Sam Needs to Choose His Number One Goalkeeper

Steve Harper has played well for Newcastle and will probably get the nod again on Saturday against Manchester City. But after that game Sam has to be very careful about whom he selects for the goalkeeper position.

We haven’t heard a word of dissent from Shay Given this season but we know if this is short term that’s no problem because it gives his pal Harper a decent run out in the side, which he has deserved. But there’s just no way that a goalkeeper of Shay Given’s ability will settle for sitting on the bench this season.


Shay Given – been very patient up to this point

Let’s get something straight right away – Shay Given is the best goalkeeper Newcastle United have ever had. Ronnie Simpson was a good goalkeeper in the 1950s and went onto win the European Cup with Celtic in 1967, after leaving Newcastle – but Shay is easily the best ever in our opinion.

Newcastle are not going to have any more Carling Cup games this season so the only first team games left are the premier league games and the FA Cup games. Harper has been good but it’s unlikely Shay will be happy on the bench for too much longer.

Here’s how Sam talked about the problem he has yesterday:

“Will Shay be happy on the bench? He cannot be,”“It’s impossible. But it is not about making a decision based on who will create more problems for me. It is about what you think is the right thing, or the right goalkeeper, for that particular time.”

“I chose Shay on Tuesday and if the situation had been reversed, I would have picked Steve,”

“When you have got two outstanding goalkeepers, the hardest part of the job is keeping one happy when one is not playing and the other one is in the team. That is the hardest part of management, but to have two such outstanding keepers is also very comforting.”

But Harper has made only 52 league starts in 14 years at the club. Given has played over 400 times for Newcastle in his 10 years at the club and over 80 times for Ireland. We think he is world class. So we don’t believe Sam can use this line for too much longer and think he starting to realize that.

Unless he gets some help through injury, Sam will need to decide shortly who his number one goalkeeper is. If he chooses Harper we think that will cause Shay to look for pastures anew and we wouldn’t blame him. It’s a waste of his enormous talent to sit on the bench on match-days. There’s only so much loyalty you can show in Given’s difficult position.

As we’ve said before there are many clubs, including Arsenal, who will be only too happy to accommodate Shay as their number one goalkeeper. Just watch how many clubs scramble after him if he ever becomes available. This is not a problem yet but at some point in the next few weeks Sam will have to answer the question – who’s your number one keeper?

It will be interesting to see who his choice will be.

39 comments so far

  • Tripp

    Sep 28, 2007 at 3:15 AM

    Comment #1

    Gotta go with Given. I have tremendous respect for Harper because he could have gone somewhere else and started, but he chose to stay at NUFC because he wanted to. That’s really cool and something that you don’t see much in sports these days (certainly not here in the States). That said, you’ve got to go with your number one, and Given’s mint. It’s a tough situation but great for Newcastle. Two solid netminders is a helluva “problem”.

  • joe

    Sep 28, 2007 at 3:55 AM

    Comment #2

    Agreed here. Like they say form is temporary, class is permanent. And Given is class, no questions there.
    Oh yeah just wanted to say thanks for this great site Ed! I accidentally stumbled upon it somewhere around yr 3rd post. I thought it was just another “2 weeks behind time” football blog but how wrong was I! I’ve been visiting it everyday since! 😀

  • iain

    Sep 28, 2007 at 4:08 AM

    Comment #3

    i just wonder if sam is not 100% convinced given will ever be as fit as he has been after his terrible injury vs whu (hes certainly had a few setbacks since then ).

    have we come to the point though where given isnt that important to the team, becuase as well as he always plays vs teams like arsenal we still always loose and wth krul coming through wont it be easier in say 2/3 years to drop harper and bring krul through, yet if shay stays no doubt we will be having a similar argument should shay/krul play or not.

    this day was always going to come, now at least we have a valid reason for allowing shay to leave(if he wants to) although on the other hand selling him to pl rival would be sickening as no doubt every team we faced him he would play excellent.

    i say we just wait and see it out until janury at least by then we will be able to get a clearer picture of the situation. spending months worrying over this issue and going over it teem and time again in the media will only be bad for the team imo, as it cant inspire your team if everyones not backing the man in the tam wearing the shirt on matchdays.

