Friday, September 19, 2014

The Most Valuable Backup Goalkeepers in World Football

Once upon a time the role and status of a second choice goalkeeper at any football club was a pretty straightforward one!

Benchwarmer, emergency cover, training partner and room-mate are terms that immediately spring to mind when talking about backup goalkeepers.

However, major football clubs across Europe have been laughing in the face of that conventional wisdom, and have been buying backup keepers who could easily start as first-choice for other major clubs.

These goalkeepers are still worth decent amounts of money despite their status of having to warm the bench more often than not.

Take Chelsea's Petr Cech currently playing second fiddle to Thibaut Courtois following the Belgian's extremely successful loan spell with Atletico Madrid, culminating in 'Los Colchoneros' winning the 2013–14 La Liga title, their first since 1996.

Furthermore, there’s the fact that Manchester City recently signed Malaga’s Willy Caballero as back up to England's number one Joe Hart, and Barcelona signed both Chilean international Claudio Bravo and German international Marc-André ter Stegen for a combined total of €27 million, following the departure of longtime number one Victor Valdes – who still has yet to find a club.

Then what about Real Madrid, who recently signed Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas for €10 million to act as backup for Spanish goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas, who at 33 years-old is arguably in the twilight of his career.

In the English Premier League you have, to name just a few, the likes of Shay Given, Thomas Sørensen, Costel Pantilimon, Artur Boruc, Boaz Myhill and Brad Jones who are without a first-team start between them this season! All very capable goalkeepers, but simply unable to establish themselves as first-choice at their respective clubs.

Backup goalkeepers are becoming a hotter commodity than ever in world football, and it became increasingly obvious during this summer's transfer window.

Here is a list of the most valuable backup goalkeepers in world football, based on their market value courtesy of

# Pepe Reina - Bayern Munich - €4.5 million

The son of famed FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Miguel Reina, Pepe Reina began his career with the Barcelona youth team and made his La Liga debut in the 2000–01 season. He signed for Villarreal in 2002 and moved on to Liverpool and made his debut in 2005. He went on to win the 2005 UEFA Super Cup, the FA Cup in 2006. In 2007, he reached the Champions League Final with Liverpool, matching the feat achieved by his father in 1974, but they lost to A.C. Milan.

Following eight consecutive seasons as Liverpool's first-choice keeper, Reina spent the 2013–14 season on loan at Napoli, where he was reunited with Rafa Benítez, the coach who signed him to play for Liverpool in 2005. During his loan tenure at the Italian club, Reina was part of the side that won the 2014 Italian Cup and finished third in the domestic league.

In August 2014, Reina joined the German club FC Bayern Munich on a three-year deal, as backup to Manuel Neuer – arguably the best goalkeeper in world football right now!

# Maarten Stekelenburg - AS Monaco - €5.0 million

The 31 year-old Dutchman plays for French club AS Monaco (on loan from English club Fulham), and for the Netherlands national team.

Stekelenburg is a product of the Ajax youth system, where he followed in the footsteps of Edwin van der Sar, who he succeeded in the Dutch national team and with whom he reached the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

He made his debut for Ajax in February 2002, and became their first choice goalkeeper during the 2005–06 season. That season Ajax won the KNVB Cup (the Dutch equivilent of the English FA Cup).
Stekelenburg was named Ajax 'Player of the Year' at the end of the the 2007–08 season.
In 2010-11 Ajax won the Eredivisie for the first time since 2003-04 and Stekelenburg was again named Ajax 'Player of the Year' - for the second time in his career.

This season Stekelenburg is acting as the backup for 'Les Rouges et Blancs' behind Danijel Subasic, the former Hajduk Split and Croatia goalkeeper, despite having represented the Dutch national team on 54 occasions.

# Jack Butland - Stoke City - €5.0 million

He’s been considered as England’s goalkeeper of the future, and the fact that Roy Hodgson brought him along to the European Championships two years ago while at previous club Birmingham City is proof enough that he’s got plenty of potential.

