As the January transfer window inches closer, let’s take a look at four goalkeepers who could be set for a big move in 2021.
Nick Pope – Burnley – £0.49
Since delivering a superb performance in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Jordan Pickford has become an increasingly error-prone number one for Everton and the England national team. The goalkeeper position continues to be one of the biggest question marks and liabilities for both Gareth Southgate and Carlo Ancelotti, both of whom have kept Pickford as an undisputed starter for now. However, the answer for both the Three Lions and the Toffees’s woes between the sticks might just be Burnley’s Nick Pope.
Born in Soham, Cambridgeshire, Pope gradually made his way up the youth ranks at Ipswich Town, the club he supported as an adolescent, but his time was cut short after being released by the club at 16 years of age. From there, he joined West Suffolk College, whose under-19 side was linked with non-League side Bury Town. Despite his young age, Pope impressed in the few matches that he started, leading manager Richard Wilkins to call him “the most naturally-talented player to progress through the ranks at the West Suffolk Sports Academy and Bury Town.”
His performances for Bury attracted the attention of Charlton Athletic, who offered him a trial and subsequently a two-year contract. He would spend the next two years bouncing around from brief loan spells at Harrow Borough, Wellington United, Cambridge United, Aldershot Town and York City, gaining experience across the lower levels of English football. On January 6, 2015, Pope joined Bury on loan, and he quickly won a starting spot under manager David Filtcroft as The Shakers won promotion to League One.
Pope finally broke into Charlton’s starting line-up in the 2015/16 season, with then-manager Guy Luzon giving him the nod in between the sticks, but he was displaced from the eleven after veteran Stephen Henderson’s return from his shoulder injury. Pope regained his place in the team at the start of March, and although it wasn’t enough to keep Charlton in the Championship, it was enough to convince newly-promoted Burnley to pay a fee within the region of £1 million for his services.
After being limited to cup appearances in his first season at Turf Moor, he made his Premier League debut on September 10, 2017 in a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace. Pope replaced Tom Heaton midway through the match after Heaton succumbed to a shoulder injury that would sideline him for the bulk of the campaign, and when he returned to full fitness, he found himself on the bench to Pope, six years his junior. With Pope guiding a rock-solid defence, Burnley finished 7th in the Premier League and sealed European football for the first time in 51 years.
It was a glorious campaign for Sean Dyche’s Clarets, and Southgate took notice. He called Pope up to the England national team for the first time on March 15, 2018, and despite not having played a single match for the senior team, included him in his 23-man squad for the Three Lions. Pope made his maiden appearances in a pre-tournament friendly against Costa Rica, but seven weeks later, he faced one of the lowest moments in his professional career after dislocating his shoulder in a Europa League qualifier against Aberdeen. Pope made just three appearances for Burnley in the 2018/19 season as Heaton and Joe Hart vied for the number one spot.
Nevertheless, Burnley maintained their faith in their young goalkeeper, and at the end of the season, Pope signed a bumper new four-year contract. Dyche made it abundantly clear from the start of the season that Pope would be getting the nod in goal over Heaton, forcing the club captain to join Aston Villa for minutes. At 28 years old, he has gone from strength to strength at the Turf Moor, earning three more appearances for England’s national team and continuing to impress for Burnley, who are currently mired in the relegation zone. Whether or not the Clarets avoid the drop, Pope could find himself in line for a big move this coming summer to a top-half side such as Everton, Tottenham, or Southampton.
Fernando Pacheco – Alavés – £0.33
On November 28, Deportivo Alavés paid a visit to the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, where they took on Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid. Much to the shock of the defending La Liga champions, Alavés secured their first away win against Los Blancos in 20 years, prevailing with a 2-1 victory with goals from Lucas Pérez and Joselu, and a phenomenal performance from Fernando Pacheco, who returned to his old stomping grounds.
Born in Bajadoz, Extremadura, Pacheco joined Real Madrid’s academy at 14 years of age, where he would ascend the ranks of La Fábrica before making his debut in a Copa del Rey match against SD Ponferradina. The following season, he alternated between starting in goal for Madrid’s third team and sporadically playing for the second team, although he became a full-fledged starter for Real Madrid Castilla in 2013/14 as the B team suffered relegation to Spain’s third tier.
Pacheco was promoted to the first time by manager Carlo Ancelotti, serving as the club’s third-choice goalkeeper behind Iker Casillas and Keylor Navas and earning his first start at the senior level in a 5-0 victory against UE Cornellà in the Copa del Rey. His performances caught the eye of Alavés, and on August 7, 2015, Pacheco joined the Basque club on a three-year contract, with Real Madrid retaining a €4 million buyback option.
With first-choice goalkeeper Manu Fernández joining Deportivo de La Coruña on a free transfer, Pacheco immediately won a starting spot under José Bordalás, impressing between the sticks and leading the Babazorros back to the top flight. He faced off against his old employers on October 29, 2016, which saw Madrid take a resounding 4-1 victory at the Mendizorrotza. Pacheco, however, left with a consolation prize: save a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo.
As Alavés have hung onto their status in Spain’s top flight, Pacheco has cemented his status as one of the league’s premium shot-stoppers; since joining the Basque club, only Jan Oblak and Pichu Cuéllar have made more saves in La Liga than Pacheco (448 saves in 146 matches). Arguably his finest performance so far came in the 2-1 victory against Real Madrid, when Pacheco made seven saves – the same amount he made in a 1-1 draw against Barcelona on October 31.
At 28 years old, Pacheco has become a rock in goal for Pablo Machín’s Alavés, and it seems only a matter of time before he receives his first call-up to the Spanish national team and a stepping-stone move that his talent deserves.
Rui Silva – Granada – £0.57
Over the past decade, Rui Patrício has built an unforgettable legacy for the Portugal national team, starting in four major tournaments and winning the 2016 European Championships on the back of his impressive performances in France. However, as he approaches his 33rd birthday, Seleção manager Fernando Santos must begin looking for a long-term successor to Patrício’s throne sooner rather than later.
Truth be told, he has plenty of options at his disposal. Anthony Lopes has continued to be a fortress in goal for Lyon, but at 30 years old, Santos may prefer a younger option to replace Patrício between the sticks. Bruno Varela has been a revelation at Vitória de Guimarães this season following relatively unsuccessful stints at Benfica and Ajax, leading to Santos giving him his first senior call-up in October after Lopes tested positive for COVID-19. However, perhaps nobody is better suited to replacing Rui Patrício than his namesake: Rui Silva.
Born and raised in the outskirts of Porto, Silva began his career at local outfit FC Maia, where he would spend six years of his development before joining C.D. Nacional in 2012. Silva made his Primeira Liga debut in the final match of the 2013/14 season, giving away a penalty and conceding from the spot as Nacional lost to Gil Vicente.
After playing second-fiddle to veteran goalkeeper Eduardo Gottardi, Silva nailed down a starting spot under Manuel Machado in the 2015/16 campaign as the Alvinegros finished 11th in Liga NOS. His impressive performances in Madeira drew the attention of Granada, who purchased the Portuguese goalkeeper on January 27, 2017 for €1.5 million.
Silva would have to wait eight months before making his debut in Spain, starting in a 3-0 defeat to Real Zaragoza in the Copa del Rey. He was used sparingly during the 2017/18 campaign, with the seasoned Javi Varas being the undisputed starter in goal, but he started the Andalusian side’s final two matches of the season, as Granada finished 10th in the second tier.
With the arrival of Diego Martínez as manager, Silva immediately went from squad player to full-fledged starter. His stellar performances between the sticks saw Los Nazaríes return to the top flight after finishing second in the table, with Silva being given the Ricardo Zamora trophy for conceding the fewest goals in the Segunda. The following season, the 26-year-old shot-stopper solidified his status as one of the best goalkeepers in Spain as Granada qualified for the Europa League with a 7th-place finish.
Whilst he still hasn’t made his debut for Portugal’s senior team, Silva has been included in Santos’s past three squads, and if he keeps performing at this rate, he’ll be a shoo-in for a roster place at next summer’s Euros. As his contract looks set to expire next summer, he is free to negotiate with a pre-contract with interested clubs in January, with Real Betis, Villarreal, Sevilla and Rennes mentioned as potential suitors.
Alban Lafont – Nantes (on loan from Fiorentina) – £0.40
Just as Portugal search for the long-term answer to Rui Patrício, the reigning World Cup champions find themselves in need of a young goalkeeper to take the reins from Hugo Lloris. The Tottenham stopper has been a constant force in goal since leading France past the Republic of Ireland in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but as he approaches his 34th birthday, it is unlikely that he will be a starter for much longer.
From Mike Maignan to Illan Meslier, from Benjamin Lecomte to Gautier Larsonneur, Didier Deschamps is spoiled for choice when it comes to finding the heir to Lloris. The answer to his predicament, however, might just be Alban Lafont.
Born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to a French father and a Burkinabe mother, Lafont moved to Hérault, France at nine years old after his parents separated. He began his development for amateur side AS Lattoise, initially playing as an attacking midfielder before being converted to a goalkeeper. After six years with Lattoise, Lafont joined Toulouse in 2014.
It took little more than a year in Toulouse’s academy before manager Dominique Arribagé gave Lafont his professional debut against OGC Nice; in doing so, Lafont became the youngest ever goalkeeper to start in Ligue 1 at 16 years and 310 days. He quickly won a starting spot, impressing between the sticks as Les Violets escaped the relegation zone and avoided the drop on the final day of the 2015/16 campaign.
Lafont continued to validate his manager’s trust in him, delivering rock-solid performances against the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille, pulling off quick reflexes and highlight-reel saves on a regular basis, and becoming the youngest goalkeeper in 30 years to amass 50 appearances in Ligue 1. His performances were soon met with widespread transfer speculation, and on July 2, 2018, Lafont joined Fiorentina on a five-year contract, with the Italian side paying €7million and bonuses for him.
After building a reputation as one of the hottest young goalkeepers in Europe, Lafont suffered a major nosedive in form after an error-prone, inconsistent season for La Viola. With Polish goalkeeper Bartłomiej Drągowski impressing on loan at Empoli, then-manager Vincenzo Montella made the decision to axe Lafont from the starting line-up and hand the reins over to Drągowski. Desperate for a new landing spot, Lafont joined Nantes on a two-season-long loan. He replaced former Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tătărușanu, who departed for Lyon on a free transfer.
Since arriving in Brittany, Lafont has gradually rebuilt his shattered confidence under Nantes manager Christian Gourcuff, keeping 10 clean sheets in 27 appearances during the truncated 2019/20 season. La Maison Jaune have struggled for consistency this season, but Lafont’s performances in goal have kept them out of a relegation fight. Nantes have an option to make his loan permanent for €7million, although Fiorentina maintain a counter-option to sign him back for €11million, and they could trigger that option in order to land a sizable profit.
Lafont has played for France across various youth levels, and he will have the opportunity to seize his first major silverware when Les Espoirs participate in the U21 Euros next summer. However, at 21 years of age, it is becoming increasingly clear that Lafont is no longer the goalkeeper of the future, but the present as well.