MARTIN SAMUEL: Pick your best goalkeeper for games which really matter!

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Zack Steffen cost Manchester City their FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, but that’s OK. It doesn’t matter whether City win the FA Cup this year, or any year now their history has changed.

City have evolved to stand with the giants of European football. Nobody there loses sleep over an FA Cup defeat, at any stage. They did the domestic treble in 2018-19 and it is barely considered.

West Ham are different. West Ham haven’t won a major trophy in 42 years. West Ham haven’t played in a European semi-final since 1976. They are now three games from qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in their history. These are matches that could change the future narrative and status of the club. And yet, if David Moyes stays true to previous rounds, he will not pick his best team.

Zack Steffen cost Manchester City their FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool - but that’s OK

Zack Steffen cost Manchester City their FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool – but that’s OK

That XI has Lukasz Fabianski in goal. He’s West Ham’s first-choice goalkeeper by some distance; one of the most talented they’ve ever had down there. Yet in the Europa League this season, Moyes uses his understudy, Alphonse Areola.

He’s a loan signing, from Paris Saint-Germain. He’s been fine, if a little flaky. But Fabianski is better, and if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have started 32 Premier League games this season.

So what is this about? When did goalkeepers start needing such stringent rotation? And when did a club of West Ham’s stature become Manchester City? Leicester still pick Kasper Schmeichel in the Europa Conference League: because it matters.

It is fine for the brilliant Ederson to be City’s man for the Premier League and Champions League. City might win either of those trophies. Ederson has collected three titles as a first-team regular and played in a Champions League final. Pep Guardiola’s policy is not stifling his ambition.

But Fabianski? He plays in a competition West Ham have no chance of winning barring a miracle of Leicester proportions and sits out the three trophies potentially in their grasp.

West Ham got to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals this year, Crystal Palace were in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. Leicester have reached the semi-final of the Conference League. So, for Fabianski – for any goalkeeper at a club of West Ham’s size – cup football provides the chance for glory. And he sits that out.

Not on Sunday. He was there on Sunday for a draw with Burnley behind eight exhausted players, who had given everything in Lyon on Thursday night. Just as he was for the same scenario after the Sevilla game, when West Ham lost at Tottenham, and in the defeat by Brentford that followed the first leg against Lyon.

Fabianski turns out to be the man for a season fizzling out to mid-table mediocrity; his understudy may be heading towards what could be a transformational occasion.

Had West Ham won their last UEFA final, in the 1976 European Cup-Winners’ Cup against Anderlecht, it would not have changed the club. This is different. If West Ham could somehow find their way into the Champions League it has the potential to alter their future path. 

David Moyes has picked No 2 Alphonse Areola (pictured) in the Europa League over Lukasz Fabianski

Fabianski (pictured) turns out to be the man for a season fizzling out to mid-table mediocrity; his understudy may be heading towards what could be a transformational occasion

David Moyes has picked Alphonse Areola (L) in the Europa League over Lukasz Fabianski (R)

Look at what the competition did for Tottenham, for Leicester. West Ham in the Champions League might fancy their chances of keeping Declan Rice even if Manchester United did come calling; West Ham in the Champions League would play in a bigger stadium than Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.

So this isn’t like giving the second string a run out at Colchester in the cup. Things change. When West Ham set out in the Europa League it was a lovely adventure. It just got serious.

When will West Ham next stand a chance of qualifying for the Champions League through league position? When will they be fancied to finish ahead of three of the big six? This is it. It is arguably the biggest sequence of games in the club’s history. And Moyes might rest one of his best players?

Where is the logic? At Wembley on Sunday, Thomas Tuchel played his first choice, Edouard Mendy, for Chelsea, while Crystal Palace went with their second string, Jack Butland. 

Yet that was a huge opportunity for Palace. Butland wasn’t the reason they lost, but equally, he didn’t save them either. Mendy made one fabulous stop to prevent Chelsea from going behind in the first half when they looked leggy. Would Kepa Arrizabalaga have made it? We will never know. But he’s second choice for a reason. 

Arrizabalaga was Chelsea’s Carabao Cup goalkeeper – until the final. He was FA Cup goalkeeper, until the quarter-final at Middlesbrough. Circumstances alter. And if that’s true at Chelsea, it’s certainly true at West Ham.

Guardiola can say what he likes. He made a mistake with Steffen. He wasn’t at fault for one goal on Saturday, he should have done better with three. And he was culpable in the same match a year ago, when City lost to Chelsea. He doesn’t look good enough for what Guardiola asks of his goalkeepers, and the gulf between him and Ederson is enormous.

Yet who cares? It is only the FA Cup. We all know City’s priorities in this campaign, and all others. West Ham’s could not be more different. Villarreal, this season’s Champions League semi-finalists, are only in the competition because they won the Europa League a year ago. 

So this isn’t a rehearsal, it’s not a dry run. These are the weeks that could change the history of a club like West Ham. They need their best team.

SPARE US DELUSIONAL NORMAN’S WISDOM  

Many years ago I was in a band called The Academic Hamiltons. The best thing about us was the name. It might have helped if the drummer could keep time, but there you go. He improved the sound greatly by leaving to pursue a career in sports journalism, but that’s another story.

Anyway, one day a promoter called to try to book us for a benefit concert for the unemployed, which was ironic because the unemployed were making more money than we were. There was certainly going to be no payment for this gig. The promoter made one final plea. ‘Look, this could be very big for you,’ he said. ‘I shouldn’t tell you this, but I’ve just turned down The Who.’

Tony, our guitarist, spoke first. ‘What, mate, on your f****** stereo?’ I thought about that conversation when Greg Norman plugged the rebel Saudi Arabian golf tour with a similarly intrepid claim. ‘I had a player who’s won a couple of major championships sitting in my very office here 48 hours ago,’ he said. 