  • Chris

    Sep 28, 2007 at 4:30 AM

    Comment #4

    I think Sam has already chosen his number one goalkeeper and its not Shay. No-one has a god given right to the shirt and that includes Shay. Its Harper’s shirt to keep and good luck to him.

  • Graeme

    Sep 28, 2007 at 6:47 AM

    Comment #5

    Hopefully, Given has more team spirit and loyalty than to spit his dummy out and leave in January. I cant see NUFC being remotely interested in letting him go at anytime in the near future.

    Harper has done nothing to justify his being dropped, just for the sake of it, he has made no howlers this season and has played well. If he hadnt been, he would have been dropped and Given would be in goal. Competition for places is the name of the game; Harper knows he has to play at his absolute best, or Given will have his place.

    Given will get his chance, its almost a certainty in todays modern game, the question is, does he have the patience needed to wait for his chance.

  • david

    Sep 28, 2007 at 7:30 AM

    Comment #6

    Sam needs to choose his number one goalkeeper? He already has, it’s Steve Harper.

  • andyc290

    Sep 28, 2007 at 7:38 AM

    Comment #7

    Given is the better keeper but i think he’s got too much respect for Harper to demand to be put back in, he’ll be patient as Harper has been with him and naturally will end up back in goal at some point and claim his place back. Shay is a true Newcastle legend and we should never forget that!

  • apan

    Sep 28, 2007 at 7:40 AM

    Comment #8

    It is about what you think is the right thing, or the right goalkeeper, for that particular time.

    agreed, but sayin harper is no class is not fair the lads only played 52 games in his whole career while given played more than 400 games…….who knows what will happened if he played more games, mayb harper could end up being between England post

    but again given is world renowned and that might hit his ego to sit on the bench, so il vote for him if he gets his match fitness back, which he did at emirates, we dont want to lose a top goalkeeper who could easily played for 4 5 years or more…..harper wont go anywhere eventhough his on the bench his loyal as f**k, i respect him from that, we are lucky to have both in our squad

  • aaron d

    Sep 28, 2007 at 7:47 AM

    Comment #9

    we are lucky to still have Given at the club, he could easily get into Arsenals team or most premiership teams in fact. He’s been at the club 10 years and no silverware, could of gone to Man Utd before they signed Van Der Sar and had a couple of League titles. Need to keep him happy and should be first choice with out a doubt, Harper is a good goalkeeper to but not near to Givens abilty, the defense is better organised with Given between the sticks and his distribution is better too.

  • UTD111

    Sep 28, 2007 at 7:48 AM

    Comment #10

    It may be that Given’s lack of presence on crosses and natural reluctance to come off his line doesn’t fit with Sam’s approach to defending (big, strong, tall, in your face). At “only” 6ft in his socks he is also not the tallest keeper around. On the plus side his reactions and shot-stopping ability are legendary among United’s faithful. May be why Sam is rumoured to be looking at Bolton’s keeper (I said “Bolton’s keeper” so I didnt have to try and spell his name!!). We also have the talented Krul to come back with a years experience under his belt.

  • evil dick

    Sep 28, 2007 at 7:53 AM

    Comment #11

    I don’t think Sam has to choose 1. He will play who he thinks is best at that particular time. We’re just not used to having competition for places. I like that Sam has stuck by Harper because he said when he arrived he wanted the players to make it hard for him to drop them. That’s exactly what is happening.

    Given will get his chance, and when he does he will have to perform or be dropped. That should go for everyone regardless.

  • SelangorFC

    Sep 28, 2007 at 8:07 AM

    Comment #12

    Newcastle boss Allardyce eyeing Bolton No1 Jaaskelainen??????
    is this true???
    Does sam has any personal problem with Given or he need money????
    Please,after Shearer, Given newcastle 90’s legend!!

  • SelangorFC

    Sep 28, 2007 at 8:07 AM

    Comment #13

    Newcastle boss Allardyce eyeing Bolton No1 Jaaskelainen??????
    is this true???

    Does sam has any personal problem with Given or he need money????

    Please,after Shearer, Given is newcastle 90’s legend!!

