Friday, June 11, 2010
06/10/2010 Paul Hayward on the keeper conundrum

Fabio Capello may plump for the compromise candidate Robert Green as England's World Cup goalkeeper

For the second day running Fabio Capello peeled off from the main group in training to work with his three goalkeepers. With eyes down, and hands behind his back, the England manager walked in circles, hoping for a moment of clarity. Back home, the betting markets were lurching this way and that as punters gambled on the identity of England's No1.

"It's an unusual situation. You would think coming into a World Cup as we are now we'd have known exactly who was going in goal," says Gordon Banks, the greatest of all English custodians, and the man in nets in 1966. "But having said that there is really nothing much between the three of them."

Here in the camp, not a single expert or insider is able to predict with any conviction whom Capello will select to repel the USA in Rustenburg on Saturday. Joe Hart, 23, who has yet to start an official England game â€" never mind a competitive international â€" dukes it out with the 39-year-old David James and West Ham's Robert Green, the compromise candidate between experience and freshness.

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Banks guarded the fabled onion bag in a golden age for keepers and was unchallengeable, when fit. Tossing the gloves to a goalie required no thought in the Alf Ramsey era but Capello has seen the quest to locate a long-term replacement for James complicated by the veteran's knee problems and the sense that he was sidetracked by a survival fight at Portsmouth. In fact, two of England's three were ensnared in relegation battles last season and the third â€" Hart â€" was subordinate to Shay Given at Manchester City, hence his relocation, on loan, to Birmingham City.

Banks says: "Joe Hart has been the most consistent but he hasn't played a full game, and going into an event of the magnitude of a World Cup that might be a bit of a disaster. But I find it very hard to know which one to put in.

"I believe it's between Robert Green and David James. James has got more experience and I believe he could be that bit calmer in the dressing room and on the pitch. The nervousness won't be quite so bad. But Robert had a great season and in those two friendlies [Green played the first 45 minutes against Mexico] he made a couple of saves that kept us in the game when the team were playing pretty poorly. The experience is with James, though, and that might help. It's a difficult situation to be in."

Capello began 2010 by employing Green for the whole 90 minutes against Egypt at Wembley but then experimented in the post-season preparation games with Mexico and Japan as well as Monday's breakout friendly against Platinum Stars. For Mexico, Green started and gave way to Hart at the interval. In Graz against Japan, James took the first half while Hart again received his summons after the break. On Monday, it was Hart then Green. Those searching for patterns will feel that Green started the first two games of this calendar year and excelled against Mexico. Their next move may be to lift the phone to a bookmaker to back him at around 13-8 to be singing God Save the Queen at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium this weekend (James is the 11-10 favourite).

In at least two areas â€" goalkeeper and centre-forward, if he elects to play 4-4-2 â€" Capello is being forced to pick the player around whom there are fewest doubts, rather than the outstanding candidate. Of the centre-forwards who may accompany Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey could be chosen by default, and if Green wins the contest for the goalkeeping jersey it may be because Capello mistrusts James's fitness and thinks Hart â€" whose talent he is drawn to â€" has arrived at a World Cup without a mental log of even vaguely similar experiences.

None of England's three is a Champions League regular and Hart, with Birmingham, was the highest Premier League finisher, in ninth position. Banks thinks the production line for English keepers is still functioning but that "foreign managers can ring scouts they know on the continent and ask them to find them a [non-English] goalkeeper", thus inhibiting the chances of those born on these shores.

"I think Spain's goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, is the best in the world," Banks says. "I think he made the national team at 19 and he looks so confident in everything he does." A look through the files suggests Capello has been trying to find a younger replacement for James for much of his two and half years in charge. Odd to think, now, that Ben Foster started England's last World Cup qualifier (against Belarus) and the prestigious friendly against Brazil in Doha.

Those grand designs have been ruined, as so many are, by events. Privately many England players accept that there is no Casillas, Pepe Reina (Spain's No2) or Júlio César (Internazionale and Brazil) in their ranks, but it may be that Green has reached a level of competence where Capello can stop circling in search of a Eureka moment.

Gordon Banks was at the launch of gourmet burger kitchen's World Cup menu. Gbk has been rebranded Gordon Banks's Kitchen for the duration of the tournament. For more information, visit

Paul Hayward ? Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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