Greg Norman confirmed Saudi Arabian golf tour would go ahead with a mystery field

Greg Norman confirmed Saudi Arabian golf tour would go ahead with a mystery field 

And that could be Bubba Watson; but it could also be John Daly, or Sandy Lyle, or Mark O’Meara or Andy North. Dustin Johnson is a two-time major winner, but so is Tony Jacklin. Specifics, please. They’ve got some front, these guys. 

Confirming the Saudi tour would go ahead with its mystery field, Norman seemed to want credit for not overshadowing, ahem, Tiger Woods’ return at Augusta. Seriously.

‘We’ve respected the Masters and let it go off, but now our journey is finally coming to fruition…’ he began. Does he not know how this sounds? Respected the Masters? Let it go off? As if this shameless money-grabbing breakaway, the empty spoils of which have failed to entice the only golfers in the world worth watching, was a rival. 

In the same way, The Academic Hamiltons did play for the unemployed but, sad to report, the poor remain with us.

EMMA MUST BE SPURRED BY A FIGHT TO STAY FIT 

Emma Raducanu is in her first full season as a professional tennis player. There are always going to be some casualties. Toenails, skin. 

Blisters are an occupational hazard in tennis; so too a finder’s fee at the pedicurist. One imagines many young players go through this. 

What is also true, however, is that the greatest athletes find ways to manage the physical challenges and stay fit. Raducanu must do this swiftly, too, if she is to live up to her high ambitions. 

There’s no such thing as a fragile champion. 

Emma Raducanu must find ways to manage the physical challenges of tour life and stay fit

Emma Raducanu must find ways to manage the physical challenges of tour life and stay fit

RESPECT IS A TWO WAY STREET, GRANIT 

Arsenal won a few games a short while back so it was time for a round of self-aggrandisement. Granit Xhaka used the opportunity to record how wronged he had been by the fans.

‘I have never had a problem with criticism,’ he said, which sat rather awkwardly with his assertion that it almost forced him out of the club, ‘but to be booed by your own fans? As a captain? That is about respect. That day I felt very disrespected.’

Xhaka went on to address his poor disciplinary record. ‘The cards have always been part of my game,’ he added. ‘If I’m late in a tackle, it’s because I’m fighting for Arsenal. If I lose my temper, it’s because I care. Sometimes maybe I care too much.’

Give over. If Xhaka really cared, he’d be twice the player. He’d work harder to get into position so he wasn’t late into tackles, he’d control his temper so he didn’t place his team in jeopardy. That, too, would constitute respect. For the club and their fans. 

Then he might get some back. Nobody gets booed for trying or caring too much. Ask Timo Werner.

ROWLEY REALLY WAS AN ARSENAL LEGEND 

It is called recruitment now, or development. Technical director, maybe, or director of football. All very posh. 

When Steve Rowley did it for Arsenal, he was just the chief scout; but his sound judgments helped build a modern club. His first recruit was a teenager who was training with West Ham at the time, Tony Adams. 

He persuaded a 16-year-old Cesc Fabregas to leave Barcelona, spotted Gael Clichy, got in another Romford boy, Ray Parlour, moved swiftly so Robin van Persie did not sign as planned for PSV Eindhoven. 

Of course, Arsene Wenger’s knowledge of the French market changed Arsenal too, but Rowley filled in the gaps, and more, across a career that spanned 37 years at the club. He died this week at the age of 63. Fabregas called him a true Arsenal legend. 

That’s a simple title, too; but it’s wholly deserved. 

NO WAY LUKAKU STAYS AT CHELSEA 

Joe Cole said Romelu Lukaku has six weeks to save his career at Chelsea, but from here he looks done. Not least because Thomas Tuchel is now likely to be the coach next season, and has made his feelings known.

With the change of ownership, a player cannot just wait out the inevitable managerial dismissal under Roman Abramovich any more.

Eden Hazard saw off Jose Mourinho that way; Antonio Rudiger bided his time until Frank Lampard was gone. Lukaku looks stuck with Tuchel, who no longer trusts him to lead the line. Timo Werner now appears more the player Chelsea thought they’d bought. 

Lukaku never has. Chelsea need a goalscorer, several defenders, and a way to finance that. Lukaku’s gone.

Romelu Lukaku looks stuck with Thomas Tuchel, who no longer trusts him to lead the line

Romelu Lukaku looks stuck with Thomas Tuchel, who no longer trusts him to lead the line

BEWARE THE SOCIAL MEDIA TRIAL OF SHIELS 

Marissa Callaghan spoke staunchly in support of beleaguered Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels, whose comments about emotion in women’s football had attracted such ire. 

‘He is a man of integrity who cares for us like a family,’ she said. 

As captain, Callaghan no doubt recognises the difference between a person who is genuinely doing something for women’s football in her country, and those who score easy points pontificating about it on social media. 

FURY NOT THE SHY AND RETIRING TYPE 

Who could have imagined that Tyson Fury’s claim to be retiring after the Dillian Whyte fight would turn out to be just more sales spin? 

For a fight with ‘No hype needed’ as its tagline, there does seems to be an awful lot of it about. 

Not to mention giant billboards, and promotion in every BT Sport advertising break and commentary. As for Fury to retire? Oh, behave. There’s more chance of Daniel Kinahan turning himself in. 

Who could have imagined that Tyson Fury’s claim to be retiring after the Dillian Whyte fight would turn out to be just more sales spin?

Who could have imagined that Tyson Fury’s claim to be retiring after the Dillian Whyte fight would turn out to be just more sales spin? 

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