  • Macas

    Sep 28, 2007 at 8:14 AM

    Comment #14

    I cant understand all the stick Harper gets on these boards. He has been playing extremely well and deserves to keep his place. Even a mackem at work said that he was excellent against West Ham. Given is a great keeper but people tend to forget the mistakes he has made every now and then throughout his career at Newcastle. Unless Harper starts making regular howlers he deserves to start.

  • iain

    Sep 28, 2007 at 8:28 AM

    Comment #15

    if MA is making sure nufc is being run as a proper business, i could understand the logic in selling given whos under contract for a decent fee and buying in someone like JJ from bolton who would be cheap as hes got less than 1 year on his bolton deal and would cost less in wages than shay i think.

    as i said earlier what good is shay even if he is better than harper if his ability has zero effect in determining results in key games like the arsenal one the other night, by the time the team catches up to the level somepeople claim given is at ie world class/best in the league he will probably be past it and we will have to bring in the inexperienced krul, who wont have got may games becuase shay wants to play all the time.

    it all depends on harpers form and will be key come january, but then you could also argue that it is the quality of the two keepers that makes them perform so well, how well would given do at arsenal with no one pushing him for his place ? which is imo why lehman makes so many clangers becuase as he has said himself he thinks almunia is crap and he will get his place back sooner or later. what motivation is there to pefrom in those circumstances ?

  • gordon

    Sep 28, 2007 at 8:32 AM

    Comment #16

    UTD111 great post i have been saying this for ages given does not command his area in the same way jussi,van der saar etc and with his groin problem is this not going to make that part of his game non existent.

  • Alex

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:02 AM

    Comment #17

    Harper has started the season so well that there is no reason to drop him.If Harper stays in form then he should remain first choice .Sam needs to pick players on current form and not on past performances.If he was to drop Harper now then that would send out the wrong message not only to steve, but also to the rest of the squad.current form is what counts ,players outside the first 11 should know that they have to work hard to get in the team, and players in the first 11 need to know that they need to stay in form to remain first choice.

  • yemozone

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:04 AM

    Comment #18

    I’m always scared watchin nufc’s match when harper is on goal because he still have tendency of making mistakes than shay.


    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:07 AM

    Comment #19

    Its about competition if Shay dose’nt have the guts to fight then let him go.
    What message does it send to the rest of the squad if Given walks straight back in. I say given be a MAN and fight for your place.

  • Lamesley Mag

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:13 AM

    Comment #20

    Given is our No-1 although expect BSA to continue playing Harper for next few weeks before PL rotation as we’re now out of the League Cup.

    In January (possibly beginning next season if loan extended) we’ll have young Krull back in the fold so expect BSA to release 1 of his star keepers, but who will it be?

  • Toon Chicken

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:22 AM

    Comment #21

    Dunno if anyone else is aware of this but Harper is currently the third best keeper in the Premiership according to Actim – the Premier League’s official stats index.

    And we all know who BSA likes his stats and his computer analysis wot-not don’t we? Maybe Shay could be warming the bench for a while longer yet.

    On the same subject, our very own Zog on the Tyne is OFFICIALLY the third best player in the Premiership! Yeehaa!! Gan on Charlie boy.

  • Ed Harrison

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:39 AM

    Comment #22

    Toon Chicken – good point – and we know Sam keeps these stats .

  • Ed Harrison

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:39 AM

    Comment #23

    Yes we saw that for the Zog – see how far ahead of everyone Fabregas is – wow.

  • Toon Chicken

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:46 AM

    Comment #24

    Ed – I know, he’s a bit special that boy though isn’t he? I mentioned on a post the other day that I thought Zog could be making an early bid for Young Player of the Year – I obviously forgot about Fabregas.

  • Johann

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:53 AM

    Comment #25

    Yea fabregas will win both player and young player most likely.
    About the goalkeeping situation it´s prety simple. Just sell given we don´t need him. let´s see what “big” teams want our small goalkeeper haha. You´re in for a shock and given also. Steve Harper is there on merit and ever since the robson days I have thought he was better than given. I don´t remember more than one mistake that harper has done that led to a goal. And that was when he was suddenly pushed in the frame(that mishap with his left foot). Give Harper a chance, you´ææ see how good he is.

