By Harry Wilkinson
When former Villa manager Roberto Di Matteo signed 21-year-old goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini in July as Villa’s number one, many, including MOMS were sceptical. Villa were just about to embark on their first season below the top-flight for 27 years, in perhaps one of the toughest, well-balanced leagues in the world. We were crying out for a hardened goalkeeper with experience. Surely Gollini was an unnecessary gamble?
After a spell in the Manchester United youth set-up, the Elphick-look-alike was signed from Italian side Hellas Verona, and despite their relegation to Serie B, Gollini impressed in his 29 appearances.
At Villa though things got off to a shaky start with lapses in concentration and some less than convincing moments.
What a Mistaka to Make-a
On the first day of the season against Sheffield Wednesday, Gollini made a late error that cost Villa the game 1-0. Also, a few weeks later at home to Huddersfield, he smashed the ball against the buttocks of Hefele to concede a late goal that cost Villa another two points. Again, at Barnsley, an unconvincing piece of goalkeeping from a corner saw Villa concede late on and leaving with an unsatisfying draw.
See, here is the thing about goalkeeping: you are judged on your mistakes. When you look back to these games overall, he actually had a very good game against Sheffield Wednesday, making some decent saves and looking solid throughout. A similar case could be applied to Huddersfield, with the added question of whether his contribution to Hefele’s goal was actually a mistake at all – it just as easily could have been Chester to have taken the blame for a loose back-pass. The Barnsley error (which was a mistake) recalled David De Gea: specifically a game in which Steve Kean’s Blackburn beat United 3-2 at Old Trafford, Grant Hanley latching on to a De Gea error (similar to that of Gollini’s vs Barnsley) to score the winner.
De Gea Comparison
Although this is somewhat abstractly related, this demonstrates how dramatically things can change for a goalkeeper, if you give them the time and opportunity. David De Gea is no longer judged on his mistakes, he is instead judged on his saves, which is exactly how a ‘keeper wants it to be (just like how strikers are judged on the goals they score, rather than their misses).
Every professional goalkeeper can make eye-catching saves, but there has to be a prolonged period in which limited mistakes are made, in order to have a foundation built on which they can be judged on such saves, rather than errors. What is required is consistency, then brilliance.
To add more substance to Gollini’s similarity to De Gea, the Italian U21s number one is the same age coming to Villa as the former Spanish U-21 was when he moved to United; both coming from their country’s top division to England at 21-years-old.
Hopefully Gollini will continue taking a path similar to De Gea, in that making mistakes early in his English career enable him to learn and improve, leading him towards goalkeeping prosperity. After all, it is a common conception that in order to improve we must make mistakes, it is a basic principle of learning – and it is no different for goalkeepers. Just don’t make mistakes against Blues at home, please.
Whilst on the topic of 21 year-old goalkeepers, it seems only necessary to mention Mark Bosnich (as alluded to in this MOMS article), who came to Villa in 1992 and helped win the League Cup in 1994, after becoming the regular number one. Within a couple of seasons Bosnich gained the reputation of being one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League.
Confidence, Competence, Consistency
Now, perhaps it would be prudent to ponder on Gollini’s more positive moments in a Villa shirt. The first and most prominent example of such would perhaps be his game against Newcastle, which saw him make an excellent 1-on-1 save from a Dwight Gayle effort just before half-time. It was worthy of celebration in the way you would a goal. We of course went on to equalise and draw 1-1.
More recently, against Blues, Fulham and Blackburn, Gollini had three very confident and competent performances between the sticks – It’s hard to think of a single mistake he made in any of these games.
His demeanour is one which oozes confidence, much like that of Thibaut Courtois. Although just a demeanour, it is the kind of intangible idea that is perhaps more important than one might assume. Anything that formulates words like ‘confidence’, ‘competence’ and ‘calm’ through the eye of the beholder, can only be positive for goalkeepers. We have to remember that there is a reason Gollini came through the Manchester United youth system.
Pierluigi Gollini was perhaps not the wisest signing Villa have ever made in terms of the short-term goal of promotion. You could say, it cost Di Matteo his job. Still, it would be foolish not to utilise the obvious talent the 21-year old has.
Still, Villa may not be able to solely rely on him. They need an insurance policy.
There are rumours Bruce is on the look-out to sign Eldin Jakupovic, whom he signed for Hull City. Although this could aid Pierluigi Gollini in his development as a goalkeeper, it would be counter-productive for the Italian to feature as a back-up ‘keeper.
If Gollini is to fulfil his potential, it is paramount that he gets sufficient game time, but it looks like he’s going to have to earn it.
Follow Harry on Twitter – @harry_wilks