Having survived Norwich City’s ruthless academy system to earn a professional contract, the 19-year-old Remi Matthews could hardly have expected that he would leave his boyhood club 5 years down the line without making a single competitive first team appearance.
The addition of experienced top-flight goalkeeper Tim Krul left Matthews clinging to City by his fingertips, but fortunately for him, another Championship club swooped to prevent a great fall. With the transfer window having closed early this year, he has joined Bolton Wanderers on loan until January – here, the move will become permanent.
His story, of a mid-20s goalkeeper waiting to truly kick start his career, is all too familiar. All young goalkeepers face the same catch 22, and like many others, Matthews fell victim to it. The key to great goalkeeping is consistency and limiting mistakes, and inexperienced goalkeepers can only develop this consistency through high level first-team football. But managers so often fail to give young goalkeepers the necessary first-team football, through fear they will make mistakes!
It’s a tough reality for Matthews to face, and considering the short length of the ‘football career’, he will likely look back on the last 5 years wondering what more he could have done. The signing of Tim Krul and his bags of Premier League experience suggests City were after more practiced hands defending the goal this season. But how do we expect to bring through our own great goalkeepers if we refuse to sufficiently practice their hands?
Tim Krul’s home debut against West Brom last weekend showed the difference just a year away from first-team football makes, even to the most experienced of goalkeepers. A combination of injury trouble and the good form of Australia number 1 Matt Ryan prevented him from making any league appearances for Brighton last season, and so far, his performances for City have struggled to shake that off.
At present, his reactions and anticipation aren’t matching the standard we know he can reach: this is the reason for the stunned silence that fell over Carrow Road when Jay Rodriguez’s long-shot squirmed through the Dutchman’s hands. He has largely opted to parry when it was safest to catch, and failed to get his body safely behind the ball for the catches he has tried to make.
But will he be dropped for these mistakes? Of course not, and I don’t believe he should be. Krul is fortunate to have Premier League experience behind him, giving Daniel Farke confidence that he will return to consistent top form with some more first-team football under his belt. And I think he’s right.
But for the likes of Remi Matthews, there remains little evidence from his time at Norwich City that with more playing time, he can be a Championship level goalkeeper. And unfortunately, it’s because no-one has given him the chance to develop the required consistency, or to prove that he already possesses it. I only hope Bolton give him that opportunity.