Chelsea: the goalkeeping situation

Petr Cech (L) and Mark Schwarzer

Petr Cech (L) and Mark Schwarzer

Last week, Chelsea completed a move for 40-year old goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, interestingly on a one-year deal. Obviously due to his age, Schwarzer has taken this move as means of getting one last “hoorah” from his career, after Fulham signed highly rated Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg from AS Roma.

Of course it is highly unlikely and unexpected that Schwarzer will take the place of Petr Cech, one of Chelsea’s greatest ever goalkeepers, but he will provide much needed cover. Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario, both played in the occasional FA Cup or League Cup game, but neither impressed too much when called upon.

Hilario had a stint of games shortly after his arrival at the club in the summer of 2006 when both Petr Cech and then back-up Carlo Cudicini had been sidelined due to horrific injuries in the same game against Reading, and he kept a clean sheet against all the odds in one game against the then European champions FC Barcelona under the management of Frank Rijkaard, but there was never any real doubt as to who was the first choice.

Ross Turnbull featured briefly in the 2009/10 season when Cech got injured again, but conceding four at home to Manchester City showed Turnbull was not on Cech’s level. With all due respect, Schwarzer is probably better than both Hilario and Turnbull, but on a one-year contract, little can be gained from playing him instead of and over Cech.

One must feel slightly sorry or disappointed for Jamal Blackman, Sam Walker and Matej Delac, who are all young goalkeepers at Chelsea, who must have thought the departures of Hilario and Turnbull would give them a shot at the first team.

However, Chelsea’s desperation to replace the two outgoing goalkeepers showed a real lack of trust and almost a dismissal of the players they already have. There were efforts to bring in John Ruddy from Norwich City for £5 or £6 million, but with a one-year deal being sought, Chelsea were warned off.

The reason Chelsea were not willing to pay too much or to sign anyone too long term was because of the presence of Thibaut Courtois at the club. The Belgian has been very impressive both on loan as well as for his country, and could well be a great goalkeeper in the future. Chelsea signed the 1 meter 99 centimetre goalkeeper from KRC Genk in the summer of 2011, but he is yet to play for the West London outfit.

He is set to spend a third consecutive season in Spain playing for Atletico Madrid, where he helped his adopted club win the 2012/13 Copa Del Rey, with a magnificent performance in the final against Atletico’s city rivals Real Madrid.

Clearly the upper echelons at Chelsea want to keep Courtois, but they do not want him challenging Cech just yet, as at the moment, both are far too good to be any sort of back-up. Ironically, Cech may eventually be pushed away to make way for Courtois in the same way Cudicini was pushed away to make way for Cech upon his 2004 arrival from Rennes.

Schwarzer proved last season that he still possesses a good enough level of efficiency to put Chelsea in safe enough hands (pun intended) in the case of Cech getting injured or suspended. Despite his ability, Schwarzer is old enough and experienced enough to know the situation with Cech and Courtois for the coming seasons, and will do what he’s asked and required to do before perhaps retiring or maybe returning to Australia to play in the A-League possibly, or maybe another league in Asia or the United States, as so many other winding down players have done in recent years.

Certainly, this is a necessary and wise move from Chelsea.

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