Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
It had to come to this eventually. Finally I must address the question on everyone’s lips and compare the relative merits of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Manuel Neuer and on-loan Wolves youth goalkeeper Jon Flatt.
There’s been some debate recently about how to evaluate the contribution a player makes to a team, stimulated by the Ballon d’Or shortlist. Usually these awards are the domain of the goal scoring superstar, a fact reflected by the hegemony Ronaldo and Messi have had on the award in recent years. No doubt their grip on the trophy will be maintained this year, but the identity of the third player on the shortlist has stirred some interest. Neuer, the outstanding goalkeeper in Germany World Cup winning side and Pep Guardiola’s imperious Bayern Munich is undoubtedly the best goalie in the world.
Whether a goalkeeper’s value in a side, rarely able to influence creative matters and reliant on protection from his defence, warrants an individual reward has sparked some argument and demanded an examination of just how you evaluate a player’s performance. Which is where Flatt’s efforts on a windswept December afternoon in an FA Trophy match in front of 600-odd people comes in.
The reason I’m asking the question is simple: I’m struggling to recall a better performance by a Wrexham player.
Flatt was brilliant. He made a series of stupendous saves to deny Southport and keep us in the FA Trophy by earning a replay. Whether we actually wanted to play a replay and stay in the competition is irrelevant.
You certainly would struggle to come up with an individual display that would have such an impact on a game’s scoreline. Quite simply, without him we lost. Heavily.
A couple of the saves Flatt made were outstanding, particularly one at full stretch to claw the ball away when a sliced clearance by Manny Smith seemed to be past him. As the second half settled into a miserable pattern of Southport attacking and Wrexham swiftly giving the ball back to them to try again, the sheer volume of saves Flatt had to make became both remarkable and embarrassing.
Flatt’s performance was brilliant and deserved commemoration. But in looking to quantify its value it’s important to understand its context. Neuer is unusual in that goalkeepers usually tend to stand out only when their team is struggling because if you play for a strong side you’re likely to have a quiet time. Of the four Wrexham keepers to have won the player of the year award in its 39 years, Eddie Niedzwiecki starred in a relegation campaign and Mark Morris triumphed in a year we finished bottom of the Fourth Division!
Flatt’s performance not only illustrated his ability; throw in the excellence of young Ross White in front of him as well and it flagged up a below-par performance the likes of which we really can’t afford to repeat.