As you made your way home from E13 after we beat Villa, I wonder how many of you allowed yourselves a rye smile as the news of Swansea’s five goal haul filtered through from Loftus Road?
How many Hammers turned to their fellow fans and said: “Oh dear, doesn’t look good for Rob Green”. And if you listen to the speculation running rife through the media at present then it really doesn’t. Now if Mark Hughes feels the need to strengthen his squad then fair enough, but if it’s in fear that he has signed a keeper light on ability and confidence on the back of Saturday’s result, well that would be a mistake.
Green was undoubtedly at fault for the first goal and you knew the commentators wouldn’t hesitate to mention Rustenburg and speculative long-range shots but I honestly don’t think in his prime Lev Yashin could have done much about the other four goals QPR let in. Any goalkeeper would struggle with the level of defending on show that day. I lost count of how many point-earning saves Green produced for us last season, yet still there seems a feeling among the Upton Park faithful that Green was a “dodgy” keeper.
“No presence, can’t kick, distribution all over the place” being one of the kinder descriptions overheard on the District Line. Yet the same critics were no doubt slating him for leaving. Well whatever his reasons, he’s gone. He served our club well and now he’s got himself a bigger pay day, but not at a bigger club. A cardinal sin to some, but I say good luck to him.
Of course Green leaving left us with a problem, who do we replace him with? The situation was made harder with the departures of our back up keepers Stetch, Kurucz and Boffin. Although it would have been more difficult if Boffin had stayed. Let’s just say anyone who saw him warm up, let alone play would have had good reason to worry if Avram’s signing had gone on to somehow claim the number one jersey.
At last season’s away game at Fratton Park, I bored anyone who was within earshot rigid in my praise for Portsmouth’s goalkeeper Stephen Henderson. “If Rob Green ever does leave we could do much worse than sign this fella” I spouted to people with glazed eyes. I know this is no guarantee of ability but Henderson comes from a long line of goalkeepers, his grandfather, father, and two of his uncles have all played in goal for Irish clubs. And Henderson himself has represented the Republic at U-15, U16, U-19 and U-21 level. Called up for a full international against the Czech Republic but he has yet to make his début.
However the promise is there for all to see and he has already served his time out on loan to several lower league sides whilst on Bristol City’s books. When he joined Portsmouth as back up to Jamie Ashdown, Henderson bided his time until the number one’s loss of form gave him an opportunity to make the position his own – something which the young Dubliner did with great aplomb.
When you watch Henderson play, there is still a rawness to his sense of positioning, but his distribution and the command he shows of his area prove there is great promise and the club have done very well to snap up such a talented young player for such a small fee. When you consider the likely prices of the two English keepers who represented Great Britain at the Olympics, Henderson seems an excellent bit of business.
Once it became clear that the rumours were true and Rob Green did leave the club, the search for his replacement took on a new level of urgency. West Ham were linked with Paul Robinson, Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor to name just three. But given Big Sam’s habit of returning to former clubs and snaffling up his previous favourites (Colin Todd actually bought Jussi to The Trotters, Sam inherited him) it was only a matter of time before we would be linked with Bolton’s Jussi Jääskeläinen.
The Finnish stoppers previous class has never been in doubt and his record for Wanderers was outstanding, making 530 appearances for the club across all competitions. But having spent 15 reasonably successful years with Bolton, Jääskeläinen rejected a new two year contract following their relegation to The Championship and he completed a move to The Hammers soon afterwards.
The general consensus seems to be “great player six years ago, couldn’t get in the first team of a relegated side, not sure he’s still up to it” and it seemed for a while that he’d been bought in to perform the back up role and this line of reasoning seemed close to the mark as West Ham were linked with another goalkeeper. However, this turned out to be 19-year-old Swiss goalie Raphael Spiegel, again a talented player but one more likely to be fending off academy keepers Sam Baxter and Jake Larkins in the Premier Under-21 league than pushing for a first team start.
So as the second game of pre-season arrived with a trip to Boreham Wood FC, we wondered who would win the right to wear the number one shirt for the mighty Irons and Jussi played well enough that evening, showing a real command of his area, always talking to his players and marshalling the defence with an air of authority. With the team having conceded three goals a few days prior in the match away at Austria Vienna, it was good to see the trip to the land of chocolate had begun to wash away some of the rust.
Although they took it in fairly equal turns throughout pre season, not many doubted that the Finnish international would step out to face the Villains. In truth, we didn’t really see enough to make our minds up as to Jääskeläinen’s ability to still cut it as a top class goalkeeper in the best league in the world as Villa were pretty uninspired and barely troubled our goal. He performed his duties well enough whenever he was called into action, but I fear there are much tougher tests to come over the season.