Butland began his career with Birmingham City, and made his debut in the Football League in September 2011 while on loan to League Two club Cheltenham Town.
Butland established himself as first choice keeper at St Andrew's in 2012–13 and was transferred to Premier League club Stoke City in January 2013 for a fee of £3.3 million. He was loaned back to Birmingham and went on to play in every league match in 2012–13. Butland then spent time out on loan at Barnsley before making his Premier League debut in January 2014.

However, 21-year-old Butland is likely to play the role of backup to Asmir Begovic at Stoke this season.

# Willy Caballero - Manchester City - €5.0 million

Caballero started his playing career with Boca Juniors in 2001.
The Argentine spent most of his career in Spain, representing Elche and Málaga and competing in La Liga with the latter club.
He joined Elche CF of Spain in 2004, playing nearly 200 games for the 'Los Franjiverdes' outfit. In February 2011, Caballero was transferred to Málaga CF in La Liga for €900,000 as an emergency transfer.

In the summer of 2014, he signed for Manchester City, but the 32 year-old has only made one appearance so far this season for City, in the 2014 FA Community Shield at Wembley.

Despite being snubbed time and time again by the Argentine national team, Caballero is highly thought of and it’s uncertain as to how long Caballero will be content to just be the second-string keeper at City, behind Joe Hart.
Hart, the England goalkeeper has come under much scrutiny in the last twelve months, following some high profile errors and he conceded a soft goal in City's last league game, a home defeat to Stoke, so maybe manager Manuel Pellegrini will consider giving Willy Caballero a chance sooner rather than later!

# Michael Agazzi - AC Milan - €6.0 million

He may be the least recognizable name on this list but Michael Agazzi built up a decent reputation for himself as the main goalkeeper at Cagliari.
In July 2009 Cagliari signed the goalkeeper from Serie B club Triestina in a joint ownership deal, for €575,000. However, he continued to play for Triestina until June 2010.

He became first choice goalkeeper for Cagliari at the start of the 2010-11 season, and went on to make well over 100 appearances for the Sardinia based club.
Following a brief spell at Chievo Verona earlier this year he moved to the San Siro in May 2014.

However three months later, Real Madrid and Milan reached an agreement over the transfer of Diego López, the Spanish born stopper, demoting Agazzi to Milan's backup keeper as López went on to start this season as number one, making his competitive debut in the first matchday of the new season in Serie A.

Agazzi may not have much of a chance to compete for game time at Milan if Lopez’s performances for the 'Rossoneri' are consistently strong.
The fact that longtime Milan servant Christian Abbiati is also still on their books at the age of 37 surely doesn't bode well for Agazzi, as he aspires to establish himself as first-choice stopper.

# Michel Vorm - Tottenham Hotspur - €6.0 million

He’s been capped 15 times by the Dutch national team – even going to the World Cup this past summer as the Oranje’s third choice keeper – but Michel Vorm’s recent decision to sign for Tottenham Hotspur may come back to haunt him. With the French international captain Hugo Lloris firmly entrenched as Spurs’ number one man, and with the evergreen American goalkeeper Brad Friedel still at the North London club, Vorm may have a difficult time starting games at White Hart Lane.

Vorm began his career at FC Utrecht in 2005. In order to gain more experience he spent the 2005-06 season on loan to FC Den Bosch. In August 2006 Vorm established himself as first choice keeper at FC Utrecht.

In August 2011, Vorm joined Swansea City for a fee of around £1.5 million. During his first season with Swansea his performances were so impressive that he won three awards at the club’s end-of-season dinner, including Players’ Player and and Supporters’ Player of the Year. He signed a four-year deal with Spurs in July 2014 for a fee of £3.5 million.

# David Ospina - Arsenal - €7.0 million

Following a great run by the Colombian national team to the quarter-finals of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, it was clear that David Ospina needed to play for a bigger club than Nice in Ligue 1 of France – the club he joined in 2008 as a 19 year-old. However, Arsenal may not necessarily be the answer!

