#JohnRuddyForEngland – This harsh tag appeared on Twitter after the latest England squad was announced and it caught my attention.
A classic football cliché is that a week is a long time in football, you only have to sit through the madness of transfer deadline day on sky sports news to grasp that. Just over a year ago John Ruddy signed for Norwich from Everton having spent the previous season impressing north of the border with Motherwell. He was replacing Fraser Forster who had grown into something of a cult figure in helping Norwich City secure promotion to the Championship from League One as champions.
A year later John Ruddy has firmly established himself as Norwich City’s number 1, appearing in all but one of the team’s Championship campaign and playing a key role in securing yet another promotion this time as runners up. He’s appeared three times in the Premier League, with his penalty save against Stoke highlighting an impressive display and his red card against Chelsea an unfortunate error the likes of which many a more experienced keeper has made.
When the England Squad was announced the one thing that stuck out more than anything else was the lack of strength in depth in our goalkeeping department. Should anything happen to Joe Hart we would be left horribly exposed. Rob Green would kindly be described as “fragile” when it comes to the big games and going into another major competition with him as number one would not be a situation any England manager would want to find themselves in. So what are the alternatives? Surely now is the time to get a new keeper involved so we have a long term plan for the number 2 spot and have some dependable cover?
David Stockdale is the stopper called up in the number three spot, a player who has very little first team experience at Championship level let alone the Premier League and the games he has played for Ipswich, he has spent most of the time picking the ball out of the net. Now I’m not saying that this automatically makes him a bad keeper, but it’s hard to imagine that he will be at the top of his game having seen thirteen goals fly passed him in his last three games.
When Rob Green pulled out of the squad due to injury, Capello turned to Frank Fielding, the under 21 goalkeeper, who was less than convincing during the European under 21 championships and struggled at times for Derby last season. He has promise, but he’s raw and being as he is already very much in the England set up his selection smacks of convenience rather than merit.
There are currently four English goalkeepers who are first choice at their club in the Premier League of which Ruddy is one, two have retired from international football (Paul Robinson, Ben Foster) and the other is Joe Hart. Ross Turnbull is perhaps worth considering but he’s got relatively little first team experience beyond warming the bench for Chelsea despite being 2 years Ruddy’s senior, so asking him to step right into an England game is perhaps a bit of a stretch.
Compared to England Squads of the past this is definitely an area of the team that is suffering. Should anything happen to Joe Hart, I think that Ben Foster may quickly reconsider his position of “retirement” but until then, surely Ruddy is worth a shot? He’s only 24, he’s got Championship and is gaining Premier league experience and is growing in confidence with every game he plays.
Blooding a keeper too young can have terrible consequences, you only have to look at Scott Carson who is now hiding in Turkey to see what the long term effects of a fumble on the biggest stage can be. Former England number one David James is struggling to hold down a place at Bristol City ahead of Dean Gerken and a look through the rest of the Championship doesn’t yield much. Kelvin Davis is uncapped and 34, if he were to receive an England call up I think the next call would have to be to a doctor to help him deal with the shock. The once young Jamie Ashdown is now 30. Players like Jason Steele, who is making a name for himself at Middlesbrough belong with the under 21’s and Joe Lewis has yet to live up to his huge potential. Andrew Lonergan is a forgettable but reliable keeper but has far too much of a mediocre feel to ever step up a few levels.
Luke Steele is a keeper I have always rated and never fails to impress me the few times I’ve seen him play live but has never been talked up, probably because he’s playing for Barnsley. He is certainly on form, saving two penalties against Reading and then keeping a clean sheet against Millwall. He’s got experience and having spent four years at Manchester United knows all about what’s required to succeed at the top level, even though he never broke into the first team.
Another promising keeper is Watford’s Scott Loach, who was always solid during his time with the under 21’s and in many ways will feel like he’s earned a real shot in the senior squad, having been called up for the first time last year, he’s failed to keep his place.
Looking elsewhere, Fraser Forster, the player Ruddy took over from in goal at Norwich is definitely worth consideration, he has many of the tools needed to be a top keeper (although he still needs to work on his kicking, I remember Elland Road), having a season under his belt at Celtic and being back there again this season means that he will have plenty of experience in high pressure games which can only be good preparation for an international career, that being said, the standard of the SPL is still a long way behind the Premier League with recent European results being a clear indicator of this.
All of which brings me back to John Ruddy, a player who has frustrated me in the past, but who has improved and is well capable of making match winning contributions. If he keeps playing the way he has started this season, then surely it will be hard for Capello to ignore him for long… John Ruddy for England!