Former Manchester United Captain, now football pundit Gary Neville is known for his comments and opinions, especially on Arsenal and his latest target may surprise a few supporters.
It’s not Granit Xhaka, it’s not Unai Emery or Mesut Ozil.
It might have been Shkodran Mustafi except he hasn’t been playing to merit any harsh words recently. No, the ‘underminer’ has found a new target in Bernd Leno, based on his goalkeeping gaff against Spurs before the international break.
It was a shocking error and he atoned for the mistake during the same game with a series of fine stops, but Gary Neville forgot to mention those.
Gary Neville, a failed manager but fairly rich critic said of Leno in his column:
“We talked about the goalkeeper, Bernd Leno’s mistake,”
“I don’t quite trust him.”
“I don’t think he’s anywhere near the class of the other top goalkeepers we have in the Premier league”
When strikers miss a penalty or a defender makes a howler of a mistake, it tends to be forgotten if it’s rare, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for a goalkeeper. Yet, some of the best goalkeeper in the World have made bad decisions and have cost their teams dearly.
There’s not a goalkeeper in the game today who is impervious to flapping in the high pressure, high tempo, cut and thrust of the Premier League and the standard is generally so high that it’s impossible to maintain that level through a season.
Leno gave an honest appraisal of his mistake against Arsenal rivals in the NLD when he said:
“I couldn’t catch the ball completely and then I tried to get up but Eriksen scored, it was unlucky but that is the life of a goalkeeper. For me, it was then like the team, I had to stand up.”
“It is not a big problem just because we conceded a goal, I had to stay positive and I thought after that I did a very good job. I think it was a very difficult start but then we said as a team on the pitch after going 2-0 down ‘we have to stay positive.”
A lot of the problems at Arsenal have been due to defensive lapses and poor performances from the available cover and Petr Cech found that after his move from Chelsea to Arsenal that he had a lot more work to do with a patched up, haphazard backline than he had done previously.
It’s a problem that’s still not completely resolved but if a goalkeeper isn’t afforded the right cover, his job is made a thousand times more difficult. In the North London Derby, Arsenal were pulled out of shape with the left side continuously open to counter attack and that wasn’t down to Leno.
Over recent seasons, goalkeepers have been pilloried for performances and a season or two ago it was the turn of Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris.
In 2017/18, it was Liverpool’s Loris Karius, who had a night to forget against Real Madrid in the Champions league final. Liverpool lost 3-1, with Karius single handedly playing the role of pantomime villain for two of the goals.
Peter Schmeichel, who was considered to be one of the best keepers in Manchester United’s history, was voted the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper in 1992 and 1993 yet he made numerous errors in his illustrious career.
From missing the ball completely, to passing to the oppositions striker or mistiming a dive, Schmeichel had his fair share of clangers, but United never lost faith in him. Even the greats such as Gordon Banks, Pat Jennings and Peter Shelton had off days, but it never harmed their legacy.
Leno’s gaff was poor but it certainly doesn’t define him as a keeper, similar to the underminers managerial spell with Valencia, which came to an end after just under four months.
Under Gary Neville, Valencia won just three of their 16 league games and just 10 of 28 games in total, which proves we are all human.