Lee Wellings: Keepers have lost their value

How many goalkeepers are in the top 100 football transfers of all time?

Has their importance in football become strangely underrated? Has the lack of glamour in the position compared to the twinkletoes of outfield players blinded us, and indeed the transfer market, to the real value of a goalkeeper to a football team?

The thought keeps occurring to me watching not only the marvellous work of De Gea and Courtois, but many others, in the Premier League alone. Even oft-criticised keepers like Mignolet and Green, are regularly superb. Hart did get rare credit for a great Champions League performance in Barcelona.

But the issue of goalkeeper value really struck me the time of Ballon D’Or, when there was an inescapable feeling that Manuel Neuer was there to make up the numbers in the presence of the two big superstars of world football – Ronaldo and Messi. It was a case of Manuel? Never!

I see why the enormous contribution of the big two, mixing genius with hard work and consistency, is rightly lauded and almost impossible to surpass. But I would definitely have voted for the German goalkeeper.

Neuer can not only do his job – he can’t run past ten players and score too. But how many footballers win their nation the World Cup? And how many do it effective playing TWO roles.

His performance against an inspired Algerian team in the last 16 in Brazil was not only the best performance of the tournament – it was also the most important I’ve seen for many World Cups. It was quite incredible. With 19 of his touches – 36% – OUTSIDE the box. It almost redefined the art of goalkeeping for the modern game.

He played as a modern sweeper, effectively making his own rules, and it was only his combination of awareness and precision that prevented Germany being knocked out. Algeria were all over Germany for nearly all of the normal time yet couldn’t get past the Bayern Munich man. It was jaw-dropping what unfolded in Porto Alegre.

The reaction to his match-winning display was typically begrudging. Partly because it’s seemingly ok to dislike all-conquering ‘efficient’ German footballers, partly because Algeria had delighted and were so unlucky… and partly because he’s a goalkeeper. As a striker, if he’d have done nothing the entire match and scored a last minute volley in the top corner, he’d have been lauded far more.

He was the key player of the tournament in my view – he set the entire thing up for Germany. And for all their magic, neither Messi nor Ronaldo has properly delivered at a World Cup in the way others of their special category have – Maradona and Pele the famous examples.

Please don’t mention Messi being awarded FIFA player of the tournament. That was as utterly bizarre and equally disrespectful to James Rodriguez as it was to Neuer.

And the pattern has been there for years.

What’s a goalkeeper worth on the transfer market? What’s a goalkeeper worth in this football ‘business’. Back to my opening question. How many goalkeepers are in the top 100 football transfers of all time?

Just ONE. And that was back in 2001 when Gianluigi Buffon moved from Parma to Juventus in a £30 million deal.

But have goalkeepers not always won clubs titles, trophies? Remember how Brian Clough swore Peter Shilton earned him at least ten points per season in old money, and who would challenge that.

And the example that intrigues me is De Gea. How good has that man been this season, and where would Manchester United be in the Premier League without him in the form he has shown. Is mid-table really that much of an exaggeration?

This is a club that genuinely did not play well once this season before the recent game at home to Tottenham, where they were excellent. And yet they started that match in third place. How? De Gea’s role has been recognised yes. Applauded yes. But properly valued? Not at all. If and when he goes to Real Madrid finally we will see the sort of money a goalkeeper is really worth, and we all expect the deal to happen with Valdes stepping in at Old Trafford.

De Gea has literally saved United so many times this season it’s almost turned to comedy. It’s been the best season I’ve seen a goalkeeper have in England since the peerless Peter Schmeichel, arguably the best there’s ever been, for the same club in the late 90s.

It would be nice if some of the many underwhelming pundits gave more credit to goalkeeepers. With proper technical analysis, not just criticism of mistakes (the main time a keeper is singled out). Or sometimes there is a basic platitude: ‘great save’. Have you noticed how that is always used with a save that looks good. But how many times do they need a succession of replays before identifying the best saves? Those faint touches that are vital but less glamorous. To be fair Andy Gray, of beinSport, has always had a fabulous eye for those right through his Sky decades. Others have you screaming at the TV. “He SAVED it for goodness sake.”

Yes, goalkeepers are there for us to look for their mistakes. Like referees. Rather than appreciate them. And there are so few vacancies between the sticks in the top divisions. Spare a thought for those brilliant number twos – this season Petr Cech and Valdes amongst them – who can’t play because two into one doesn’t figure.

Maybe we secretly don’t like the fact they are a different breed, that they can use their hands, that many seem crazy, arrogant, insular. But it’s probably the only position where a mistake usually means conceding a goal.

The one time they are given proper credit it is disproportionate. In penalty shoot outs they are in a win/win situation. Lauded for success. Not their fault if they fail.

I, for one, would not begrudge them that…

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him ten.a1532324935reeza1532324935jla@s1532324935gnill1532324935ew.ee1532324935lta1532324935. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport