Every team needs a hero every so often. Sometimes though, that hero is the least expected of people.
When Alisson Becker was forced out of Liverpool’s 4-1 opening day win over Norwich City due to a calf injury, back-up goalkeeper Adrián was forced to step up for him. After abruptly making his debut in that win over Norwich City, Adrián faced his first real task vs. Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. There, the Spaniard made four saves and stopped Tammy Abraham decisive penalty to help Liverpool clinch their fourth UEFA Super Cup title.
As Adrián lifted the trophy in Istanbul, it’s easy to forget that he was a free agent training with a Spanish semi-pro side just a few weeks ago.
Free agents are an interesting topic in the world of football. On the one hand, they’re free players in the sense that there’s no negotiating club selling the player and there usually aren’t other clubs attempting to sign the player either.
On the other hand, their quality is (normally) what you’d expect from a player no club seemingly wants.
But every so often, a team unearths a gem from the rubble. Somehow, a club strikes a deal with a player every other club missed, resulting in a free buy worth the world to the team.
The current free agent market has some goalkeepers available who could end up being just that for certain clubs. So today, let’s take a look at three free agent goalkeepers your club could still sign.
It was only 14 months ago that Mouez Hassen was starting in a FIFA World Cup match against former champions England. But fortune changes in the blink of an eye, and since a shoulder injury ended his 2018 World Cup campaign just 12 minutes into it, Hassen’s career has spiraled into insignificance.
Hassen didn’t fully recover from his injury until mid-October. By then, he was no longer wanted at OGC Nice, and his spot with the Tunisian national team — once considered a lock — was in danger. There were questions surrounding whether he’d even make it onto Tunisia’s 2019 African Cup of Nations roster.
Hassen did end up featuring in the 2019 AFCON, but his performances were so comically bad that it would’ve been better if he had just sat out the tournament. He made five appearances and erred in almost all of them. His biggest flub came in the semi-finals; he poorly handled a free kick and gifted Senegal the game’s only goal in the 101st minute. At worst, he was flapping at high balls like a drunk pigeon. At best, he was throwing a fit after being subbbed off.
Hassen now finds himself on the market as a free agent, completing his spiral from promising U-21 French prospect to the laughing stock of African goalkeeping. But while his recent performances are certainly embarrassing, I don’t think they should be enough to discourage wannabe suitors from snapping Hassen up as a back-up or reserve option, all things considered.
Compared to other free agent goalkeepers, Hassen is yet to hit his prime, let alone pass it. At 24 years of age, the Tunisian should not be anywhere near feeling burned out. He’s still young enough to learn from his mistakes, and growth is to be expected. Even with the way the 2018-19 season went for Hassen, his young age gives him enough leeway to suggest that he will develop from these setbacks.
It’s not as though Hassen has no talent to fall back on either. He represented France at every youth level from the U-16s to the U-21s, and he was Nice’s main custodian during the 2014-15 season. Sure, the way he handled aerial balls at AFCON shed light on some glaring weaknesses, but they also drew attention to his quick movements and athleticism.
Do I think Hassen will reach the quality he was once expected to achieve? No, which is why a first division club looking for a starter will surely turn away from signing him. But I think Hassen is a great option for a second division club in need of a starter or a side looking to add to its goalkeeper pool.
You know when you look at a picture and you notice someone or something that shouldn’t be there? A person or thing that is clearly the odd one out of the group? That is Heinz Lindner in free agency.
With a transfermarkt.co.uk valuation of £3.15 million, Lindner is by far the most valuable free agent goalkeeper on the market. He’s also the only goalkeeper in free agency who is worth over £1 million (according to the website).
By free agency standards, Lindner is pretty much royalty.
The 29-year-old is an Austrian international who has dabbled in the Austrian Bundesliga, the Swiss Super League, and even the German Bundesliga (although very briefly). He’s most known for his stints with Austria Wien and Grasshopper, two of the most successful clubs in their respective leagues. He’s played over 275 games for the two clubs combined, including 40 total appearances during Austria Wien’s league championship-winning 2012-13 season.
