There tends to be two types of Aberdeen supporters writes Jack Thomson. The first is the self-proclaimed super fan who believes that martyring oneself by staying to the end of a 9-0 embarrassment at the hands of Celtic merits a sense of prestige and status above every other supporter.
The second being the supporter who follows the club they love with an honest and realistic assessment of what is actually going on within the infrastructure and what the city of Aberdeen deserves. One distinct difference between the two is often their opinion regarding particular playing staff.
There is one individual who certainly divides the opinion of these sets of supporters- his name is Jamie Langfield.
Jamie is one of two, the other being midfielder Ryan Jack, that remain from the squad that succumbed to Celtic on that dark day in November 2010. By no means the worst offender during those 90 minutes but throughout his Aberdeen career, which has now lasted an impressive ten years, the goalkeeper has had heroic moments but also his fair share of goalkeeping catastrophes.
Langfield will be rewarded with a testimonial match when Brighton and Hove Albion visit Pittodrie on the 26th July. With this in mind, two questions will arise in the minds of many. Firstly is the issue of whether Jamie Langfield’s Aberdeen career has been a success and latterly, to what extent or in which capacity is the goalkeeper currently an asset to the Scottish Premiership runners-up of 2014/2015? In order to answer these questions, I will propose a case for the goalkeeper but additionally a case against.
The case in favour could suggest Langfield has been a fine servant to Aberdeen Football Club. Amassing more than 300 appearances for the club, the goalkeeper was a significant part of our European run of the 2007/2008 season and after all made a crucial save in the 2014 Scottish League Cup penalty shootout victory. The man from Paisley has also shown incredible loyalty to stick with a club for so long, hasn’t he?
Sceptics would argue that the reason he has stayed with the club for so long might be that nobody else would take him. In fact it was even confirmed that the goalkeeper got involved in a barmy with former gaffer Jimmy Calderwood on a post-season stag-do in Magaluf in 2007 over a proposed move to the now defunct Glasgow Rangers Football Club.
Let’s look at three of the goalkeeper’s career highlights:
- The 2006/2007 season was probably Jimmy Calderwood’s best season as Aberdeen manager and arguably Jamie’s best as goalkeeper for the club. A relative consistency was shown that implied we had a goalkeeper that would likely be number one for a few years. Strong calm performances were displayed in important league fixtures such as the final day victory over Rangers which secured a third place finish and European qualification.
- Dnipro – Langfield had been benched for the first six matches of the 2007/2008 season before returning to the squad in the 0-0 home draw with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. An important late save from a Sergey Kornilenko effort following a Zander Diamond slip ensured that the Dons went into the away leg in a healthy position. The goalkeeper had done well on his return but it was to be his performance in the away leg which is fondly remembered by Aberdeen supporters. Darren Mackie’s diving header in the first half propelled Aberdeen into the lead and from then on it was backs to the wall. Dnipro surged on the away goal time after time but Langfield made several simply top class saves throughout the full 90 minutes. Not only did the goalkeeper display his adeptness at shot stopping, he claimed numerous cross balls in confident fashion. In the final minutes, Langfield’s performance was epitomised by a fingertip save onto the crossbar. Aberdeen qualified for the group stages as a result of a 1-1 draw and Jamie Langfield was significant in the process.
- Scottish League Cup 2014 – Penalty shootouts are pressurised situations for all players, not to mention the group representing a club who were on the verge of securing a first piece of silverware for almost two decades. Langfield had a smirk on his face which read that he knew exactly where Billy McKay was going to put his opening penalty. A strong save down to his right, piled the pressure on Inverness Caledonian Thistle and was a solid foundation on which Aberdeen built shootout success. The goalkeeper’s post-match comments certainly revealed the elation he experienced that day and undoubtedly captured his love for the club and his teammates.
A characteristic of the goalkeeper’s technical make-up is prevalent in these career highlights. Langfield has always proven to be a strong shot-stopper, having made several great saves throughout his career. However, when coupled with inconsistent distribution and a below-par command of the penalty area, is it enough to remain on the books at a top two side? Simply put, the answer is no and while we accept that shot stopping might be considered a stronger aspect of his game, there are affordable goalkeepers out there who are not only better in this department but also supersede in the other two.
