At the end of a weekend where Kirkland made the brave and condoned suggestion that Titus Bramble should be drafted into the English national side for the squad`s friendly against Slovakia at the end of March, surely the one-cap wonder himself must feel extremely harshly done by if he is not stood between the sticks at Wembley, or at least on the padded benches beside Cappello. What more can the ex-Liverpool man do?
Every single corner or cross that comes within catching distance of Chris Kirkland, it inevitably ends in his clutches. No messing around, no theatric punches that Scott Carson is so fond of, no eccentric flapping in the wind which we are never too far away with James in the picture. He launches himself into the air, towards to the ball, and grasps it firmly and without a fuss. A seemingly simple though rare commodity amongst goalkeepers, especially consistently, especially when you are in possession of a British passport.
But does he have the ability to win a match for his team with his saves? Just a bit. The number of times that Kirkland sends himself sprawling through the air to pull off the most magnificent of saves is as hard to guess as a Benitez lineup. Forward men in this league must get as dejected with seeing him stab the ball away after their goal bound efforts as we are of hearing the words ‘CARLOZ TEVEZ AFFAIR` booming from our television sets.
When he came to the fortress that is the JJB Stadium, I had seen the young keeper many times, and had a fruitful discussion with a goalkeeping coach I know at the time. We were united in our conviction that the only thing Kirkland could improve on sufficiently when fit, the only way he could advance to that next level, was to add that shot stopping capability to his artillery.
That dexterity that some keepers are just born with, to pull off a save from out of nowhere. A save as the striker is on his way to exultation with the crowd. That reflex stop that you just do not expect. He was always reliable, good in the air, composed, a decent enough shot stopper. But since joining Wigan he has added that knack of pulling off the saves that take him amongst an altogether different class of piers. That, in my opinion, has helped make him one of the best keepers in the world. A bold statement, but if you watch him, and watch as much football as I have over the last few years, there is little doubt that this assertion is true.
The only crack in his foundation, the fixation of the media when they hear the name ‘Chris Kirkland`, is a not dissimilar to what crosses our minds when we hear the name, ‘Ledley King`. The ‘dodgy back` which has prevented some of the best teams, like Arsenal, from snatching him away from the JJB.
You can see him grimace every time he completes his swing for a goal kick, wince when he climbs to his feet after what has become a trademark match winning save. He is playing through the pain barrier, and doing a damn good job with 10 clean sheets this campaign, and just the odd absence. Many players would simply sidle over to the physio room with such a restraint. Many would spend their days relaxing under the touch of a club masseur, little regret as the club deposits thousands into their accounts each week. Kirkland however is different.
He has become one of the top keepers around in spite of his injury, rather than simply alleviating himself with assurances that he`s being held back from being one of the best by his many aches. A model professional, he works hard in the gym day after day. It is well known that he spends less time on the training ground than the rest of the team, and more time in the tedious surroundings of the gym and swimming pool, trying to build the strength or relive the pain in his back. Someone who has managed such a career threatening factor and rose like the milkiest of creams to one of the Premiership`s best.
Steve Bruce commented that ‘If (Kirkland) didn’t have the problem he has with his back, he’d be England’s No 1.` Sorry, this should not be an issue for the England management. Kirkland is the best English keeper around right now and if we take Robert Green out of the equation who has shown recent weakness and James-esque eccentricity, Wigan are the highest in the Premier League with an English keeper; FACT, as Rafa would put it.
The admirable determination and resolve demonstrated by Chris in his attitude towards his injury, the way he has ridden the hurdle and has played all but one or two of Wigan`s games this season, are just further additions to a long list of reasons that he should be England number one, and not a feeble reasoning behind his repeated exclusion.
Such a quality professional and top class goalkeeper does not deserve to stand alongside Gavin McCann and Francis Jeffers as a one-cap wonder. As the England team enter the Wembley pitch against Slovakia on March 28th, John Terry will be leading the way with great pride. Without a doubt however, the man that walks in the arena right behind him, should be Wigan Athletic`s very own Chris Kirkland.
Vital Latics – Kirkland for England
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