It seems the writing is on the wall at Stoke City for giant goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
The 6ft 6in stopper has earned rave reviews for his performances in his side’s continued assault on the top half of the Premier League table, and with an unerring ability to keep his sheet clean he has helped Stoke to cement their status as a force to be reckoned with at the Britannia Stadium in particular.
But, as ever seems to be the case these days, contractual disputes are afoot….
No Pay, No Play
Discussions over a new long-term deal have stalled after the big Bosnian allegedly demanded to be made the club’s highest earner. Since that outburst he has found himself displaced by young star Jack Butland between the sticks for Stoke’s last two encounters, which has led to an alleged bust-up with manager Mark Hughes.
“Are we still friends? I’m not sure. I’d like to think so. I want Asmir to stay,” was all ‘Sparky’ had to say on the matter.
With just 12 months remaining on his current contract, it is likely that Hughes will want to cash in on his £8 million rated want-away keeper rather than let him leave for free in 12 months time.
The plot thickened further this week with the news that the club had signed FC Midtjylland keeper Jakob Haugaard – probably as a back-up for Butland for the 2015/16 campaign.
The fact that Begovic hasn’t even been named amongst the substitutes for those two games against Spurs and Swansea speaks volumes. The die has been cast, and he now finds himself cast adrift in the football wilderness.
Sooner or later Begovic is going to have a big decision to make: does he want to be the first-choice keeper for a decent top eight team, or does he want to be the bench-warmer for one of the bigger clubs?
That’s the dilemma that the 27-year-old is faced with. There will be no shortage of interest in his signature, but making the right move now is crucial for the longevity of his career.
So option one: first-choice at a decent club….
This is perhaps his most likely path, as 27 is the perfect age for a keeper to thrive.
There is said to be a lot of interest from a number of European clubs in Hugo Lloris; with Real Madrid and Juventus both looking at the France captain to replace their respective ageing stoppers Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon.
Should this come to pass, Spurs will be casting their net around for a new keeper, and they could do a lot worse than Begovic. At his rumoured price of £8 million, he wouldn’t blow a hole in their summer budget; and is a perfectly safe pair of hands.
There’s a possibility that both Merseyside clubs will take a look at him too. Liverpool have yet to find an adequate replacement for Pepe Reina, with Brendan Rodgers himself clearly not convinced by his latest charge Simon Mignolet.
And across the city Everton are in a similar boat with their current stopper, Tim Howard. He’s been a brilliant servant for the club, but after a catalogue of high-profile errors there has been some suggestion that the American keeper is sliding past his sell-by-date. A move to the Toffees would enable Begovic to enjoy a spot of European football for the first time in his career.
An outside shot might be Southampton. Their usual number one, Fraser Forster, is facing up to a year out through injury after rupturing a tendon in his knee, and Begovic would be a more than capable stand-in. But what would happen when Forster regains fitness is anybody’s guess.
There’s Always a Plan B
Of course, he could take the easier – and more lucrative – option of playing second fiddle to an established keeper at one of the ‘big four’.
If we look at Chelsea, for example, we note that Petr Cech is likely to depart the club in the summer. Thibaut Courtois, who has developed into a phenomenal shot stopper, is bolted on for the number one jersey….so would Begovic be willing to warm the bench?
There’s a similar situation up at Old Trafford, with Manchester United rumoured to be keeping a close eye on proceedings.
They need somebody to push David De Gea for his place, and possibly replace him in the unlikely scenario that the Spaniard himself leaves for Real or Juventus.
It’s unlikely that a goalkeeper whose career has so far taken in the sights and sounds of Portsmouth, Yeovil and Stoke has quite the stature and reputation to make a move to a big European club in his own right.
It’s much more likely then that Begovic will move domestically in the summer – and there will be plenty of clubs keeping tabs on the talented stopper.