Friday, July 18, 2008

Scott Carson’s Questionable Move to West Bromwich Albion

After yesterday’s posts, I’m sure you all know how much I hate the “silly season” and how I can’t stand to hear the constant gossip and rumor mill concerning player transfers during the summer. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I don’t hear or read any of it; it’s everywhere and practically impossible to avoid.

Out of all the goalkeepers I’ve heard being bandied around thus far and/or ones that have already made moves — Brad Friedel, Gomes, Mark Schwarzer, Paul Robinson, Robert Green, etc. — Scott Carson is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. He’s also only 22 years old, and with the widely accepted notion that goalies don’t hit their peaks until their late 20’s/early 30’s, the sky could be the limit for Carson. He’s shown a lot of ability early in his career, and the potential to improve even more is clearly there.

That’s why I was surprised when I, to steal a line from U2 in “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”, heard the news today. Carson signed a four-year contract with West Brom, a newly-promoted team who paid Liverpool $6.5 million for his services, a fee that could rise to $7.5 million based on performance-related criteria.

Carson spent time on loan at Premiership bottom-feeders Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic before joining Aston Villa for the entirety of last season. As someone who watched Martin O’Neill’s club very often last year, I can tell you with 100% certainty that if it wasn’t for Scott Carson in goal, Villa wouldn’t have finished seventh in the league and be playing in European competitions in ‘08-’09. No one is as high on Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor, among others, as I am, but if all things were equal and Villa played exactly the same way last year with Stuart Taylor or Thomas Sorensen between the sticks instead of Carson, they’re not even a top-10 team, simple as that.

Carson was very impressive for the Birmingham-based club, probably the best English goalkeeper last season after Portsmouth’s David James, who revived his club and international career with his performances in goal. Carson thrust himself into the senior national team discussion after racking up 29 appearances at the U-21 level, second-most in England’s history.

Everyone remembers his competitive debut for England, when his horrible start allowed Croatia to jump out to a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in do-or-die Euro 2008 qualifier for the Three Lions at Wembley, but I’m not sure why people would expect much more out of a young man being thrust into a high-pressure situation like that for the first time in his life. The truth of the matter is after those early mistakes, he actually played reasonably well for the rest of the game and gave England a chance to overcome the deficit.

West Brom is going to struggle to stay up next year, to say the least. I don’t want to give too much away now regarding my Premiership picks, but suffice it to say that I believe the three teams who got promoted from the Championship last season are going to have a very short stay in England’s top division. Out of those three, West Brom has the best chance to survive, but let’s be honest. Take a look at their squad right now, even with the summer signings that have cost the club $27.5 million, and tell me who, besides Stoke City and Hull City, they can finish ahead of. Fulham? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Wigan? Nope. Sunderland? Not with Roy Keane at the helm.

Look, I understand that Carson had to leave Liverpool. He was never going to be their first-choice keeper, at least not as long as Pepe Reina was there. I get it. But West Brom is not good enough for someone who played basically every game for a European contender (Carson played 35 league games, he was ineligible for the two against Liverpool and missed another due to a red card, I believe) and at 22, established himself as, at the very least, a genuine candidate to be England’s next goalie after James calls it quits. If he would’ve waited just a couple more weeks, a possible player/cash swap involving him and Gareth Barry might’ve been on the cards between Liverpool and Villa.

He’s going to get peppered this year. No longer will he have stalwarts in Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg ahead of him to win almost every ball in the air. Instead, he’ll have to rely on the likes of Pelé (no, not that one, the one from Cape Verde), Leon Barnett, and Marek Čech to clean up the mess in the back. Please. Give me a break.

I can’t see how this is going to be a good season for Carson and his development, but at least he’ll have plenty of work. I can’t see him staying at West Brom after this season and certainly not if they’re relegated. At that point, I’d expect him to head back to a bigger Premiership club, one that has more to work with.

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