Known for his reflexes and over-expressive style of goalkeeping, Lindner is a well-respected goalkeeper in his home country of Austria. He’s earned over 20 caps with the senior national team dating back to his debut in 2012. He most recently appeared in the UEFA Nations League B, keeping two clean sheets in four games.
Lindner is a solid goalkeeper in his own right, and his experience backs him up. So why is he currently a free agent? Well, it likely has to do with the 2018-19 season.
Grasshopper, despite being the most successful club in Swiss Super League history, were relegated at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. They finished bottom of the 10-team table thanks to a 5-10-21 win-loss-draw record and a league-worst 25-point total. They scored just 32 goals (the only team who didn’t break the 40-goal mark), conceded 71 goals (the only team to concede over 70 goals), and failed to win a single league game after November 2018. Keep in mind that the season ended in May 2019; six months after their last league win.
Being the goalkeeper, Lindner’s stats suffered, regardless of whether he was the reason behind Grasshopper’s humiliation or not. Lindner played in 35 league matches and conceded 68 goals; an average of nearly two goals conceded per appearance. He kept just three clean sheets, his last coming in a draw against FC Basel in April. On many nights, he was left exposed to the onslaught of Grasshopper’s opponents.
Grasshopper’s relegation is ultimately why Lindner didn’t re-sign with the club; he’s undoubtedly too good to be playing in the Swiss second division. But why hasn’t another club attempted to sign Lindner? It’s an answer even my Swiss and Austrian friends can’t provide me with.
Given Lindner’s experience, age (he doesn’t turn 30 until next July), and qualities, he’s definitely good enough to start for a bottom 10/mid-table club in any of Europe’s top 5 leagues. If a team locks him to a deal, he could end up being the sleeper signing of the season.
At 35-years-old, Michel Vorm is by far the oldest goalkeeper on my list. He’s also the second oldest goalkeeper said to be worth £900,000 or more by transfermarkt.co.uk (37-year-old Ali Al-Habsi is the oldest under those circumstances). But don’t let Vorm’s age deter you; he’s a great short-term option for any team dealing with a goalkeeper emergency.
Premier League fans know exactly what kind of goalkeeper Vorm is. He’s on the shorter end of the height chart — he’s only 6 feet tall — and plays a style that predates the modern ball-playing goalkeeper. But, he’s adept at handling shots from a variety of different areas, and his reflexes are good for a ‘keeper that never cost more than £3.5 million. The Dutchman has been playing top-flight English football since 2011, most notably with Swansea City.
During his three-season stint with Swansea City, Vorm was hailed as an “inspiration“. His £1.5 million cost made him one of the 2011-12 season’s best bargain buys, and his ability to produce the big save at the right moment turned Vorm into a club hero. Swansea City never finished lower than 12th during his tenure, and in 2012-13 (one of the most successful seasons in club history), they achieved a top ten finish in the Premier League, won the Football League Cup, and qualified to the Europa League — all with Vorm as their number one goalkeeper.
His five subsequent seasons with Tottenham saw Vorm take on a lighter workload, although he did make over 45 appearances, including six in various European competitions. But with the club’s continued reliance on Hugo Lloris and the introduction of Paulo Gazzaniga in 2017, Vorm’s services were no longer needed. After appearing in just four matches last season (the lowest single season total in Vorm’s entire professional career), Tottenham released the Dutchman at the conclusion of his contract.
I do believe that Vorm still has some gas left in the tank, though. He’s made at least four first division appearances in every season since 2006, and he’s appeared in 11 or more matches in three of the past five seasons, so he’s far from rusty. He hasn’t been forgotten either — some clubs, including Liverpool, have contemplated bringing him in on a short-term deal.
Vorm is certainly a valuable option for any club looking for an emergency goalkeeper to fill in for a bit or a short-term back-up option to cover a hole. A couple of clubs in Europe’s top five league should consider signing the Dutchman, who can still be a decent goalkeeper for a few games.