It hasn’t taken long for the transfer rumour mill to accelerate into overdrive following Aston Villa’s promotion back to the Premier League. The club is currently being linked with all sorts of players in all sorts of positions.
Last week I wrote about how we should look to avoid completely rebuilding the team and focus on strengthening were needed instead. One of the positions I felt didn’t urgently need addressing was our goalkeeping options. By all accounts, the club didn’t share the same sentiments!
By now, it’s accepted that Villa is in the market for a new stopper. Even today, reports are surfacing that an £8 million bid has been rejected by Cardiff City for Neil Etheridge.
At this moment, Lovre Kalinic’s future seems increasingly uncertain, with the club apparently looking to loan out the Croatian stopper. Playoff hero Jed Steer’s elevation to number one may be short-lived.
Earned a chance
Many people, including myself, felt that Steer had more than earned a chance to keep his status as number one in the Premier League. For me, it isn’t sentimental just because of his heroics in helping us get back to the big time.
I think he has responded massively in taking his opportunity and has shown a high level of consistency since coming in. I don’t really rate a keeper being a good shot stopper as the most important aspect of their talents. Generally, I think that represents most goalies strong point. That said, to ignore some of the outstanding saves he’s made would be silly and being able to make big saves at big times is, of course, a factor.
It’s other skills that separate a good keeper from a top keeper though. Command of the area is obviously crucial. Decision making, in general, has to be spot on. A strong mentality is another must. And more and more importantly these days, being able to play with their feet is a major requirement; something that manager Dean Smith is especially keen on.
How does Steer fare?
So, how does Steer fare? I’ve seen him flap a couple of times coming for crosses, but nothing horrendous. There is certainly room to improve his command of the area, but again it’s far from woeful.
His long distribution is perhaps his biggest weakness that I’ve seen. Sometimes his kicking simply sails out of play, and that surrender of possession is much more unforgiving in the Premier League. That said, manager Smith is clearly intent on playing out from the back where possible and Steer looks generally comfortable on the ball and has shown good control when in possession.
Where I think Steer excels though is the mental side of his game. His staredown with Mason Holgate before the first penalty was taken in the playoff semi-final shootout against West Bromwich Albion was brilliant stuff. It clearly affected Holgate, and Steer saved the resulting penalty. It was a real ballsy attitude and I loved seeing that being dished out.
I think the way he has stepped up from coming in from League One into a Championship playoff race full of pressure each game has been impressive also. That bodes really well in being able to transition into a Premier League stopper.
As for Kalinic, as Croatia’s current number one and winning the Belgian League’s Goalkeeper of the Year Award in 2017, he is clearly no mug. But you just get the feeling that it’s not going to happen for him at Villa. We’ve barely seen anything of him, but what we did see wasn’t altogether impressive. To put it nicely.
He was particularly poor during an awful debut in the F.A Cup at Swansea and just never got going from there. By all accounts he took that form into his international matches with Croatia, being at fault for both goals in a 2-1 loss against Hungary.
My best mate saw a tweet of mine about my uncertainty in needing a new goalkeeper and, himself being a goalkeeper, said that the man between the sticks is the most important position on the pitch. Which I do agree totally agree with. You only need to look at the difference Alisson has made to Liverpool this season for example.
His sentiment is that if we can improve the position, we absolutely should do, ideally with Jack Butland, or someone of that ilk. He also served a timely reminder that Kalinic was somehow beaten by Hal Robson Kanu’s looping header in our 2-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion back in February, despite being on his line and also being 6ft 7″.
It’s difficult to argue with that. And whilst you’d like to think that with a pre-season under Kalinic and being injury free could make all the difference. Perhaps struggling to the extent he has done at Championship level has effectively ended his Villa career before it’s really even begun.
For me, forgotten man Orjan Nyland shouldn’t be, and isn’t, in the reckoning for the starting berth either. As a backup option, possibly, but I don’t think any Villa fan would be overjoyed to see him named in a line up if it came to it.
It’s a similar situation to Kalinic in many ways, in that he just hasn’t instilled any sort of confidence with his performances. A superb double save against Reading early in the season at Villa Park was a particular highlight. As well as an important penalty save against Swansea on Boxing Day before an injury ended his season. But these moments are too little and infrequent.
So where does it all leave us? If, as it appears, we’re shopping for a new number one, it all leaves us in a tricky goalkeeping situation again really. Steer would rightfully feel hard done by and, crucially, with just a year remaining on his contract, Villa could end up losing a very decent keeper on a free next summer.
As a number two, there is little or no incentive for Steer to sign any further contract extensions. And wouldn’t it just be very Aston Villa to lose a player who goes on to excel elsewhere?
As mentioned, Butland is certainly the standout candidate if we are shopping around, being far too good a keeper to continue playing Championship football. The major sticking point is that Stoke City are reportedly looking for a fee starting at around £25 million, which appears to make a deal a non-starter. Mind you, if you manage to nab a keeper of such quality and keep him for the next four or five years, then surely it ends up being good business. The risk at this time may just be too much to take, however.
After today’s news of that bid being made, Etheridge seems to be the man in Dean Smith’s sights. The Phillipino international kept ten clean sheets last season. Which in a relegated team is not to be sniffed at. It also earned him the club’s player of the year award.
But is he really such a significant improvement over Steer? I’m not so sure. Especially if it means that we need to spend upwards of £10 million. I honestly didn’t watch too much of Cardiff City last season, so it’s difficult to make a real judgment. What is interesting is that Smith and goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler worked with him when they were all together at Walsall and knowing the player well adds a degree of assurance.
Getting it right
Having as recently as January spent £7 million on Kalinic, Villa needs to get this decision correct. Our goalkeeping situation has been farcical for far too long. Kalinic now, in particular, seems like such a strange signing. It’s hard to believe Smith had the final say on that deal which is a worry in itself.
Whatever the outcome, Villa needs to make it and stick with it. Steer can rightly feel hard done by if he is replaced and I think he has shown enough quality, aptitude and mental toughness to be given a crack in the top league. He’s surprised us all so far, and usually, those sort of players continue to go from strength to strength, especially with backing and confidence.
It’s a big call and could have a big effect on the team and certain individuals. There is no room for sentiment, however, and if Smith feels he can improve the team, then that is a call he has to make. But with so many changes in our keepers in recent years, it has to be the right call for the next few years to come.