Who would be a goalkeeper? The first to bite the bullet when they make an error and the last to be appreciated when their team finds success.
However, despite the lack of adulation shot-stoppers often get, their position is arguably more important and requires more expertise than any other area on the pitch.
And, with the transfer window now open, a number of Premier League clubs are likely to seek out a new man to don the gloves for the 2019/20 season, although many of them won’t have the gargantuan budgets Chelsea and Liverpool splashed out on Kepa and Alisson last summer.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out seven under-the-radar goalkeepers and suggested which Premier League clubs should target them.
Brice Samba (Caen)
Who should sign him? Newcastle United
Signed for just £4.5m, Martin Dubravka has been a revelation for Newcastle United, firmly establishing himself as the first-choice ‘keeper at St James’ Park with a host of top-class performances. And that certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed with reports suggesting Juventus are now interested in bringing the Slovakian to Turin. Dubravka has insisted he’s happy on Tyneside but we all know how quickly players can change their tune once a Champions League giant comes along.
In France, meanwhile, Caen might have suffered relegation on the final day of the Ligue 1 season but it was not for the want of trying from their goalkeeper, Brice Samba. The Congolese stopper played a huge part in making sure Caen conceded the fewest goals (54) among the league’s bottom five sides and in the end, it was Caen’s blunt attack which let them down.
Following his impressive exploits, Samba will not want to drop down to the French second tier and given Mike Ashley’s reluctance to stump up the cash for Rafa Benitez in the past, this could prove to be a shrewd acquisition for the Spaniard.
Key stat: Samba made more saves (142) than any other Ligue 1 goalkeeper during 2018/19.
Walter Benitez (Nice)
Who should sign him? Leicester City
Brendan Rodgers is the man at the helm at the King Power stadium now and we all know what that means: all 11 players are going to see a lot of the ball. In fairness, Kasper Schmeichel adapted quite well to Rodgers’ methods but at 32, it may be time to start planning for life without him.
Staying in France, Nice’s Walter Benitez may well be the perfect under-the-radar ‘keeper for Rodgers. The Argentine made 116 saves and kept more clean sheets (16) than any other Ligue 1 ‘keeper during the season just gone. The 26-year-old also racked up a quite remarkable save percentage of 79.86. Benitez also boasts an impressive pass completion rate of 75.16 per cent, showing he’s more than capable with the ball at his feet. He would likely serve as an understudy to Schmeichel for a year but would get plenty of chances in cup competitions and would be a great long-term option for Rodgers.
Key stat: Benitez made 708 successful passes during the 2018/19 Ligue 1 season, more than any other ‘keeper.
Sam Johnstone (West Brom)
Who should sign him? Sheffield United
Dean Henderson was magnificent for Sheffield United on loan from Man Utd in the Championship last season, helping the Blades seal an unlikely promotion. However, with massive uncertainty surrounding the futures of David de Gea and Sergio Romero – as well as an emphasis on developing young players – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be reluctant to let him leave Old Trafford for another year.
If that’s the case, West Brom’s Sam Johnstone would be a great alternative for Chris Wilder. A former Man Utd academy man himself, Johnstone made more saves (157) than any other goalkeeper in the Championship as the Baggies made it all the way to the play-off semi-finals. Johnstone is contracted until June 2022 but given that he will turn 27 midway through next season, he is unlikely to want to wait around in the second tier for too long and would jump at the chance to taste Premier League football.
Key stat: Johnstone attempted more passes (1549) than any other Championship goalkeeper last season.
Alessio Cragno (Cagliari)
Who should sign him? Manchester United
Man Utd are facing a summer of upheaval. Paul Pogba may or may not leave, massive surgery is needed to repair their broken defence and Solskjaer definitely needs some better forwards to replace the misfiring Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku. Oh, and there’s also the small matter of David de Gea and Sergio Romero’s futures.
De Gea has been courted by Real Madrid for years and with Thibaut Courtois proving to be an expensive flop so far, those rumours aren’t going away, while Romero just wants to be rewarded with a run of games – he’s been excellent for the Red Devils in cup games.
