and Italy regularly being linked with him, with the price tag a reported £20m-plus.
Igor Akinfeev is another figure who has been at the fore of his profession since he was still a teenager. Having become CSKA Moscow’s first-choice keeper at the tender age of 17, the Russia international has accumulated an enviable trophy cabinet. As well as 12 domestic titles, including three Russian Premier Leagues, he was part of CSKA’s triumphant 2005 UEFA Cup-winning side, before claiming bronze at UEFA EURO 2008.
England were absent from that competition and have been without a solid No1 since David Seaman was dropped in 2002. However, following an outstanding 2009/10 season on loan at Birmingham City, Joe Hart looked to be the answer. After becoming a pivotal figure in Manchester City’s qualification for the Champions League last season, former England great Peter Shilton expects a big future from him now the young pretender has cemented his international spot.
"He's done exceptionally well," Shilton said. "He's come from probably being a reserve at Manchester City to England's first-choice keeper in 18 months. He's got the chance to be there for a long time, it's still early days. You couldn't really ask any more of him, he's shown a lot of confidence, a lot of belief.”
Emerging Emirates saviour?
Fellow Premier League giants Arsenal seem to have settled on youth to solve their recurring goalkeeping troubles. Following a lack of certainty between the sticks since the initial departure of Jens Lehmann, Arsene Wenger has held on for some time waiting for Pole Wojciech Szczesny to mature.
Having shunted fellow young countryman Lukasz Fabianski into second spot, the 21-year-old has grown into the role since making his league debut late last year, seeming largely unflappable in the daunting arena of Old Trafford. He is now the keeper of choice for Poland.
Another goalkeeper given the daunting task of making a league debut at the reigning league champions was 22-year-old Australian Mitch Langerak. Coming in for the injured Roman Weidenfeller, the Borussia Dortmund youngster was entrusted with keeping out the likes of the Bundesliga's leading marksman Mario Gomez and the fit-again duo of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. A sterling performance saw his side claim a 3-1 and take a decisive step towards their first league title in nine years.
Australia are not the only AFC to have promising shot-stopper in their ranks, with a number on international duty at this year's AFC Asian Cup. Qassem Burhan of Qatar is just 25 but played every game in their run to the quarter-finals, while the 24-year-old duo of Khalid Al Rashidi and Ali Khaseif, of Kuwait and United Arab Emirates respectively, both have promise but spent the tournament on the bench. Al Rashidi may have a young competitor though, with 22-year-old Kuwaiti Olympic goalkeeper Hussain Kankone looking to follow in older brother Shehab’s footsteps by claiming the senior side’s No1 jersey.