And so, what about some of the lowlights?
- Aberdeen 1-4 Dundee United (Scottish League Cup Semi-Final, 5th February 2008) – There was cause for much optimism when an Andy Considine goal helped the Dons into the lead but it was undone by the team’s disastrous defensive performance. Significant blame had to be placed at the foot of Langfield’s door for three of the four goals. The goalkeeping performance from this rainy February night in 2008 is a perfect example of the issue many Aberdeen fans have taken with Langfield. Dundee United’s second came from a corner which was the result of a sliced clearance by Aberdeen’s goalkeeper. The third occurred when a lack of communication defensively allowed Craig Conway to skip past Langfield and finish. Morgaro Gomis then put the cherry on top for the Arabs as Langfield was put under pressure by a Scott Severin back pass. The story does not finish there, however, as the goalkeeper inexplicably tried to dribble past Gomis before being dispossessed for a tap in. Truly horrendous.
- Celtic 1-0 Aberdeen (4th August 2012) – To get a result at Parkhead, every player needs to understand their role while maintaining a consistent work rate and level of concentration for the full 90 minutes. This seemed to be the case on the opening day of the 2012/2013 season as the team was well organised by Craig Brown and limited Celtic to a few chances throughout the match. However, in the 79th minute Kris Commons’ tame effort on goal outfoxed the Dons goalkeeper as it trundled through his arms at his near post. The goalkeeper’s reaction was slow and laboured as Celtic were gifted the goal which would secure three points.
- Hamilton 3-0 Aberdeen (17th October 2014) – Hamilton played with an intensity and pace that troubled Aberdeen on this particular Friday night. This would be the game that confirmed that it was time to allow Scott Brown to stake his claim for the number one jersey. Supporters were envious of the opposition as Michael McGovern made a string of impressive saves, while Langfield shirked out of a challenge with Dougie Imrie to allow a simple finish for Tony Andreu. The back four played with a confusion that was provoked by a goalkeeper uncertain of how to organise his defence. It proved to be costly as Hamilton put three past Langfield with ease.
Every goalkeeper has a howler now and then so isn’t it unfair to pick out three of Langfield’s throughout his career?
Perhaps but these are just three of many more. The examples mentioned from 2008, 2012 and 2014 reflect a worrying pattern. The goalkeeper hasn’t shown evident improvement in his time at Pittodrie. Many will point to the fact that Jamie Langfield has the highest number of clean sheets out of any goalkeeper in Scottish football. Even more than the likes of Allan McGregor.
The thing is, however, that goalkeepers like Allan McGregor improve and further their careers by going on to test themselves elsewhere. Therefore, obviously there is an opportunity for middle of the range goalkeepers in Scotland to secure statistic victories. As former Aberdeen manager Ebbe Skovdahl once remarked: “Statistics are like mini-skirts, they give you good ideas but hide the most important thing.”
What is the most important thing? The most important thing is that there has long been a goalkeeping problem at Pittodrie.
In an ironic twist of fate, arguably our last top class goalkeeper has been sacked in order to rectify the problem. Jim Leighton’s training methods are said to have been outdated and his record of improving goalkeepers within the squad simultaneously with identifying capable goalkeeping targets to come into the club leaves a lot to be desired.
Where does that leave Langfield? The local Aberdonian papers have touted him to replace Leighton.
They often say that those who can’t play, teach. There are some striking examples in modern football of uninspiring players who have went on to show their metal as a coach. England goalkeeping coach Dave Watson is perhaps a relevant example, an ordinary former player who is now held in high regard by the England players and backroom staff alike.
It is unlikely, however, that a player who has worked under Jim Leighton for such a long time, would have particularly different techniques and philosophies. A clean slate is necessary. The Aberdeen defence showed last season that they are much more settled with a goalkeeper behind them who can distribute the ball well under pressure.
Scouse goalkeeper Scott Brown is not the long term solution to Aberdeen’s goalkeeping problem, but he is the man left responsible for ousting a goalkeeper that has underperformed as an Aberdeen player for far too long. Jamie Langfield is no longer an asset to an Aberdeen Football Club that has aspirations of challenging Celtic’s dominance in Scottish football.