However, with so many players potentially coming through the door at Old Trafford, money is going to be tight. Step up Cagliari’s Alessio Cragno. At just 24, he’s got years ahead of him but already, Cragno had more touches of the ball (1501) than any other Serie A ‘keeper during 2018/19. He also conceded just 1.42 goals per 90 minutes throughout that campaign, better than Roma’s Robin Olsen (1.56) and mightily impressive when you consider Cagliari finished 15th in Serie A.
Cragno recently signed a new contract until 2024, but should United come knocking, the Italian may be enticed to leave Sardinia. He would be a great budget option to go into Solskjaer’s young United side, either as first-choice or back-up if one of their existing goalkeepers remains.
Key stat: Cragno made more saves (155) than any other Serie A goalkeeper in 2018/19.
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Mike Maignan (Lille)
Who should sign him? Arsenal
No side in Ligue 1 conceded fewer goals than Lille (33) last season and, obviously, one of the cornerstones of that record was their goalkeeper, Mike Maignan. The 23-year-old played all 38 league games for the Ligue 1 runners-up and notched up a 73.6 per cent save rate, the highest of the five goalkeepers to play every game in the French top flight last season.
Arsenal are set to lose legendary goalkeeper Petr Cech following Wednesday’s Europa League final, with the Czech Republic stopper hanging up his boots and now looking set to move into a sporting director role at former club Chelsea. Meanwhile, despite pulling off some top-class saves, doubts remain over Bernd Leno’s reliability.
Having picked up 37 caps for France’s youth teams, and recently receiving a call-up to the senior squad, as well as learning his trade in the PSG academy, Maignan is no stranger to the big stage. At 23 years old, his best years are still ahead of him and Unai Emery could do a lot worse than bringing him to the Emirates. He’ll either give Leno the scare he needs to start performing consistently or replace him.
Key stat: Only Benitez (16) kept more clean sheets than Maignan (15) in Ligue 1 last term.
David Soria (Getafe)
Who should sign him? Watford
Getafe have qualified for Europe. Repeat, Getafe have qualified for Europe. They’re nowhere near the biggest club in the Madrid area, but Getafe have stunned everyone by finishing fifth in La Liga, qualifying for next season’s Europa League and only missing out on the Champions League by two points. To do so, they had to defend like lions, with only Atletico Madrid (29) conceding fewer goals than their 35. Even champions Barcelona let in 36.
David Soria played 37 out of the 38 games during that impressive league campaign, with a save success rate of 74.81%. Without him, Getafe would likely have slipped into mid-table obscurity but, of course, whenever a minnow overperforms, they run the risk of losing their star players.
Heurelho Gomes has been a brilliant servant to Watford but the 38-year-old is no spring chicken and is still undecided on whether or not he will retire this summer. Moreover, first choice Ben Foster is also 36 – new blood is going to be needed very soon. Soria doesn’t turn 27 until April 2020 and would be a very cost-effective, long-term solution to Javi Gracia’s impending goalkeeper problem. The fact that they’re both Spanish can only help negotiations.
Key stat: Only Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak (20) and Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen (16) kept more clean sheets than Soria (13) during the 2018/19 La Liga season.
Bonus ball: Bill Hamid (DC United)
Stepping out of Europe, MLS is very quickly turning itself into a breeding ground for quality talent, rather than a retirement home for has-beens.
Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen has already secured a move to Manchester City, which will be completed on July 9, but he isn’t the only top-class USMNT goalkeeper in MLS. Nobody has made more saves in the US top flight this season than DC United’s Bill Hamid (53).
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 3, 2018
Wayne Rooney may take all the headlines this side of the pond for DC but if he and Luciano Acosta have an off day, they often come under immense pressure, leaving Hamid to clean up the mess.
With 342 successful passes so far this season, Hamid only ranks ninth in MLS for ball-playing goalkeepers but his save-rate, combined with six caps of experience for USMNT, would make him a safe, financially viable option for a number of the Premier League’s mid-table or lower clubs.
He is currently on loan in Washington from Danish club Midtjylland, but could follow in the footsteps of so many American ‘keepers before him and move to the Premier League should a tempting offer come in.