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Replacing a legend keeper, a real nightmare

On December 23rd 2012 the news that Iker Casillas would seat on the bench at La Liga game in Malaga spread rapidly around the globe. The legend goalkeeper, adored by Real Madrid and Spanish National team fans, was not among the first eleven in a league game for the first time in 10 years. Just few weeks later, the agents representing Victor Valdés announced that the best goalkeeper in FC Barcelona history had decided not to renew the contract that will expire on June 2014, provoking yet another media earthquake and a major headache to Barça fans. All of a sudden, and almost at the same time, football executives of both Spanish giants found themselves in bad need of identifying potential substitutes for their long standing and legend keepers.

Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes have become myths of their respective teams by virtue of their fantastic performance and leadership. Casillas is now on his 14th season with Real Madrid first team, where he became undisputed line-up goalkeeper after 3 seasons alternating with Bodo Illgner and César. Since his debut at season 1999-2000, Iker Casillas has played as much as 653 official games with “merengues” shirt, having won 5 Spanish Leagues, 1 Copa del Rey, 4 Spanish Supercups, 2 Champions Leagues, 1 European Supercup, 1 Clubs Worldcup and 1 Trofeo Zamora (as keeper with least goals conceded at La Liga).

On the other side, Víctor Valdés is on his 11th season as FC Barcelona first team goalkeeper, squad that he joined at season 2002-03 before becoming undisputed line-up keeper after competing with Argentinian Roberto Bonano first and with Turkish Rustu later. During 11 years with the first team of catalans, Valdés has played 464 official games with FC Barcelona shirt, with an astonishing trophy lifting record that includes 5 Spanish leagues, 2 Copa del Rey, 5 Spanish Supercups, 3 Champions Leagues, 2 European Supercups, 2 Clubs Worldcups and 5 Trofeo Zamora.

If we also take into account that both keepers are still 31, it seems clear that up to now there would have been no need for neither Real Madrid nor FC Barcelona to start searching for a new and long standing goal keeper.

Looking at history we can realize how difficult it can be to identify the right replacement for a keeper that over time has managed to become undisputed owner of the goal of a high profile football team. In this sense, when reviewing the situation of most prominent legend keepers of recent time –Peter Schmeichel, Oliver Khan, Andoni Zubizarreta and Paco Buyo- we can see that none of them managed to get an stable replacement immediately.

Peter Schmeichel was the unquestionable owner of Old Trafford goal since season 1991-92 and during 8 years. When he retired in 1999, Manchester United needed 7 seasons to find a new long term goalkeeper. Bosnich, Van der Gow, Barthez, Carroll and Howard rotated as line-up keepers until the arrival of Edwin Van der Sar. On the other side, Bayern Munich could not find a replacement at first attempt for legend Oliver Khan, who stayed as much as 14 seasons as line-up keeper, captain and leader of Bavarian club. Rensing, Butt and Kraft went almost unnoticed during 3 years, until Bayern decided to invest 25 mio€ in landing Manuel Neuer from Schalke.

Real Madrid and FC Barcelona also experienced first hand the complexity of replacing a mythical goalkeeper. It took the merengues 7 years to consolidate Iker Casillas as Paco Buyo successor, after the later being the solid line-up Real Madrid keeper for 10 consecutive seasons. When Buyo retired at season 1995-96, Illgner, Cañizares, Contreras, Bizarri, César and Iker himself passed through Santiago Bernabeu goal.

However, the most difficult managerial task of recent history was without doubt the replacement of Andoni Zubizarreta at FC Barcelona, following Johan Cruyff decision to ask him to leave the Catalan club after 8 seasons as undisputed line-up goalkeeper. Then, until finally Victor Valdés became the new long term goalkeeper at season 2003-04, none of 11 different keepers in 9 years managed to become the new Camp Nou goal hero. Busquets, Angoy, Lopetegui, Vitor Baía, Arnau, Hesp, Reina, Dutruel, Bonano, Enke and Rustu tried hard during that period with no success.

