With Belgian No 1 Thibaut Courtois expected to spend a considerable amount of time on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury, the chance that new Chelsea FC signing Asmir Begovi has been waiting for has arrived
“I told the club at that time, a Goalkeeper is not a position you can have fun with. It is a position you cannot gamble with. You can win or lose things because in one specific moment you dona t have your first keeper, and your second keeper is not good enough.a “
Those were the words of Chelsea FC manager Jos Mourinho in July this year, after the Blues had confirmed the signing of Bosnia and Herzegovina international Asmir Begovi from Stoke City. It is that sort of clairvoyance that has helped take the Portuguese to the top of world football, and it is what might prevent an already average Blues season from taking a nosedive.
For Begovi is no Ross Turnbull or Henrique HilA?rio. The Stamford Bridge faithful do not have to look too far back to remember a time when the cover for their No 1 keeper Petr A?ech was woefully inadequate for a side looking to challenge across four fronts. Chelsea FC do not have that problem any longer.
After selling their legendary shot-stopper to rivals Arsenal FC, the Blues wasted no time in replacing the Czech international with Stoke No 1 Asmir Begovi . With news emerging of a knee injury to Thibaut Courtois where the estimated time-frame for his lay-off is being talked about in months rather than days or weeks, the signing of the Bosnian might just prove to be Chelsea FC’s best bit of business this summer.
Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of cynicism from Premier League fans regarding Begovi ‘s decision to join the Blues, with many opining that the move effectively sounded the death knell for the 28-year-old’s career given the quality of the Chelsea FC No 1. Some questioned the former Stoke City shot-stopper’s ambition, with the argument being that Begovi was happy to sit on the bench and earn his pay.
Irrespective of Courtois’ injury, that viewpoint is as myopic as it is hypocritical. On the one hand, players moving to leagues perceived to be easier relative to the Premier League or La Liga are criticised for lacking ambition, while on the other hand, players moving to bigger clubs where there may be considerable hurdles in their path to the first team are accused of the same thing.
Quite simply, Begovi backed himself to challenge one of the best keepers in the world in Belgian Thibaut Courtois, and sought to prove himself at an elite level with a club like Chelsea FC where the stakes are much higher and the margin for error significantly smaller. That is ambition.
Not only does the Bosnia and Herzegovina international provide the sort of competition that would genuinely keep Courtois on his toes — much more so than if the Blues had signed the likes of Robert Green or John Ruddy — but also gives Chelsea FC a quality option in the event of Courtois’ unavailability.
Mourinho knew the importance of having a quality second-choice goalkeeper in a team that is expected to challenge in four competitions, and was evidently able to convey this to Begovi . Presumably neither of them expected their judgement to be vindicated just 52 minutes into the new Premier League season.
Courtois was sent off against Swansea on the opening day of the season for a foul on Baf timbi Gomis, and Begovi was thrown into the fray immediately. The 28-year-old gave a good account of himself with a solid — if unspectacular — performance, making a notable save from a Jefferson Montero effort to help his side to a 2-2 draw.
With Courtois suspended for the following match against Manchester City, the former Stoke No 1 made his first competitive start for the Blues and put in an excellent performance. The first half n particular was an exhibition of Begovi ‘s quality, as the Bosnian denied Sergio AgA?ero time and again with fine reflex saves to keep the scoreline respectable and his side in the game.
Although the incumbent champions were ultimately on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline, the 28-year-old had done enough to indicate how valuable he might prove to be for Jos Mourinho and his Chelsea FC side.
The circumstances under which the Chelsea FC No 2 will get an extended run in the side are far from ideal, but it is exactly the sort of eventuality in preparation of which Mourinho urged his club to not ‘have fun’ with the goalkeeping position.
Over the past few seasons, Begovi has shown himself to be amongst the most consistent goalkeepers in the league. His reflexes are up there with the best in the division, and his tall frame gives him the wing span to minimise the target for opposition strikers, something that is particularly helpful in one-on-one situations.
The Bosnian was part of one of the most miserly defences in the league at the Britannia under Tony Pulis, and helped the team to their highest ever league finish under new manager Mark Hughes. The Welshman changed the Potters’ style of play to a more expansive one, requiring Begovi to play the ball out from the back more rather than punting it up the field. The former Portsmouth shot-stopper has improved in that aspect, which will only serve to help him at Chelsea FC, where Mourinho too has changed the team’s style of play.
An area where the Blues might miss their No 1 is set-pieces, where the Belgian has the uncanny ability to simply pluck balls out of the air with the timing of his leaps. Although Begovi is not quite as good, he is by no means poor in that aspect.
With a daunting run of fixtures on the horizon — a run including Everton and Newcastle away, and Arsenal and Southampton at Stamford Bridge — as well as the return of the Champions League, Chelsea FC fans will be thanking their stars that they have a keeper of the ability of Asmir Begovi to fall back on.
For the Bosnian, this move has been a long time coming. As the son of refugee parents who fled a war-torn Yugoslavia for Germany and subsequently Canada, a professional football career in England was far from a foregone conclusion.
Begovi signed for Portsmouth on a youth contract after a trial as a teenager in 2003, and the journey he has taken since then includes stops at Belgian side La LouviA?re, as well as Football League clubs Macclesfield Town, Bournemouth (at the time in League One), Yeovil Town and Ipswich Town. The move to Stoke City proved to be the making of the 28-year-old, who has since also gone on to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 2014 World Cup.
Things have not come easy for the Chelsea FC keeper, then, and he has had to work his way up the ladder to be where he is now. He is yet to win a competition for club or country at the senior level, however, and has finally moved to a club where he has the opportunity to do just that.
Far from the end of the Bosnian’s career, the move to Chelsea FC might just be the beginning of the most exciting phase of it.
Asmir Begovi has earned his move to the big time, and now deserves his chance to shine.