Although he’s clearly good enough to start for a major club, Ospina will likely have to fight for playing time with the Gunners’ longtime number one Wojciech Szczesny and their 22 year-old Argentine youngster Damián Martinez, who joined the 'Gunners' back in 2012.

With a market value of €7.0 million, and the fact that Ospina is still young for a goalkeeper at 25 years of age, the competition could potentially be fierce.

# Claudio Bravo - Barcelona - €8.0 million

Claudio Bravo is currently in the starting role for Barcelona, but that’s likely as a result of the fact that promising young German keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is out injured for the next several weeks. Once ter Stegen returns, though, Bravo may have to sit a number of games out for the Blaugrana. Thanks to his role playing for the Chilean national team that made it past one of the World Cup’s groups of death, as well as the fact that he was the longtime number one for Real Sociedad, Bravo may not be satisfied to have to be part of a goalkeeping tandem. Watch this space!

Bravo signed for Real Sociedad in a reported €1.2 million deal back in 2006 and played 229 times for the San Sebastián based club.

Bravo joined FC Barcelona this summer for €12 million (£9.7 million) thus becoming only the second Chilean ever to play for the Catalan giants after Alexis Sanchez, now an Arsenal player.

# Keylor Navas - Real Madrid - €6.0 million

Navas' performances for his country at the 2014 World Cup this summer were nothing short of sensational, and his role in Costa Rica’s run to the quarter-finals was instrumental.

He only conceded a single goal in the three Group games as Costa Rica qualified for the knockout stages as group winners. In the round of 16 match against Greece, Navas was named 'man of the match,' and was so again in the quarter-finals, despite his country being eliminated by the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.

Needless to say as a result of his World Cup heroics his reputation was enhanced immeasurably, and his Valencia based club Levante were always going to struggle to keep a hold of the 27 year-old.
On 3rd August 2014, Real Madrid came knocking and triggered Navas' €10 million buyout clause, and he signed a six-year contract with the 'Galácticos.'

His market value of €6.0 million shows that he’s good enough to start for many big clubs, but it’s unknown how often he’ll have to jockey for position with Iker Casillas for the number one role at the Bernabeu.

# Petr Cech - Chelsea - €17.0 million

Born in Plzeň, Czechoslovakia Petr Cech played for Chmel Blšany, Sparta Prague, and Rennes before joining Chelsea in 2004 for £7 million.

Although he was linked to moves away from Stamford Bridge in the summer, Petr Cech currently remains on Chelsea’s books, but it looks as if he’ll have to settle for a backup role behind young Belgian goalkeeping phenom Thibaut Courtois.
If he doesn’t win his place back at Stamford Bridge, I'm sure Cech will be looking to move elsewhere. His reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in recent years is still very much intact and for now, he’s still by far the most valuable backup goalkeeper in world football, even at 32 years-old.

Since joining 'The Blues' ten years ago, Cech has made over 450 appearances for the club and won a staggering array of silverwhere - three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Europa League and one UEFA Champions League.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

How do you solve a problem like Hodgson?

So the England national football team beat Switzerland in Basle last night thus recording their first three points in a competitive fixture since the 'Three Lions' overcame Poland in their final 2014 World Cup tournament qualification match back in October 2013.

England have now won back to back fixtures in the space of less than a week - in fact it was their first victories of any description since a couple of over hyped pre-World Cup warm-up wins back in March against Denmark and in May against Peru, both at Wembley.

England lined up against Switzerland with captain Wayne Rooney joined by Danny Welbeck, in attack, with Liverpool's Raheem Sterling behind.
A signpost for the future, Roy Hodgson has surely found a formation - with Arsenal's Jack Wilshere at the base of the diamond and Sterling at its tip.

