Manchester United’s third-choice goalkeeper is often forgotten because odds are he will never play in the squad- but, should David De Gea and Sergio Romero go down, Sam Johnstone will take his place in the first XI and look to help United in their quest for domestic and continental glory. That implies, of course, that he will remain at the club beyond this summer, and according to recent reports, he could be moving on to new pastures.
Nottingham Forrest and Cardiff City are both reportedly interested in signing the 23-year-old United youth product, who doesn’t look likely to make the first team for the rest of his career. In fact, Johnstone has been United’s third keeper for a long time already, and is yet to make a competitive appearance for the club- De Gea is the best goalkeeper in England, and perhaps the world, and Romero, while not world class by any means, is comfortably better than Johnstone.
Reports say that Mourinho has been impressed by Johnstone’s potential and work-rate, and plans to help him push Romero for the second spot at United. A youth product who likely spent a lot of his life dreaming of playing for his club, Johnstone would likely happily sit on the bench every week, which is admirable. Johnstone, himself, has stated his intention to prove he can be a top goalkeeper too. Comparing his motivation to Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, Johnstone showed intent to be like the youth players who became first team starters for United last season.
“My job is to show that I can do it. Hopefully, he trusts me to do it because I’m learning every day from him as well. He is a very experienced manager, a good guy, and a great coach. There are a lot of games coming up and I’ve always got to be ready. Anything can happen in football. I don’t think there’s any difference between me and, say, Marcus [Rashford] and Jesse [Lingard]. They want to play for Manchester United. I want to play for Manchester United.”
Speaking about the first team squad, Johnstone reaffirmed that De Gea is one of the best goalkeepers around, and he said even though the Spaniard prevents him from getting playing time, he is learning a lot from De Gea and plans to use his time with his senior goalkeeper to learn and improve as a footballer.
“I’m going to have to bide my time a little bit, being in a position where I’ve got one of the best goalkeepers in the world ahead of me but I will use that to my advantage and learn from it.
“It’s good to be around the squad, I’m in the first-team dressing room and travelling as the manager wants to take three goalkeepers to each game. I feel involved and, even in the warm-ups before the game, the manager can see you. It was great to play against Wigan and Borussia Dortmund in pre-season because it gives you a little taste of it and I want more and want to impress the manager as well.”
While Johnstone’s comments give insight to where he is valued in the squad, and his motivation and willingness to work for the club is endearing, I don’t think he’s good enough to play for Manchester United. I didn’t watch him in the reserve leagues much, but I did see him in friendlies during preseason both last year and this year, and his shot-stopping ability left as much to be desired as his distribution. In fact, De Gea is a great player, but Johnstone is part of the constitution of United’s goalkeeping shambles behind the Spaniard.
First of all, Romero is a disaster. He cost United important points in the six matches he played all season last season. His distribution is diabolical- blinding in fact, and his surprisingly good shot-stopping ability is negatively compensated for by his rueful positioning. This isn’t an urgent issue, but one must think United is in a horrible situation if De Gea goes down. United’s youth options in the goalkeeping department aren’t as good as their options in the outfield positions, either.
Eventually, one would hope Mourinho will add a backup goalkeeper the way he did Asmir Begovic at Chelsea because United’s current crop is very poor. I’d go as far to say United’s backup goalkeepers are light years behind their equivalents at the other big-six clubs. The likes of Romero, who Louis van Gaal actually believed could start for United, Johnstone, who is 23 and looks unable to make simple saves in the Premier League, and those further below, are not remotely ready to play for United should De Gea go down. Barcelona is signing Jasper Cillessen to replace Manchester City-bound Claudio Bravo, which shows the growing importance of a decent backup goalkeeper. United is in an incredibly risky situation that should teach us an important lesson- De Gea needs to be bubble-wrapped.