  • valle

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:56 AM

    Comment #26

    I dont see why we need to take these risks, Given wont accept a place on the bench Harper will. So if Given start, we will be able to keep 2 class keepers, and since Given is better it really makes no sense to me to create this problem.

  • hadrian

    Sep 28, 2007 at 10:14 AM

    Comment #27

    rotate them , thats the holy grail all prem clubs are working towards these days isnt it?
    players 100% fit on match day or there is someone else to cover .
    my faith in big sam will be lost if todays rumors about him wanting boltons keeper are half true .

  • Chappa

    Sep 28, 2007 at 10:14 AM

    Comment #28

    shay given all day long..! although in my opinion i think steve harper is 2 good to be a number 2 keeper.

  • Dee

    Sep 28, 2007 at 10:45 AM

    Comment #29

    Yeah Chappa is right – I’m not saying this to be dramatic, but Harper might be one of the best 2nd choice keepers out of any team I can think of. The only other one I can think of is Carlo Cuddici at chelsea, and I even think Harper is at his standard.

  • Craig Allen

    Sep 28, 2007 at 10:58 AM

    Comment #30

    Off topic but staying on the subject of stats, I see Zog is rated second best midfielder in the premiership after fabregas. Zog’s played left back this season more than in midfield and yet is ranked second. This lad is top quality!

    As for Sam, he’s already decided, it seems his mind has been made up. Harper is his number 1. This is where I disagree with Sam, but I’ll leave it at that. He’s the coach, not me. I hope Harper doesn’t make any silly mistakes this season while keeping. I only hope – for Sam and Steve’s sake.

  • Jóhann

    Sep 28, 2007 at 12:09 PM

    Comment #31

    I hope Harper doesn’t make any silly mistakes this season while keeping. I only hope – for Sam and Steve’s sake.

    Why do you say that? Why do you undermine Harper like that. With saying that sentence alone you are expecting mistakes from Harper. What makes you think he´ll make a mistake? Nothing I have seen has suggested that in my opinion. No I don´t think it was a mistake that he didn´t kick the ball far enough last sunday in the opening stages of the game.
    The thing I love with Harper is that he so calm and safe and that he uses BOTH hands when throwing the ball and he is very quick at doing that.
    As I say managers in the past have choicen Given and we have not had any success. Now a manger chooses Harper, will the success we have been craving finally come?

  • Craig Allen

    Sep 28, 2007 at 12:18 PM

    Comment #32

    I say that based on Harper’s past alone. I have no foresight which is why I say I hope.

    Are you saying Harper has not made any silly mistakes that cost us in the past? I re-iterate, I hope. I say that based on his past. No, I have nothing tangible that suggests he will.

    You’ve alluded to Given costing us any trophies which is a far more controversial statement than the one I made. You don’t rate Given- that’s fine. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Mine is I think Given’s better. We can agree to disagree – it’s no biggie.

  • mo

    Sep 28, 2007 at 1:59 PM

    Comment #33

    It sends out the wrong message if given replaces harper when harper is playing well. But i don’t see people complaining when this is exactly whats going on with owen and martins. As soon as owen gets fit he will replace martins even if martins is playing really well. I think that this isn’t fair and you can see that it is affecting his confidence.

  • Johann

    Sep 28, 2007 at 2:58 PM

    Comment #34

    I know it´s no “biggie” 🙂 My memory aint the greatest about these things when remembering mistakes because I don´t well on them. I remember one when Harper miskicked the ball but there haven´t been any other I remember that have really cost us. And what I hate about this is that you think Given is such an angel that he has never made a mistake, haha. You just never highlight the mistakes of your socalled legend. I´m fine with you thinking he is the better keeper. I do rate him, absoloutly but i will never say he is one of the best keeper in the premiership. For a small keeper to be so good today is nearly impossible(not impossible there may come such a keeper that is as dominant in the air as a big one and so on). And I do think Given has been at fault for all those defensive mishaps in the past. Don´t you remember how great Bramble was at Ipswich? But Given would be a very able deputy and if the great wenger himself will want to buy him I will be truly shocked!

