One of the subplots of this summer, lost among talk of Kylian Mbappé, a €100 million arriving midfielder, and a Champions League-winning defender rolling up, has been the situation in goal for Real Madrid.
There can be absolutely no doubt that Thibaut Courtois is the undisputed first choice at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu — and with good reason — but that leaves Carlo Ancelotti with a problem to solve. How do you keep 23-year-old Andriy Lunin happy?
The Ukrainian reportedly made it clear that he wanted more first team opportunities this season, whether that was at Real Madrid or elsewhere, after seeing Courtois start 50 of 54 games in all competitions in 2021/22.
It seems that the Italian mastermind will look to give Lunin minutes in cup competitions to compensate his hunger for opportunities, but it presents a long-term challenge for Los Blancos to retain his services, or even to start thinking of an alternative back-up shot-stopper for 2022/23 or beyond.
Here, we’ll consider the five different profiles of goalkeeper who could perform the role and what options, and precedents, Real Madrid could follow in solving one of the squad’s potential problem positions.
This is the budget-friendly option which offers, arguably, the least protection for any injuries or suspensions to Courtois, but is unlikely to be on the end of too much criticism from a fan base who love seeing their own success.
The example: It’s been some time, but the last one was Antonio Adán. Adán benefitted from emerging at the same time that Jose Mourinho was looking for anyone but Iker Casillas. That benefitted Adan — boy who had joined the club at the age of 10. He made 18 appearances for the club in total before moving on to Italy in search of regular first team football following a controversial decision from Mourinho, where, in a game against Ajax, he opted to give Pepe the captain’s armband — ignoring Adán’s time in the club’s youth system.
The solution: Tony Fuidias. With the club since the age of 12, he has been Raúl Gonzalez’s first choice goalkeeper with Castilla and was often seen on the first team bench throughout the campaign as Carlo Ancelotti called him up on 29 occasions.
This would be a talented youngster who isn’t yet at his best and could benefit from a spell as second choice while learning from one of the best in the world. It’s a win-win situation, as it provides invaluable experience to the player and a worthy back-up to the club, but is often a short-term fix.
The example: This is the case for Andriy Lunin. Having joined at 19, he made five first team appearances in four years, with loan spells at Leganés, Real Valladolid and Real Oviedo. However, he’s now reached the point of frustration where he wants his own game time, but Real Madrid can’t afford to give him up.
The solution: Giorgi Mamardashvili. His debut campaign with Valencia was impressive and he made a permanent loan deal to Mestalla this summer. The Georgian is a big presence in goal, much like Courtois, and while he has been error prone at times, he kept eight clean sheets in 18 appearances last season. It seems unlikely that Real Madrid would pursue such a transfer, particularly given that it looks most likely that Lunin will remain at the club long-term.
In this case, the ‘average’ option takes the form of a goalkeeper, usually Spanish, to help fulfill homegrown quotas, and said player may be doing an acceptable job elsewhere as first choice but he compromises on game time to join Real Madrid.
The example: Recent examples include the likes of Kiko Casilla or Diego López. Both of those players have gone on to have reasonable careers as top flight goalkeepers in Spain and abroad, both before and after spells with Los Blancos.
The solution: David Soria. The Getafe goalkeeper may be an available option as Quique Sánchez Flores is also pursuing a deal for Fernando Pacheco from relegated Alavés. His form has fallen off a cliff in the last two years, as has been the case for many at Getafe, but only three or four years ago he was considered among the best Spanish goalkeepers in LaLiga. The club’s good relationship with Getafe and their president Ángel Torres would lubricate any negotiations for a goalkeeper who came through La Fábrica.
This is the most difficult option to maintain and the most expensive to possess at any time. It involves paying two high-quality options their relevant wages and maintaining two happy goalkeepers who could be sole first choice at pretty much any other club in the world.
The example: Here, we’re talking Keylor Navas. This kind of solution is more common during a transition period for a number one spot, as we saw when Courtois originally came in. In that final season in 2018/19, he played 20 games, compared to Courtois’ 35, despite starting the campaign as first choice for the first two games of the season. In the end, it was evident that neither Navas nor Courtois were happy with the situation and the Costa Rican moved to Paris Saint-Germain.
The solution: Nobody. At the current time, it seems this is the only option completely off the cards. The financial impacts of COVID-19 on the club’s budget and the simple fact that very few goalkeepers in the world can rival Thibaut Courtois means that it’s almost impossible. That’s without even beginning to consider the fact that truly elite goalkeepers at this level are few and far between at present.
It’s been some time since Real Madrid went down this route, but they will largely rely on market opportunities. It involves seeking out a proven pro whose best days are behind them, but they still want a taste of silverware.
The example: The best example could well have been Jerzy Dudek, who joined Los Blancos only two years after winning the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005. He spent four years at the club, making only 12 appearances. But Dudek had a big influence and still gets recognition to this day. Ahead of the Champions League final he said, “Liverpool are a huge club, but Real Madrid are another level. It’s so much more, on and off the pitch.”
The solution: David Ospina. The 33-year-old former Arsenal man was first choice for Napoli for much of last season and is still playing at a high level, with few able to match his talents for a free transfer. Available after his deal expired in Italy, he may be reluctant to take up a secondary role just yet, but with no other offers tempting him yet, the Bernabéu may be too tempting a proposition to ignore.