Don't get too excited jut yet, Brad. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
There's been many an article written today (the majority of them with a title that is some variation on "SHAY'S PLACE IN TEAM NO GIVEN" which is terrible) about the possibility of Brad Guzan's performances over the past month having been enough to earn him a permanent place in goal with Given being relegated to the bench. All of them focus pretty closely on this quotes from Alex McLeish:
(Given) is training with the group and it's a case of how sharp he's feeling and how confident he's feeling before we make a decision about him coming back into the team. There are no guarantees of that, obviously, because of the way Brad has played. Brad has been fantastic.
So there we have it. Alex McLeish himself, the man ostensibly in charge of making these decisions, has come right out and said Given has no guarantee of taking his place back from Guzan. Shouldn't that be enough proof?
Well, no. Not really.
Realistically, McLeish almost has to say that. Guzan has been fantastic in Given's absence, and not pointing that out would be a slap in the face to Little Brad, who's had to deal with a few of those over the course of his Villa career. But the reality is that as good as Guzan was over the course of these past eight games, Given has been as good or better over the course of a career that began 17 years ago. He was excellent before going down to injury in early December, so much so that Kirsten felt the need to apologize for her skepticism of his signing.
Will the quality of Guzan's performances make it easier for Villa to ensure Given is back to full health before his return rather than rushing him along? Without question. But Villa just spent £3.5m (which is suddenly a fairly large chunk of change for the club) on Given and signed him to a 5 year contract this summer. It would be one thing if he'd been a disappointment early in the season, but he wasn't at all; he was as advertised, if not better.
I understand having sympathy for Guzan; he's waited so long to get his chance, and he blew even the most optimistic of expectations out of the water. He's shown that he's capable of being a starting keeper in the Premier League. After all that, it's got to be tough to accept a reserve role. But it's not any more unfair than pushing Given to the bench after suffering an injury, especially seeing as how he signed with Villa in large part because of the promise of being the number one keeper as long as he held up his end of the bargain.
There's just no controversy here. As long as he's healthy, Shay Given is Villa's starting keeper.