  • John

    Sep 28, 2007 at 5:32 PM

    Comment #35

    Given for me… A true nufc legend

    lets not forget how many times he won NUFC player of the year, Irish player of the year. AND, yes, although harper is playing well now, but let’s not forget that Shay was brilliant during the arsenal game too!

    for me, give harper a chance (since he deserves it) but i seriously dun believe he will keep that no 1 jersey for long. It won’t be too long before we see shay back in action. He’s NUFC vice captain as well as Ireland. he commands respect from the players and esp the fans. i sincerely hope BS will not let him go in jan. It would be such a shame. 🙁

  • Sinead

    Sep 28, 2007 at 6:23 PM

    Comment #36

    As I say managers in the past have choicen Given and we have not had any success. Now a manger chooses Harper, will the success we have been craving finally come?

    Are you kidding me, are you actually serious?? Cause if you are you’re no Newcastle supporter. I can’t actually believe you just said that..seriously, what a langer.

    So many of ye are saying it’ll be good for the club, it’ll be great blah, blah, blay.

    For a second think don’t think about the club think about the 2 players involved who happen to be human in case ye forget.

    Given is better then Harper I don’t care what form Harper has been on Given is the better keeper, someone that good will not be happy on the bench, it’s not about being stropy which Given isn’t, it’s not about throwing his dummy out of the pram it’s about a world class keeper wanting to play first team football. “Team spirit and loyalty”..I think he’s shown he has that in numbers unlike certain players. If it was you there you wouldn’t be happy and don’t talk to me about fighting for a place, oh it’d be a honour, he’s given alot back to Newcastle more then it’s given him. If Harper’s as good as some of ye say, he’s been fighting to keep it for the length he’s been there he’s fought for it all season so far and it’s clear for some reason or another that Harper is Sam’s number onen. It is clear that he prefers Harper.

    Given isn’t happy about that, why should he be. Ye talk about rotating them, be realistic here now like, that’s not going to work and it’d be impossible for them to keep top form while keeping them both happy. Don’t talk to me about Given not wanting a chalenge, not being in for the fight, because that’s just insulting to him really like. He stayed behind what was an excuse for a “defense” when really he would have been better off leaving. He’s too good to sit on the bench and the majority of the people realise that. He’s been loyal, so loyal when he could have left years ago.

    “Its about competition if Shay dose’nt have the guts to fight then let him go.
    What message does it send to the rest of the squad if Given walks straight back in. I say given be a MAN and fight for your place

    One word for ya..Owen.
    No guts..NO GUTS. I wont even bother defending that, I really shouldn’t have to.

    But now the vast majority of ye think that ye don’t need him any more. That’s fine (and ye boast about loyalty) I didn’t realise how big headed some of ye were you have an ok run against mid/bottom half

    I saw Harper last season, he’s not the most confidence inspiring person like. He’s not as good as Given, and we saw that last season.

    “Sam Allardyce has admitted he may have to let Shay Given leave St James’ Park if he cannot guarantee the goalkeeper a starting berth.”

    He probally will, he’s probally more interested in getting a good price for him. It’d be a mistake but Given will probally go and it’ll be a sad goodbye and in the long run probally mistake..form is temporary and that’s unfortunate in Steve’s case and Sam’s I suppose.

    Sam needs to pick and well he already has, nothing Shay does will change that and it’s just a matter of time before Shay leaves.

  • Sinead

    Sep 28, 2007 at 9:10 PM

    Comment #37

    He’s NUFC vice captain as he, Smith had the armband against Arsenal, he deserves it being at the club for so long and showing extreme loyalty, oh ya.

    Shay is a massive influence in the dressing room, maybe that’s Sam’s problem. I don’t know.

  • beni

    Sep 29, 2007 at 3:49 AM

    Comment #38

    this is juz crap. i really appreciate harper for his undyin love and loyalty for the club. but given is the better keeper. if big sam’s gonna select based on form, why is owen ahead of martins??

  • Sinead

    Sep 29, 2007 at 12:26 PM

    Comment #39

    It’s down to this though, it’s whoever he chooses today is more then likely his first keeper and the other will be gone come January/the end of the season. I’ve a feeling, unfortunatley it’ll be Shay on the bench.


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