Given the losses Southampton’s suffered this summer, goalkeeper didn’t look like that club’s top priority. Last year’s number one, Artur Buroc, is still on the books, as is backup Paulo Gazzaniga, while United States prospect Cody Cropper seemed to be one of the team’s goalkeepers of the future. With long-time Saint Kelvin Davis also hanging around, Southampton could almost afford to sell.
But news that Saints are close to sealing a $17 million deal for Celtic’s Fraser Forster is a reminder: Goalkeeping, particularly evaluating it, is a very funny thing. Whereas one manager may prefer a pure shot-stopper, another may put more value in preventing shots before they get off. One boss may consider whatever a keeper offers with his feet a bonus, while others see it as a potentially defining part of a goalie’s game. Where some coaches prioritize consistency and stability, some accept the erratic if it comes with the spectacular.
Forster is certainly capable of the spectacular, but having spent the last four years in the wilting Scottish Premier League, it’s difficult to tell how good he is, though his time in Champions League hints he should be an improvement on Boruc. But the last experience he had in England, loaned from Newcastle to Norwich four years ago, was in the third tier. At 26 years old, Forster will be getting his first real taste of English soccer at the highest level.
Given the club’s other needs — apparently depleted in defense; having lost Ricky Lambert and Adam Lallana in attack — it’s a curious use of £10 million, but Ronald Koeman just may not feel comfortable with Boruc. Or, maybe he just wants more competition, and between Gazzaniga (22 years old) and Cropper (21), the new boss at St. Marys may not see players capable of providing it. Though Saints’ have issues elsewhere, Koeman may have seen goalkeeping as a primary concern.
Granted, the extent to which Saints have needs elsewhere is debatable. Go down the roster and put names to positions, and you see a team that has all its needs covered; at least, in terms of its starting XI. Players like Lallana, Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw, and Calum Chambers are gone, but Koeman has Gastón Ramírez, Graziano Pellè, Maya Yoshida, Ryan Bertrand, and Nathaniel Clyne in their places. Players like Jack Cork, James Ward-Prowse, Sam Gallagher, could be ready for bigger roles, while more talent coming through the academy — Matt Targett, Jack Stephens, Harrison Reed — will help cushion the fall. Add in other acquisitions, like Algerian international Saphir Raïder and Serbian international Dusan Tadic, and Koeman has a number of options. While the names aren’t as recognized as those he’s lost, Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement won’t be dealing with a bare cupboard.
Perhaps that’s why Forster was a priority. Koeman, after working with his team over the last month, may be upgrading instead of filling holes. If Boruc isn’t his preferred style of keeper, it’s not hard to see why the new boss would swap one former Celtic keeper in for another.