Tuesday 20 February 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Bravo must be prepared for England's rigorous 'Foreign Goalkeeper Exam'

Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

If a person is looking to become a British citizen they have 45 minutes to answer 24 questions about British traditions and customs and must get at least 75pc correct.

Sample questions include: which landmark is a prehistoric monument which still stands in the English county of Wiltshire? At her jubilee in 2012, how many years as queen did Queen Elizabeth II celebrate? And, from what age can you be asked to serve on a jury? Presumably, most people are grateful that the answers are multiple choice.

Foreign players coming into the Premier League don't have to go through such rigorous testing, and while English football has gradually learned to trust outfield players with their flair and peculiar preference for passing over tackling, the Foreign Goalkeeper Exam is one which must be passed in order for the likes of Claudio Bravo to be fully accepted.

Sample questions include: 1: "When a cross comes into a crowded penalty area, what do you shout?

A. Nothing - I allow my defenders to deal with it;

B. "Time" - I trust my team-mate's touch, or;

C. "AWAY" - Because you can't score from Row Z

Question 2: When you concede a goal do you. . .

A. Grab the ball to re-start the game as quick as possible;

B. Quietly ask one of your defenders what happened;

C. Scream passionately at nobody in particular to show how much you care.

Question 3: A difficult shot or cross is coming in your direction, do you. . .

A. Punch it away to clear the danger and allow the team to re-group;

B. Punch or catch on a case-by-case basis;

C. Catch it at all costs, even risking dropping it to a waiting striker because, well, it's so simple to just catch the ball.

If you answered mostly Cs, you are undoubtedly ready to blend into English football, although the catch (boom boom) is that you might spend your career away from the upper echelons of the game because English goalkeepers, frankly, aren't very good these days.

Bravo took his first step into English football on Saturday and, even had he not being responsible for City conceding, the only certainty was that his 6ft frame will be held up to scrutiny in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

With the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic in their ranks, Stoke's reputation as a litmus test of a player's ability to cope in the Premier League is in ruins but, thankfully, Tony Pulis is now at West Brom, meaning that being able to do 'it' on a cold, miserable night at the Hawthorns brings greater credibility than a few seasons at Barcelona.

It's not that English football completely distrusts foreign goalkeepers, but the popular ones are usually from reliable, set-your-watch-by countries not known for their flair.

Peter Schmeichel is the greatest goalkeeper in Premier League history who certainly read the chapter in the guidebook regarding screaming at your defenders, to the point where Roy Keane believed it was all a bit of an act. Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois have the physical presence to command their penalty areas and respect from pundits, but what will undoubtedly shine an even greater light on Bravo is the fact that he is replacing England's No 1.

Like Dutch desire for wonderful football or Brazilian flair, the idea that England have good goalkeepers goes back several decades and seems to imbue them with a certain confidence that isn't backed up by performances.

It's one thing to have Gordon Banks making historically significant saves in World Cups and, in the next decade choosing between Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence, who won six league titles, five European Cups and two UEFA Cups between them.

It's quite another when Joe Hart's two predecessors at major tournaments are Paul Robinson and Rob Green, while the third choice for this summer's European Championships was Tom Heaton of Burnley.

Germany's third choice, by comparison, played for Barcelona.

The fact that Bravo's feet are deemed to be every bit as much of an asset to Pep Guardiola as his hands will also sharpen the knives of those who feel that Hart has been badly treated, despite the Englishman's declining quality of performance.

Such mistakes were never put under the microscope by pundits like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in the same way that David de Gea was infamously taken apart by Neville in the early part of his Manchester United career and Bravo, in all probability will be on tonight's Monday Night Football.

It's unlikely Alex Ferguson took too kindly to the criticism and, probably luckily for Neville's chances of avoiding a rollicking, De Gea's form improved to the point where criticism was rare.

Simon Mignolet has been given the Neville treatment while the pair of them were unsure of Sergio Romero's ability in his brief stint as Manchester United number one.

"He's played in the World Cup final but for Manchester United, going forward in the next three or four years and wanting to get back to winning titles and Champions Leagues, I don't think that's enough," said Carragher, with a degree of football logic.

Romero was back on the bench as soon as De Gea's move to Real Madrid was aborted but David Ospina is perhaps the best example of what Bravo can expect.

The Colombian replaced Wojciech Szczesny at Arsenal towards the end of the 2015 season, helping the Gunners to win 13 out of their last 18 games but was at fault for Swansea's late winner on a Monday Night Football in the third last game of that run, for which Carragher gave Ospina limited credit.

"His record is good because the team are playing well and are defending well so he's not having that much to do," was the withering assessment.

Cech is undoubtedly an upgrade on Ospina but the suspicion is that Carragher, Neville and most of English football would believe that Hart would have been too.

Guardiola, clearly, wouldn't feel the same, resulting in Hart making his debut for Torino yesterday. If he picks up any of those nasty punching/passing habits, he may need to pass a Foreign Goalkeeper Exam to get back in.

The fact that Guardiola described Bravo as "amazing" after Saturday's victory means, in the eyes of the only man who matters, the goalkeeper has passed his first test.

Irish Independent

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