Despite a nervy first-half and with vital defensive contributions from Gary Cahill and Joe Hart preventing the Swiss from taking the lead, England's bold approach and ability to counter attack at pace paid off. In the end it was a reasonably comfortable win, although a far from convincing performance. There still remain major question marks at the centre of defence, and with the holding midfield role.
Hodgson chose to play a couple of players out of position, a fad commonplace nowadays at club level as well. It will be interesting to see how Roy juggles the personnel next time out when England play San Marino on 9th October.

England have a crop of very talented youngsters at club level, some of whom still need blooding at international level, such as Callum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Ward, Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse, Luke Shaw, Jon Flanagan, Nathaniel Chalobah, Andre Wisdom, Will Hughes and Tom Carroll while the likes of Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Barkley, Townsend and Sterling have already made an impact or are currently injured or coming back from injury.

If Roy has a fully fit squad to choose from it will be a game about formations, systems and giving new players an opportunity to fit into 'Roy's Model' because you can be sure the England management team will not be having sleepless nights worrying about the opposition's footballing ability, more likely nightmares about whether a team made up of accountants, bank clerks, librarians, students, hospital workers and barmen are all able get the day off work!

What I am saying is let's not get carried away and hail a brand new England era, and that this victory will automatically act as a fulcrum for a major turning point in the fortunes of our national team in the next few years. As fans' we have been teased endlessly in the past and as a result we are used to disappointment, so if you expect nothing then anything more is a bonus!

The public know full well that England are simply not good enough to compete with the world's best teams – in terms of technique, tactical nous, nerve and, most damningly, hunger!

Hodgson may have on paper at least been instrumental in the victories over the 'Norewigan Vikings' last Wednesday and in last night's Euro qualifier win against 'The Swizz Cheese Makers.'
Incredibly in beating Switzerland he has has quite literally secured England a place in the Euros 2016 finals to be held in France after only one fixture - in a group of six teams with a further nine qualification games remaining.

The re-structuring of the European Championships, allowing a further eight European teams (almost half of UEFA’s membership) the chance to qualify for the 2016 finals means England are in one of the weakest tournament qualification groups I have ever witnessed in all the years I have followed our national team.
Let me re-iterate that in no way is that the fault of Hodgson, it lies solely at the feet of UEFA.
My worry is how 'Woy' going to get the best out of the England players when they are up against some of the worst teams in world football. San Marino (Current FIFA World ranking 208), Lithuania (103rd), Estonia (93rd) and Slovenia (39th).

Slotted in to prepare England for France in June 2016 are two friendlies against not Germany, Italy, Belguim, France, Netherlands, Argentina or Uruguay, all ranked by FIFA among the top 15 football nations, but against Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, currently ranked 28th and 66th respectively in the world.

Roy Hodgson was incredibly lucky to retain his position as the senior man in charge of England, after a calamitous World Cup campaign in Brazil this summer. 

The managers of Italy, Iran, Côte d'Ivoire, Honduras and Japan all fell on their swords after their teams' failure to enter the tournament’s knockout stages in Brazil in the Summer. Luiz Felipe Scolari quit as manager of Brazil after the host nation tasted their first back-to-back defeats on home soil since 1940 during a humiliating World Cup, as they were beaten 3-0 by Holland in the third place play-off, having lost 7-1 in the semi-final five days earlier to Germany.

It is also interesting to note that the players that won albeit unconvincingly last night, though some may argue the result is all that counts, was not to dissimilar to the squad that 'Woy' paraded in his final warm-up match in May, prior to our worst World Cup campaign since 1958.
Glenn Johnson was the only player to feature against Honduras in Miami and not to be included against Switzerland last night, with the exception of the now retired Gerrard and Lampard, and the injured trio of Sturridge, Barkley and Lallana.
Hart, Baines, Cahill Jagielka, Henderson, Wilshire, Lambert, Rooney and Welbeck all played on 7th June while Milner, Stones and Jones were unused substitutes.
Make of that what you will!

