After an uninspiring season spending most of his valuable time sitting on the bench watching veteran Jason Steele between the sticks at the Amex stadium, Spanish goalkeeper Robert Sanchez has made the move to join Chelsea. It might be worth sparing a thought for his compatriot Kepa Arrizabalaga, who barely had enough time to pull his number one shirt out of the washing machine at Cobham before being sent away to Real Madrid on a season-long loan.
Following Kepa’s return to Spain, the goalkeeping ranks at Chelsea have resulted in a situation where everyone is happy. Sanchez, who had once been sounded out by the football fraternity as one of the very best in the Premier League, saw his market value and interest from Europe’s top clubs plummet after Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi brought in 32-year-old outcast Jason Steele to ensure the Italian’s philosophical ideas on the pitch could become a reality.
Despite reported accusations of an unwillingness to learn the ability to play with the ball at his feet being levelled at Sanchez just weeks before Steele came into the side, the Spaniard had provisionally been tipped to be the Spanish number one and a long-term replacement for David De Gea at Manchester United.
Standing at 6ft 6in, Sanchez is a commanding presence in around his box and plays as close to his teammates as any other keeper in the division. De Zerbi wanted a long-term solution to the goalkeeping issue at Brighton, but Sanchez couldn’t provide the consistency of holding on to the ball as long as possible to draw the opposition in.
It is clear however that Sanchez has not made the £25m move to Chelsea to replicate his most recent experience at Brighton and sit on the bench watching somebody else between the posts. The Spaniard has been battling for the national team’s number-one jersey with recent Arsenal signing David Raya, Kepa and Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Simon for some time now. His height and dominance in and around his penalty area would make some believe he is the ideal presence behind a group of very senior professionals, but the Spanish press have never taken to him.
A fresh start with a new manager like Mauricio Pochettino might just do the trick and regenerate even a scintilla of the form that stood him in such good stead when he first arrived in East Sussex. The man himself is, yet, a determined and fiery character. He was the undisputed number one in a Brighton side under Graham Potter as recent as a year ago with the Spaniard firmly cementing his place in the match day lineup after heaps of praise from then-Brighton goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts – who eventually followed Potter to west London.
At the time, Potter spoke in glowing terms of Sanchez, and it was only the appointment of Roberto De Zerbi that halted the elevation of the Spaniard as the Italian brought in veteran goalkeeper Jason Steele to deputise ahead of Sanchez. Ultimately, it may have been the departure of Roberts that culminated in Sanchez’s demise at Brighton, but logic would suggest that the player had so much more to offer the Seagulls than a bit-part place on the bench.
The two are very close and have ironically ended up at Chelsea together less than a year after Roberts followed Graham Potter out of the Brighton door, which essentially suits all parties. De Zerbi however, will see this as an opportunity for new signing Bart Verbruggen who arrived from Belgian side Anderlecht earlier in the summer.
The Dutch goalkeeper is renowned for his ability with the ball at his feet, something which De Zerbi insisted on in his new elaborate philosophy which has blown the football world away in recent months. Sanchez, the product of his environment has only suffered at the hands of the ruthlessness of the Italian.
On August 3rd, Chelsea announced that Sanchez had signed for the club for a reported fee of £25m. Signing a seven-year contract, the Spaniard has provided the club with a long-term solution to a goalkeeping problem which all started with the catastrophic £72m signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga in the summer of 2018. Senegalese keeper Edouard Mendy had also previously managed to claim the number one spot when he was brought to the club by Pochettino’s predecessor Frank Lampard, during his first stint at the club.
The vision for Chelsea’s number one has never felt clear and concise since the departure of Thibaut Courtois in 2019 despite a total gargantuan outlay of £100m on the acquisitions of Mendy and Kepa prior to Sanchez’s recent arrival. In the goalkeeping world, Sanchez is held in extremely high regard. His varied skillset, primarily promoted by Graham Potter, has earned the Spaniard rave reviews amongst the goalkeeping experts. According to The Athletic’s goalkeeping analyst Matt Pyzdrowski, Chelsea’s new signing can unlock huge potential under Pochettino.
“There’s a lot he can bring to the table that Chelsea haven’t had in a while in a goalkeeper,” said Pyzdrowski. “It’s not a slight on the goalkeepers who have been there in the last couple of years, but Sanchez could bring another dimension.”
Some may wonder about the risk attached to the deal. The reality is – there isn’t any. At least not on the level of Kepa Arrizabalaga who joined the club in a world-record fee for a goalkeeper just five years ago. But what constitutes risk and what does it look like?
The only teething issue the Chelsea hierarchy may find themselves facing throughout the season is the lack of consistent playing time the Spaniard has managed over the last year or so. Despite not quite being on the technical mastery level of Allison and Ederson, Sanchez can still offer Pochettino something with the ball at his feet.
His previous coach De Zerbi demands an extraordinary level of comfort on the ball and a willingness to invite pressure from the opposition, which the Italian clearly felt Sanchez could not provide. A return to working alongside Roberts will be welcomed by Sanchez more so than ever after what has been a turbulent year for the goalkeeper.
The questions of what is next for Sanchez and how he fits into Chelsea’s supposed youth recruitment model are both offered with a relatively simple answer. At twenty-five years old he looks like the perfect fit for Pochettino’s new-look side. Goalkeepers notoriously tend to last longer at the top of the game than their fellow outfield counterparts due to a variety of reasons – both physical and emotional.
The madness of a goalkeeper goes hand in hand with the nature of the position, such as being elbowed in the head and smashed around their own penalty box like a pinata, but Sanchez is someone who relishes these challenges and will undoubtedly thrive in an environment which may feel somewhat familiar to the Spaniard.
As the second most recent signing of the Todd Boehly era at Stamford Bridge just days before former Brighton teammate Moises Caicedo followed Sanchez out of the door to West London, Sanchez promises a new sense of what a goalkeeper should look like in a Chelsea side hoping to challenge for major honours once again.
By: Tom Norton / @tomnorton_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chris Brunskill / Fantasista / Getty Images