Argentina always has an envious evergreen conveyor belt of creative and attacking talent who have dominated global football.
Having said that, their goalkeeping talent supply has been so deficient that the only world class names that come to mind are Amadeo Carrizo who played in the 1950-60s and Ubaldo Fillol whose heydays were the 1978 and 1982 World Cups.
Post the World Cup 2018 debacle, rookie coach Lionel Scaloni’s National team rebuilding has seen eight goalkeepers in team roosters across 21 matches. The Number One jersey is still open for grabs and needs an immediate fix if Argentina aspires to win silverware.
Without further ado, this article attempts to evaluate who should be the main goalkeeping protagonists for the gruelling CONEMBOL World Cup Qualification, Copa America 2021, Tokyo Olympics 2021 and finally World Cup 2022.
Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa – Premier League; National caps – 0)
For an Albiceleste fan, Emi’s entry since June 2020 is a déjà vu moment reminiscing Sergio Goycochea’s fairy-tale as a substitute GK launched into action in Italia 1990 World Cup. An eternal club backup for a decade, Emi finally got a chance at mainstage due to main goalkeeper Leno’s injury and he grabs the opportunity with more than two hands!
Interestingly once Emiliano started, an earlier underperforming Arsenal has been on an upward trajectory and culminating their trophy draught with a FA Cup and Community Shield win. Among the Argentine options, he looks the most balanced in terms of technique and box presence. His shot stopping success rate is only bettered by Hugo Lloris in last season’s Premier League and he can surely boast of a versatile passing range.
What makes him truly unique among Argentine contenders is his ball claiming vs punching stats which is the best in Premier League. This makes him potentially a safer keeper during penalty box clearance action. The only iota of doubt Scaloni may have on the 1.93m tall, 28 year-old is that all these brilliant stats is across a very small sample size of 10-12 matches and can Emiliano demonstrate such excellence in a consistent manner.
The only key to this puzzle is play him as a starter and time will tell. Emi has made the first move by shifting to Aston Villa for the sheer desire of more playing minutes as an undisputed starter.
Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors – Argentine Primera Division; National caps – 4)
The 29-year-old Boca ‘keeper shot into prominence in 2019 with a league record of 1129 minutes without conceding a goal. At the peak of his game, Andrada is a brilliant shot stopper and conceded a miserly seven goals in last Argentine Superliga season. While he has been perennially connected to a Europe move from early days, somehow this has not materialized. He may as well prioritize building a legacy as a Boca legend.
He has a towering physical presence ( 1.93m tall) and brings an added advantage of quality high pressure experience as a two time finalist at the South American summit Copa Liberatores tournament with Boca and Lanus. He can also be ideal for an alternate high defensive line with his sweeper skills and adept at launching quick counterattacks. He is more of an instinct based keeper and technique looks shaky at times on positioning for set pieces and punching clearances. Scaloni may find these reasons enough to gravitate towards Musso or Emiliano as the long-term starter.
Juan Musso (Udinese-Serie A; National caps – 1)
From sneaking into the 23-man CopaAmerica19 national squad as an injury replacement for Andrada, this 26-year-old has come a long way and is now very close to pole position as Scaloni’s main man behind the sticks in the upcoming World Cup qualifications. The ex-Racing portero has made quantum leaps and seen as a successor to Handanovic at Inter or even Oblak at Atletico. His last season exploit of most clean sheets (14 games) in Serie A in spite of marshalling a leaky defense at Udinese came with a whopping 139 saves and justifies Musso’s status as an elite shot stopper.
The 1.91m tall Musso bets on his reflexes and prefers not advancing up the goal line. His passing has positively evolved in last two years and what Musso now needs to elevate into the world class Goalkeeper orbit is a transfer move to a top club where he can demonstrate same solidity under heavy pressure spotlight in high stake games.
Walter Benitez (OGC Nice – Ligue1; National caps – 0)
The 27-year-old has worked his way to be the mainstays across last two seasons in Patrick Viera’s silent progress at OGC Nice. He will deservedly will see Europa League action this season and the 1.91 m tall goalkeeper is already considered one of Europe’s best when it comes to shot stopping skills and reflexes. This is well proven by his incredibly high PSxG (Post shot expected goals ) stat of 1.51 per 90minutes which is better than most elite GK names of Europe.
He is arguably the best in Europe in short passing with the lowest average pass length (27.60metres) and this trait is tailor-made for the Argentina National Team who normally prefers a deep defensive line which builds from back and controls possession. While Benitez still needs to polish elements like long passing, clearances and sweeper skills, it is extremely baffling that Scaloni is yet to debut Benitez across last two years. Time is of essence here as Benitez has been vocal about the fact that he can also be shortly eligible for France National Team selection.
Franco Armani has been the most capped GK in National team since World Cup 2018. While he is a South American legend with his heroic displays at River Plate, the 34-year-old is technically limited and seems over-utilized by Scaloni. The same can be said for Agustin Marchesin from FC Porto.
The other outsiders include Geronimo Rulli and Paolo Gazzaniga who both firstly need regular playing time and consistent performance to be in any contention in Scaloni’s plans.
This article won’t be complete without a mention of Sergio Romero who was the undisputed starter for Argentina National Team from 2010 to 2018 across six national coaches and 96 international caps. Romero has a curious distinction of being the numero uno for Argentina whilst being a club backup keeper across Sampdoria, Monaco and now Manchester United for most of the same time period.
Keeping future in mind and the need to fix defense on a war footing, Scaloni should focus on the main four contenders in his blueprint. Scaloni also acknowledged the goalkeeper situation in his interview with Libero in September 2020 saying
For the National team it is positive to have goalkeepers of such a good level. Before there was not so much competition. Today we can say that we have a fairly even level and it will depend a lot on the activity. Those from Argentina are now competing and in Europe we have guys who are showing a very high level.
To summarize Emiliano Martinez seems to have done a ‘pole vault‘ into the starter seat for the National Team. If talent and form were the only considerations, the other two spots should ideally go to Juan Musso and Walter Benitez, though I must admit that the latter is somewhat this author’s wishful thinking as Scaloni is yet to include him even in preliminary squad. Esteban
Andrada will be very much in contention and he can be an excellent option for Tokyo Olympics 2021 where U23 coach Fernando Batista can choose three overage players. His understudy can be one among the U23 youngsters like Facundo Cambeses , Manuel Roffo or Jeronimo Pourtau.
For once Argentina may finally see light at the end of a long dark goalkeeping tunnel!