Hodgson did not do a hell of a lot wrong leading up to Brazil and in Brazil itself. He chose a young squad, was bold in his selections, played to his strengths with a positive approach from the start and also managed to keep a feeling of solidarity amongst the players, thus resulting in a happy bunch of campers, something former England boss Fabio Capello failed to do during a major tournament.

Perhaps in the process of defeat and externalizing blame, it is not unsurprising that attention turns to the role of the football manager, as the team leader with ultimate responsibility for their performance. So what do we know about the role of football managers? What is there to gain or lose by making a change of manager and what benefits are there in holding our nerve and sticking with a longer term strategy, even in the face of a disappointing tournament outcome?

Research into leadership theory splits into different views on the role of the leader in organisations in general. Some schools of thought believe that the success of the organisation is less about the leader, whoever that may be, than it is about contextual factors such as the quality of its people, its resources and so on. In the World Cup context, this perspective would suggest that, whoever is in charge of the national team, performance will be more or less what you would expect given the quality of the players at the managers’ disposal.

There are also theories that highlight how different types of leadership approach are required for different situations. This raises the possibility that some styles of leadership may be better suited to succeeding in tournaments such as the World Cup, compared with succeeding as a club manager.

Alternatively, there is “individualistic” leadership thought. This is the belief that a visionary or transformational leader makes the difference. A leader who is passionate, good at spotting talent, skillful at managing and motivating his team, can raise the level of performance. Early individualistic approaches took quite simplistic views that particular characteristics made a difference. Research has largely quashed these ideas, but it is interesting how the vestiges of this debate linger in the belief that someone who is an extrovert and leaps around on the touchline is necessarily a more motivational leader, than a more introverted, considered, strategic leader, who might already be mapping out the next steps for the team.

Of course the reality is that no single style of leader is necessarily the right one and that the teams which the manager leads also comprise individuals who may need different approaches to get the best from them.

There is simply no English manager with the credibility to replace Hodgson!
After being stung by those mercenaries Fabio Capello and Sven Goran Eriksson, the FA are determined not to go foreign again.

However you can't see the FA appointing the likes of Harry Redknapp, Steve Bruce, Stuart Pearce, Gary Neville, David Moyes or Alan Pardew as Hodgson's replacement, in the hugely unlikely event that they should completely change tact and fire him in the very near future!

What happens following the Euro's in France is a minefield - Hodgson will go either way, whether as a hero or a villan - in a lycra Superman outfit or bound, gagged and dragged off to an uninhabited island with a monster paycheck that he cannot cash, but with plenty of time to reflect on his time at the helm.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Babe of the Month - Latino Beauty Vanessa Huppenkothen

Vanessa Huppenkothen Labra was born on 24th July, 1984 in Mexico City. She is a TV Presenter, actress and model of German/Mexican decent. Her father is German and her mother Mexican. Vanessa is a lover of sport and in particular football. She grew up in Mexico, but she also lived with her father in Duisburg. At that time she attended FC Schalke games, and is still an avid fan of the Bundesliga.

After finishing school Vanessa studied International Relations and her master's thesis was on FIFA. She speaks four languages fluently - Spanish, German, English and French.
She currently works for Televisa Deportes, a division of the Mexican television network Televisa that produces sports programming for Canal de las Estrellas, Canal 5, Galavision and Televisa Deportes Network.

In 2008, she covered the Summer Olympic Games from Beijing. She reported on the Mexican soccer team during the Football World Cup in South Africa in 2010, and again was a presenter for Televisa's coverage of the Mexican national team during the 2014 Football World Cup. During the tournament in Brazil she generated considerable attention on social media platforms, and was among the top five social media searches in Singapore!

Vanessa covers a lot of the football action in Mexico as well as conducting interviews with coaches and players.

She was featured as the cover feature model for GQ in June 2014 and Esquire in June 2013. Vanessa also featured in GQ in November 2012 .

You can follow Vanessa on TwitterFacebook and Instagram