As we have seen, the facts and figures demonstrate the enormous complexity of identifying and recruiting the appropriate replacement for a legend goalkeeper. The process will for sure require lot of patience and money and still the possibility of not getting it right at first time will be high.

How much will substitute cost?

Real Madrid, under pressure as a result of the injury of Casillas himself, moved on rapidly and signed Diego López from Sevilla paying 3,5mio€ at winter transfer window, proving at the same time the lack of confidence in home grown keeper Adán. Taking also into account the good performance of Diego López during Casillas absence and the age of both goalkeepers (31), it is clear that Real Madrid is gaining additional time in its strategy of future replacement of its legend keeper.

FC Barcelona situation is significantly different, since –unless Victor Valdés changes his mind- the catalans will have to go to market this or next summer in search of the new long term host of Camp Nou goal. Unfortunately, none of the keepers currently in FC Barcelona´s “La Masía” seems to be prepared yet for such an important task. The situation is of course well known by the agents of the best goalkeepers, which get ready to offer their clients and wish to become FC Barcelona final pick.

Under described circumstances, when it comes to take the best decision possible, transfer cost stands-up as one of the main factors to consider. In this respect, there 4 main variables that will dictate the amount of investment needed to land a high level goalkeeper:

1. Individual variables:

It is obviously the component with the maximum influence in the transfer cost of a goalkeeper. We can find in here crucial information about the keeper, like the age. The candidate for long term keeper should not be neither too old nor too young and with lack of experience. Technical variables are also of paramount importance and vary according to the team. For instance, the FC Barcelona keeper should be good with the ball on his feet and at one to one goal chances. Game statistics and of course contractual matters are also key. In this sense, a key aspect is the amortization situation of the keeper contract with current club, related to the amount of transfer paid in the past. David de Gea, for example, that cost Manchester United 20mio€ 2 years ago and signed a 5 year contract, would now cost a mínimum of 12mio€ at the end of season 2012-13, plus the profit that with no doubt red devils would expect to cash-in.

2. Buying club

Profile of buying club, its financial situation and the urgency to get the player will also have a significant impact in the final amount of the transfer. In this sense we should expect keeper selling clubs to be highly demanding with FC Barcelona, given the financial strength of the club and its widely known need for a new goalkeeper. However, some factors such as the candidates desire to join a dream squad and the possibility to speculate with various targets will dramatically help FC Barcelona to drive the transfer cost down.

3. Selling club

Those clubs with financial constraints will have a stronger need to sell their star keepers not just to cash-in but also due to the difficulty to afford their higher salary demands. Therefore, among candidates of similar technical level, the transfer amounts will be lower for keepers such as Guaita (Valencia), Andrés Fernández (Osasuna) or Stekelemburg (AS Roma), than for those top keepers from strong teams like Neuer (Bayern), David de Gea (Manchester United) or Joe Hart (Manchester City).

4. Market related variables

Finally, market situation at the time of each transfer and negotiation skills of executives in charge can provoke, among other circumstances, significant deviations from theoretical amounts resulting from the analysis of objective variables mentioned before. For instance, the number of high profile teams in search of a new legend keeper AC Milan and Arsenal may go to market in summer along with FC Barcelona- or the amounts from recent transfer deals –Tottenham paid last summer 12,6mio€ to Olympique Lyonnais for French National team keeper Hugo Lloris- will have a major impact in the agreed price as well.

Four times Champions League winners FC Barcelona are therefore facing an important challenge when it comes to identify their next legend keeper and to attempt to minimize the financial investment to be made. In addition, Catalans may show-up in the goalkeepers market both in purchasing and selling position, as they may consider to sell Victor Valdés and make some money before contract expiration in June 2014.

But also other top European teams will have to be on alert and be ready to lock soon their next long term goalkeeper, since on top of Arsenal and AC Milan, Chelsea, Juventus, Liverpool and Real Madrid have seen their line-up goalkeepers surpass 30 years old. The analysis of recent cases proofs the difficulty to get right at the first time the replacement of a legend keeper, so in the meantime let’s wish long life to Cech, Buffon, Reina, Casillas…

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