Almost everyone seems to be in agreement: in signing Jack Butland on transfer deadline day, Stoke City have picked up one of the finest young goalkeepers, not only in England, but in Europe, and possibly even the world without becoming too hyperbolic.
The Birmingham City keeper had turned down a move to European champions Chelsea, feeling that his career would be best-placed by continuing to play first-team football. For the Potters to secure his signature, albeit by agreeing to loan him back to Birmingham for the rest of the season, should be seen as a huge coup for Tony Pulis and the Stoke hierarchy.
The 19-year-old has undoubted promise. After coming through the ranks at Birmingham, Butland went on to only concede 26 goals from 24 appearances in two loan spells with League Two outfit Cheltenham Town.
For a young, slender goalkeeper, the lower divisions can often be unforgiving, leaving Butland’s record there even more remarkable. His form was such that having not even played a first-team game for his parent club, Butland was already a regular England under-21 international and, after an injury to John Ruddy, was called into the senior squad for Euro 2012.
While the youngster did not get onto the field, his displays in training during the tournament impressed; so much so that his selection for Stuart Pearce’s Great Britain Olympic squad for London 2012 was seen as a given, with Butland going on to become one of the stars of the tournament.
Now a household name, one would have perhaps expected Butland to flounder somewhat in his first full-season as Birmingham’s first-choice goalkeeper. However, after making his senior England debut against Italy in August, Butland has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Midlands club, almost single-handedly keeping them in matches, making rumours of a move to a bigger club inevitable.
Once it was clear Birmingham were in such dire financial trouble, it simply became a matter of where Butland would choose to go. That he chose Stoke City is testament to the work and progress made by Tony Pulis and his squad at the Britannia in recent years.
However, the Potters already have arguably the Premier League’s number one goalkeeper at the moment in Asmir Begovic, who up until recently had the best goalkeeping record in Europe let alone England.
The speculation is that Begovic has simply outgrown the Britannia, with the likes of Manchester United lurking. Indeed, having turned down a move to Chelsea due to a desire to play first-team football, it is difficult to imagine Butland agreeing to move to Stoke without guarantees that he would be first-choice upon his arrival. With all due respect to the Potters, they are not the kind of club a keeper of Butland’s stature would accept playing second fiddle at.
Whether Begovic would succeed at another club is not for us to decide but it is extremely difficult to believe that come the start of next season both he and Jack Butland will be at Stoke City.
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