While it’s stretching it a little to suggest every kid’s dream is to play for Chelsea, there aren’t too many teenagers who’d say ‘no thanks Roman’ if the Blues owner came knocking at their door.
Jack Butland, you’re a better man than most.
I really can’t praise the 19-year-old highly enough for his ballsy decision to spurn talks with the European champions. That’s no dig at Chelsea. I’d say the same if it was Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, or even my club Arsenal who were cleverly trying to capitalise on coughing up a potentially bargain fee of just £3.5million to boracic Birmingham City for his services.
Not one of those clubs would dream of throwing the Butland straight into their first team next weekend. You know it, I know it, and the teenager – much to his credit – knows it too.
Their acquisition of a player who’s widely perceived as the only credible long term threat to Joe Hart’s prospects of earning himself a gazillion England caps, would (for now at least) be purely opportunistic on their part.
The thinking is pretty transparent. He could turn out to be great, so let’s stop anyone else having him, and snap the boy up while he’s cheap. It’s a no-brainer.
If I was a manager or a club owner, I’d probably share that attitude, but it would still be a highly selfish purchase.
Football is littered with the corpses of hundreds of long forgotten just-in-case signings and I’m wholly impressed that Butland and his management team have been astute enough to recognise he’d be foolish to follow in their footsteps.
No goalkeeper – as far as I can remember – ever improved their game by spending a couple of seasons on the bench.
Ross Turnbull and Hilario may not have been perceived as potential world-beaters, but their flaky form when called upon at Stamford Bridge is a clear testament to the fact that goalies need games.
You can graft your way through as many vigorous training sessions and reserve team friendlies as you like, but nothing substitutes the pressure of being the last line of defence in a match that matters.
When called upon they’ve looked ropey, rusty, and at times rank awful, and although that’s not entirely their own fault, I fear their reputations in football are now tarnished irreparably. For Turnbull, a career as a serial number two beckons.
Chelsea’s need for a new goalkeeper is less urgent than most, anyway. At 30, Petr Cech might be in the embryonic stages of a steady decline but he remains more reliable than most. Behind him in the pecking order is the Blues’ heir apparent; 20-year-old Belgian international Thibaut Courtois.
Rated as pound-for-pound Europe’s best young keeper, the six foot six inch stopper has wowed La Liga fans for the last 18 months with some outstanding displays on loan at Atletico Madrid – and there’s little chance of Chelsea failing to give him first dibs on the number one shirt when they decide Cech’s days are numbered. His moment of destiny could come as early as this summer if rumours emanating from SW6 are to be believed.
When I watched Butland in person last season for Cheltenham Town against Southend United, he had an absolute shocker. Big, strong and athletic, he looked every inch the real deal, but on that particular evening his decision-making resembled a rookie learning the ropes.
A more-than-solid Olympic Games for Team GB proved he had the ability and temperament to match his burgeoning reputation, and since then he’s continued to make his mark between the sticks for Birmingham City in the Championship.
Butland has performed OK this season. He hasn’t been sensational, but he hasn’t let anyone down either, and for a 19-year-old keeper that’s no mean feat in the rough and tumble of the Football League.
People who know a lot more about the finer arts of goalkeeping than I do, believe Jack Butland can be as good if not better than Joe Hart but at this stage (even to them) it’s little more than guesswork.
All I know as a former professional footballer is that it would be criminal to deny him first team football, now that he’s living and breathing it.
Birmingham City need to sell him today, that’s clear. However, if Butland’s to continue his upward trajectory, he MUST find himself a club that’s prepared to entrust him with the number one jersey right away.
If he plays, and plays as well as the experts predict, Butland won’t have to wait long for his dream move to one of the Premier League’s big boys. Stoke are said to have made a bid and with their keeper Asmir Begovic possibly moving on in the summer, that would be a far smarter move.
You can be certain that Lee Clark’s phone will be red hot with enquiries, but whoever ends up signing Jack Butland won’t just have bagged themselves a potentially fantastic goalkeeper; they’ll also have recruited a 19-year-old with an extremely wise head on his young shoulders.
Turning down Chelsea this week wasn’t just brave, it could turn out to be most sensible decision he’ll ever make.
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