How A Transfer Can Make Or Break A Goalkeeper's Career

By Alex Connor

News • Mar 30, 2024

How A Transfer Can Make Or Break A Goalkeeper's Career

They may not always make the headlines, but history shows transfers may hold that extra bit of weight for goalkeepers. 

Every summer, big money moves revolve around the titanic centre-back, the technically gifted full-back who can invert into midfield, the boundlessly energetic and creative box-to-box demon, the tantalizingly talented playmaker, and the lethal goal-addicted marksman. 

Rarely do goalkeepers monopolise the headlines in such an intoxicating and frenzied manner. Nevertheless, like any position, their reputation constantly teeters upon the most precarious knife edge. If goalkeepers are reliable and consistent, they can create a dynasty through longevity, underpinned by the perfect transfer.

The same variables apply to the accomplishment of a transfer for everyone: timing, suitability, the personality of the player (how they handle pressure and the environment), and their quality or potential. But for a goalkeeper, their choice and outcome is often more important. 

The redemption arc is the trickiest path to navigate for underperforming goalkeepers and is sometimes never achieved. Outfield players are often presented with more opportunities to restore faith. Attackers particularly benefit and can silence their critics within the often more appreciated and remembered means of goals and assists. 

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Strikers can quickly find new beginnings and rediscover their goal-scoring touch in an instant. Meanwhile, for the most misunderstood and unique role on the pitch, mistakes are magnified. The storyline of a comeback is less frequently awarded to goalkeepers. Some don’t require this and have found the perfect home, whilst others have perished through the scope of our uncompromising lens.

Traditionally, clubs usually concentrate their resources on outfield acquisitions. But in 2018, Kepa Arrizabalaga became the victim of a what some have seen as a ‘panic buy ’ from one of the most erratic, unpredictable, and impulsive clubs in the transfer market. The move upset the monetary trend. 

Previously in West London, Thibaut Courtois had enjoyed a wonderful four-year spell as Chelsea’s number-one goalkeeper. The impenetrable Belgian emphatically relished the challenge to take on Petr Cech’s unbeatable legacy and clinched two Premier League titles in this short period. However, a desire to be reunited with his family saw that Courtois was sold to Real Madrid and Kepa was the rushed replacement. 

Chelsea forked out a world record £71.6m for Kepa to make the Spaniard the most expensive goalkeeper in history - a record which still stands today. Kepa’s inconsistencies, mirrored with comparisons against the sturdy pairing of Courtois and Cech, have left him scrambling. 

Edouard Mendy temporarily displaced him at Stamford Bridge, but his dramatic downturn of form once again shifted the unforgiving spotlight on Kepa’s shortcomings. Last summer, the Spaniard was loaned to Los Blancos in another emergency deal to combat a long-term knee injury to Courtois. 

But old habits die hard. 


He has started just two league games since the beginning of December with Andriy Lunin now the first-choice goalkeeper. If he had been given more time to develop and settle at Bilbao, instead of being abruptly catapulted into a high-pressure cooker in England’s capital, Kepa’s career could have turned out so differently. 

The Joe Hart case study shows that no goalkeeper is safe. Earlier this year, Hart announced that he will retire at the end of the current season. On paper, the 36-year-old has enjoyed a wonderful career. Hart boasts two Premier League titles, four Golden Gloves, 75 England caps, and has appeared in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season twice. 

Since 2021, Hart has been the first-choice goalkeeper at Celtic, but before landing in Scotland, he endured a tumultuous time following his brutal exit from Manchester City. 

A difficult tournament for Hart and England at Euro 2016 undoubtedly prompted the incoming Pep Guardiola to pull the plug on the shot-stopper’s time at the Etihad Stadium. The meticulous Spaniard decided that Hart didn't suit his progressive and possession-based style of play. At the time, the Englishman was still 29 years old, and the new chapter commenced with an exciting loan move to Torino. 

However, Hart failed to hit those previously sensational heights. After one year in Italy, he spent a season at West Ham United, before short spells as a backup goalkeeper at Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur. Hart never quite recovered from Guardiola’s abrupt rejection but he ultimately had no choice but to leave the club he’d been at for a decade. 

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Hart exists in a peculiar category of goalkeeper who perhaps peaked (in form terms) in the earlier stages of his career for a goalkeeper. Unfortunately, he didn't quite prove Guardiola wrong - in some respects. The transfer from Manchester City failed to reignite his career. But, at Celtic Park, he has found a more loving home, and his accolades will remain forever tied to a rejuvenation of the goalkeeper that became England's undisputed number one for a period of time.

It's north of the border that fellow Englishman Jack Butland has experienced a goalkeeping rebirth. He'd made 10 appearances in three years before joining Rangers, where he sits atop the SPFL table, with 17 clean sheets in Scotland's top flight. 

Equally, transfers create dynasties and when the goalkeeper is the right fit for a club and performs well, they can cement something special. 

As goalkeepers typically retire later than outfielders, extended periods at one club are more common. In recent times, Manuel Neuer has become a fundamental component of Bayern Munich’s punishing Bundesliga superiority. Joining from Schalke in 2011, he has secured 11 German titles, and two Champions Leagues and revolutionised the position with his ‘sweeper keeper’ playing style. 

Throughout this time, he looked untouchable and similar degrees of pedigree can be attached to the likes of Cech and Iker Casillas. 

These individuals can almost be considered as ‘one-club men’ given the scope of their achievements in the same setting. This invincible triumvirate has set a rare precedent but have shown that seemingly unattainable heights are possible. 

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Goalkeepers sit in a strange complex on the cusp of something safer than the perils upon outfield players - their mistakes and moments of magic are less focused on - but ultimately face less chance to resurrect their careers and many can plateau to irretrievable levels. 

Harsh criticism and a lack of faith mean that most goalkeepers bounce around clubs, but those who seamlessly settle in and create belief can be the most durable members of a team. It depends on the frantic and unforeseeable makings of the transfer window, which is the making or breaking of many careers. 

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