The curious case of Newcastle United goalkeepers under Rafa Benitez

Newcastle United v Everton FC - Premier League
Newcastle United v Everton FC - Premier League
James Drakeford

Between 1991 and 2015, four goalkeepers dominated the number one berth at Newcastle United. Pavel Srnicek made 152 appearances for the club between 1991-98 and 2006-07. Shay Given played 354 times (1997-2003), Steve Harper clocked up 157 appearances (1993-2013), and Tim Krul played 152 times (2006-2015 - with a further 8 appearances in 2015/16).

Tommy Wright, Mike Hooper and Shaka Hislop did give Pav stiff competition at various stages throughout his Toon career but it is safe to say that for almost a quarter of a century, the number one jersey was almost as assured as the famous number nine shirt.

Since taking over as manager on 11 March 2016, however, Rafa Benitez has already rolled the dice numerous times on the identity of his first choice keeper. Following relegation to the Championship, Benitez made the £5 million acquisition of Matz Sels from Belgian side Gent a priority. But his run in the first team lasted just nine games, culminating in a calamitous performance against Aston Villa on 24 September 2016.

Two goalkeepers already on the books at Newcastle when Rafa took over, Rob Elliott and Karl Darlow, both enjoyed short spells in Rafa's favour, but the fact the Spaniard was compelled to sign a new keeper in the first place made it clear he did not rate either option as his preferred choice. A fourth – and current – first-choice goalkeeper then arrived in January 2018 with the initial loan signing and eventual permanent deal for Martin Dubravka.

A man of the match performance on his debut against Manchester United made the Slovakian international an instant hit with the Toon faithful and he has continued to enjoy a spell in the first team berth ever since – playing all 38 Premier League games in the 2018/19 campaign. Even so, Rafa Benitez is believed to be ready to bring in another first-team goalkeeper with the Daily Express reporting an interest in PSG shot-stopper Kevin Trapp.

This would not be the first time Benitez has ruthlessly changed goalkeepers during his managerial career, however, with the Spaniard famously replacing Jerzy Dudek for Pepe Reina shortly after the Polish goalkeeper's heroics in the Champions League final for Liverpool in 2005.

Dubravka had a few wobbles last season with costly errors against Wolves, Spurs and Man United which could still be fresh on Benitez's mind. Likewise, the 30-year-old was consistently linked with a move to Juventus during the 2018/19 campaign and the rumours have failed to dampen during the early stages of close season.

It could be a case of preparing a plan B should Dubravka decide to leave or maybe it is an attempt to increase competition – in which case we can expect to see both Darlow and Elliott move on this summer.

Either way, with Dubravka and Trapp at slightly more advanced stages of their careers, we could be some way off having another first-choice goalkeeper enjoying such longevity at the club. Then again, with England Under 21 international Freddie Woodman on the books, perhaps he could be the final throw of the dice in years to come.

Edited by Amar Anand


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