Why Paul Lambert’s Gamble on Brad Guzan Worked So Well
In a tense press conference in Madrid in early May, the gathered local press furiously scribbled the words of Real Madrid’s soon to be leaving coach. Jose Mourinho, eyes twinkling and in a flat bitchy tone, explained the reasons why he had chosen to make Diego Lopez his number one goalkeeper ahead of national Spanish national hero Iker Casillas.
“I am a football coach and as such I have a job to do and part of that job is to decide who plays,” Mourinho said. “I like Diego Lopez more as a keeper than Casillas, I am not doing this to prejudice anyone, but I like Diego more. He comes out for crosses well, he is good with his feet, he dominates his area. It is legitimate that under normal circumstances that I would choose Lopez.”
Real Madrid is a football club overflowing with political cross-currents and intrigue. Whilst Mourinho, the most political of football managers, at times, makes Machiavelli look like Saint Francis of Assisi in comparison. However, there was some logic in the explanation Mourinho gave for Casillas’s omission, and pressed to explain the football reasons for Paul Lambert’s own omission of Shay Given this season, Lambert may cite similar ‘football reasons’.
Player of the Season Brad Guzan has come a long way from the humiliation of being released from his contract last summer, along with Emile Heskey and ‘King’ Carlos Cuellar. Lambert contacted Guzan by telephone shortly after he arrived at Aston Villa and asked Guzan to return to England for face to face talks (Guzan literally went straight to the airport, flew to the UK, met Lambert and flew straight back). A period then followed in which Villa fans were anxious to see if Guzan was going to be offered a new contract, but happily for everyone concerned, Guzan was re-signed in July 2012 on a three-year contract.
Shay Given was signed by Alex McLeish on a five year contract in the 2011 / 2012 season and his ability between the sticks was generally very good. Shay made some high quality and important saves during McLeish’s tenure and contributed vitally in retaining Villa’s Premier League status in an otherwise dismal season where many other players underperformed. Given was part of a defence which included two war horse central defenders, James Collins and Richard Dunne, who dominated the area aerially, making up for Shay’s less dominant command of his area. Collins and Dunne were players who Gerard Houllier was keen to move on due to their habit of clearing the ball up the pitch and missing out the midfield.
Paul Lambert has needed another type of goalkeeper to Alex McLeish, a goalkeeper with a modern skill set able to play in a modern defensive system.
Lambert favours attacking full backs to provide width and prefers to play the ball from the back. Guzan is fast off his line, a good athlete, constantly shouting instructions and encouraging his defenders, skilful with his feet, immense agility between the sticks and fairly competent at claiming crosses. Guzan is therefore a goalkeeper who is able to play in a defence which plays a high defensive line. Paul Lambert recently said, “If we didn’t have Brad we could have lost more games. Strikers are gold dust but so is a goalkeeper. I class people as equal. The team have done it this season, everyone’s been great.”
Brad Guzan’s best performance this season was the first half against QPR in which he made three world class saves, which Iker Casillas himself would have been proud. There is room for Brad to improve next season however, and with the strengthening of other positions in the defence, Lambert will continue to rely on Brad to organise his defence and come quickly off his line to cover for his young colleagues. Brad can improve on crosses, but so can the goalkeeper at the Premier League Champions Manchester United.
Villa fans will realise that this is Baby Brad’s first full season as number one goalkeeper in the Premier League, and at 28 years of age , Brad is still young for a goalkeeper. A position where some goalkeepers remain between the sticks into their late 30’s and even 40’s in Brad Freidal’s case.
Brad’s form this season did not go unnoticed by USA men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Brad was called into the USA team to replace the injured Tim Howard in the matches against Costa Rica and against bitter rivals Mexico. From which Guzan walked away with a couple of clean sheets. “Brad’s performance was huge,” Klinsmann said. “He was very vocal and had great communication, he gave us a lot of confidence. He understood his situation and knew it was unique but he made the best of it.”
Guzan’s zero to hero story is a great inspiration to other players who may have thought their chances had passed them by, and its to the considerable credit of Paul Lambert that he watched Guzan’s fleeting performances for Aston Villa under Alex McLeish and concluded that he had seen something in the Illinois shot stopper that he really liked. Brad is a player who is well liked by Villa fans and his contemporaries such as his former colleague Brad Freidal, who said recently to Aston Villa’s official website, “When he first arrived, I spotted things things he had you couldn’t coach – bravery and a base of power and strength.”
The future seems bright for Brad Guzan, and his fans will be hopeful that he can remain Aston Villa’s number one for many years to come.
Stats: Brad has played 36 games this season and has made 222 saves this season (or a ‘double nelson’ for the cricket fans amongst you!)
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