It is not unique to Spanish footballing culture that many clubs like to rotate their goalkeepers depending on which competition they are playing in, but it is a far more prevalent trend here than, say, in the UK.
The most traditional way for the Liga's finest to implement this policy is in the Copa del Rey – Spain's national knockout tournament. For example, FC Barcelona have played three Copa finals in the last four years and in each José Manuel Pinto has kept goal, not regular No1 Víctor Valdés. But last season the tactic was employed even more interestingly at Valencia CF. Unai Emery, then in charge, had the fortune to coach two absolutely excellent keepers – Brazilian international Diego Alves and local lad Vicente Guaita.
Neither cost a penny to sign, the 27-year-old Alves arriving for free and Guaita, 25, working his way up through Valencia's youth system. That meant there was no real pecking order, no squeeze from a board of directors anxious to see an expensively acquired goalkeeper picked every week.
Until injury to Guaita changed the situation, Emery opted to use his Brazilian in UEFA matches and the Spaniard in the Liga. Guaita played 28 times in Copa and Liga, while Alves featured in 12 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches, subsequently deputising in the other two competitions 18 times once Guaita succumbed to injury.
Conventional logic argues that consistency of selection leads to better form, more belief and greater cohesion with team-mates. In a solitary and confidence-based position like that of keeper you would expect the rules to be still stricter. However, last term things functioned well, each of the players gave evidence of development – and Alves, in particular, performed heroically in key games such as against Chelsea FC and Barcelona. Now Guaita, who suffered a muscular problem in pre-season, has been recalled for the last two matches (a pair of 2-0 wins in the Liga and UEFA Champions League) with Alves benched.
A couple of days ago Blanquinegros goalkeeping great Santiago Cañizares offered the view that "the situation isn't sustainable in the medium term", but is he right? Cañizares did not enjoy the constant debate over the position when he and Andrés Palop were competing for a place in the heady Mestalla days before Palop departed for glory with Sevilla FC. Will coach Mauricio Pellegrino rotate the duo across the three competitions? Does Valencia's very public need to raise money, a situation which president Manuel Llorente addressed by referring to them as "a selling club", mean that one or the other might be sold as a valuable asset?
Part of the beauty of football is that even set rules can be bent, perhaps shattered, if a certain coach or player turns his kaleidoscope and sees the pattern differently from everyone else. It is a situation worth watching – if for no other reason than these are two absolutely outstanding goalkeepers, operating at the highest possible level in Europe's premier competition.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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