Here Tom O’Connor looks at how the Kevin Keegan’s signing of Shaka Hislop, to increase competition between his first team goalkeepers, is still having a profound effect on modern day football.
Talk to any Arsenal or Manchester United fans about their greatest goalkeeper of the 1990s and you can be fairly certain of David Seaman and Peter Schmeichel topping the polls. Similarly, Tim Flowers would be the outstanding candidate among Blackburn Rovers supporters.
All three clubs had firmly established number ones throughout the decade and reaped title success. However, one man tried to do things a little differently.
Enter Kevin ‘I’d love it if we beat them’ Keegan. By signing the impressive Reading stopper Shaka Hislop, in 1995, to challenge current incumbent Pavel Srnicek, Keegan brought a competition between goalkeepers that hadn’t been seen at title-chasing clubs in the Premier League previously.
For two seasons both keepers fought for the number one jersey and in the now infamous 1996/97 season, Hislop held the position, until he picked up an injury in December. Srnicek took his place and helped Newcastle to a twelve-point lead in January before they succumbed to Manchester United’s title charge.
Keegan’s brave move ultimately ended in failure with regards to Newcastle’s title attempts. Hislop left in 1998 and was replaced by Shay Given, who saw off his rivals quite comfortably for the majority of his time with the Toon Army.
Indeed, until this season, all clubs challenging for the Premier League since 1999 have had a defined number one. Nigel Martyn was replaced by academy graduate Paul Robinson at Leeds, while Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United brought in first choice keepers over the next few seasons in Jens Lehmann, Petr Cech and Edwin van der Sar respectively. At United, Alex Ferguson finally signed a reliable keeper after Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard couldn’t adequately replace the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel.
Shay Given, currently embroiled in a wrestle for the no. 1 spot at struggling Aston Villa did compete with Joe Hart at Manchester City, for a time, but the English keeper had the support of then manager Roberto Mancini following Given’s initial victory and Hart’s subsequent loan to Birmingham.
However, the tactic of having two goalkeepers actively challenging for the no. 1 spot at title-contending clubs has been reawakened this season with Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United currently in possession of highly-competitive goalkeeping departments.
Woijcech Szeczney, Willy Caballero, Petr Cech and Victor Valdes are four highly-experienced and talented players ready to pounce if a mistake is made.
With this trend now spreading throughout top European clubs, such as Pepe Reina at Bayern Munich challenging Manuel Neuer (though Neuer is a clear no.1) and Marc Andre Ter Stegen battling Claudio Bravo at Barcelona, maybe Kevin Keegan was more of a visionary than people thought?
Tom O’Connor, Pundit Arena