The penalty-saving Inter keeper desperate to taste Champions League football
As Simon Mignolet would no doubt attest, becoming first-choice goalkeeper at one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs is no small feat.
For the men between the posts, it is relatively easy to build a solid reputation away from the limelight, where the reduced pressure and attention on smaller clubs sees impressive performances rewarded with high praise. Doing just that at Sunderland, Mignolet was labeled “the best goalkeeper in the league” by both Joe Hart and Brendan Rodgers.
But the Belgian has ultimately failed to fulfil that promise since moving to Anfield, making high-profile errors that saw him dropped from the team and seemingly sent the Merseyside giants looking for a replacement. He has since clawed back his place and performed reasonably, but it seems highly likely that Rodgers will move for some competition this summer.
"There's nothing casual about it"
If Liverpool have regretted allowing Pepe Reina to leave for Bayern Munich, the same cannot be said of Inter’s decision to move on from Julio Cesar. The man who took over from the Brazilian is now touted as a major target for Rodgers this summer.
Like Mignolet at Sunderland, Samir Handanović earned widespread recognition for his performances at Udinese before moving to the Milanese giants, looking fearsome in one-on-one situations as he kept a string of clean sheets for the Zebrette.
- Born Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Date of birth 14 July 1984
- Height 6ft 4in
- Current club Inter Milan (93 apps)
- International Slovenia (74 caps)
After moving to Inter in July 2012, the 30-year-old has quickly repaid the €11 million fee by maintaining the consistency that has set him apart during his eight seasons on the peninsula.
He has certainly won over the Nerazzurri supporters, who see him as a key figure in the team and a reliable performer who all too often covers for the mistakes of those ahead of him.
Indeed, with Inter having conceded 32 goals in their 25 Serie A matches this term, it's remarkable that only three goalkeepers – Juve’s Gigi Buffon, Morgan De Sanctis of Roma and Empoli’s Luigi Sepe – have kept more clean sheets than the Slovenian.
Thanks to Inter’s leaky defence, Handanović has faced more shots than all but seven other keepers in the league, making save after save to keep the club in contention for a European spot next term.
At 6ft 4in tall, the Ljubljana native is an impressive figure who uses his frame to narrow angles quickly and close down players, while commanding his box well.
He has also developed a special skill in stopping penalties, and has already denied three spot-kicks this term to boost his incredible record: since his Serie A arrival in 2005, he has saved 26 of 57 penalties.
"It would be better not to concede so many penalties, but with a goalkeeper like him we seem to have the advantage," club director Piero Ausilio noted recently, going on to point out that Handanović works hard to maintain his numbers. "His statistics are remarkable and there's nothing casual about it. He is a professional who works hard for these results."
3 - Samir Handanovic has saved 3 penalties during this season, more than any other goalkeeper amongst the Top5 European leagues. Wall #Inter
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 20, 2015
- In 2006, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Shovkovskit kept the first clean sheet in a World Cup shootout
- Since moving to La Liga in 2007, Diego Alves has only been beaten by 19 of 39 penalties
- Andoni Zubizaretta has saved the most penalties in La Liga (21)
- Gianluca Pagliuca holds the Serie A record (24)
- Jean-Marie Pfaff saved 9 of the 14 he faced for Bayern Munich
- Feyenoord’s Kenneth Vermeer was unbeaten by 7 successive penalties (Feb 2012-Mar 2014)
- In 1979/80 Ipswich’s Paul Cooper faced 10 penalties and saved 8
"It's not normal..."
Handanović has more in his locker than a knack of stopping spot-kicks. At Juventus in January, Handanović wonderfully denied a typical Andrea Pirlo free-kick to ensure his side took a point.
His impact on Inter's results is notable in his absence. His recent injury pressed Juan Pablo Carrizo into action for a two-match spell recently; Celtic put three past the Argentine in the Europa League, and he was beaten again as Roberto Mancini’s side laboured to a 2-1 win against Cagliari.
"Handanović is carrying the team with his great saves," said Inter legend Francesco Toldo. "It almost seems like the norm, but I think it’s certainly not normal. He should be given more acclaim, this goalkeeper: he really excels and doesn’t get downhearted. It’s difficult for him because the defence suffers at times, but he’s always ready."
Yet despite Handanović regularly rescuing the beleaguered club, it seems he could move on this summer after stalling on an extension to his current contract which expires in June 2016.
Handanović is carrying the team. It’s certainly not normal: it’s difficult for him because the defence suffers at times, but he’s always ready
Former Inter and Italy keepers Toldo and Gianluca Pagliuca have expressed that the club should do what they can to keep him, but it seems the Slovenian has decided it is time to move on. He openly discussed his situation with La Gazzetta dello Sport back in November.
"I haven’t asked for anything," he claimed about the demands he had made (or not, in this case). "Before deciding I want to understand the aims and ambitions of the club, and the direction they want to go in because it could go in so many ways."
"Milan is not enough"
Living a healthy life with your family in a city like Milan is not enough; the only way to be happy is to win
Having seen the Nerazzurri struggle over the last few seasons, it seems he wants to head to a team able to offer a more competitive environment. Previously linked with Barcelona and Manchester City, Handanović clearly wants to play for a club who regularly contend for major titles. As he went on to say: "Living a healthy life with your family in a city like Milan is not enough; the only way to be happy is to win."
Twice voted into Serie A's team of the year, the 30-year-old seems ready to test himself against the continent's best, having never played in the Champions League.
Selling him this summer would allow Inter to move closer in line with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations, for which they are awaiting news of a recent investigation.
It is easy to see why Liverpool are interested in bringing him to Anfield. While he may not be as well known as some of his contemporaries, there is little doubt Handanović has become one of Europe’s finest goalkeepers, and losing him would undoubtedly be a major blow to Inter.