Thursday, December 16, 2010

Magpie vs. Magpie: Should Steve Harper have his job back?

This week we're kicking the tires of a new feature we like to call "Magpie vs. Magpie" Think spy vs spy except subtract malicious intent and add football theme.

This week's question: Now that Steve Harper is back to playing form, is the job his? Or is this Krul's team until he proves otherwise?

Well, as Americans, we have seen our share of quarterback controversies, which is what this is, essentially. The goalkeeper is the leader on the field, and his position is unique. How he plays dictates how the defenders play, and on up the line. It's a position played by people with egos, and those egos need to be massaged. One theory that I've come up with after watching football coaches handle quarterback controversies is that there are two things that are important to managing such a situation well: being consistent and trustworthy. A goalie, if injured, needs to know that his job is safe if he's injured, if for no other reason that he may hide his future injuries if he thinks that his job will be in jeopardy because of them.

Well, normally I'd be able to agree with you for the most part. But the NUFC situation is unique in that we've known that this would be the year that Harper would be done on Tyneside from the beginning. It was always the plan to have Krul getting starts and seeing if he could prove himself. I think he's done that very well. His save percentage is nice at 67%, he has 3 clean sheets, and except for a spot here and there he has been at the very top of his game since he took over. I know that under normal circumstances you'd say the job is Stevie's once he's fit, but if last week taught us anything it's that the Prem is a cutthroat place to work, and can sometimes be unfair. The fair thing to do would be to have Harper in net, but the smart thing to do is to continue to cultivate your future #1.

    Yes, it's very tempting to keep Krul in net. He has been fantastic as a substitute, and I have no doubt that he would continue to have success. I'm not suggesting that we sell or even loan out Krul in order to keep Harper - quite the opposite. It's our depth that has kept us afloat, and I would like to keep that depth. Harper is under contract through 2012 and Krul through 2014, and I'd like to see both of them around that long. You have to remember that Harper was on the other side of this before. Whenever the oft-injured (that may be a tad bit harsh, but it was a common occurrence) Shay Given would go down, Harper was there to step in, and whenever Given was fit, Harper gave up his spot. I would think that now that he's on the veteran side of the equation, he would expect the same courtesy to be extended to him. He's 35 and won't be around much longer; we need to get what we can out of him now or he's going to leave for somewhere that will give him playing time. I'm never one to suggest that players should automatically be selected because of their status, but since I view Krul and Harper as roughly equals in talent at this point in both of their careers, I think you have to give deference to the veteran.

    No way! Harper is old news. Such is the breaks. I'm not saying he needs to ride the pine the rest of the year, but I am saying that Krul has earned the upper hand in his time on first team. This has turned into the same competition that it was when the year started, but advantage has to be given to the Dutchman. If he had played like a back up quarterback usually does in the NFL you'd have no argument from me, but you have to ask yourself, did we really miss Harper? Only in so far as we know Soderberg isn't ready for first team action. No, in this case I can't just give the vet his job back, and I say that knowing full well that Harper spent 16 years loyally serving behind other keepers at this club, and he has been the model of class through all of that. It was unfortunate for him to have been injured the way he was, and I'm not saying let's put him out to pasture, but I don't think you can bench Tim Krul when every game sees him getting that much better.

    The thing is, these controversies never start as a result of back-up quality play from your back-up. I think mostly it comes down to an argument of known versus unknown quality. You know what you can get from the back-up by virtue of what he's done for the last few games, and you don't know how the starter is going to react coming off of an injury. I understand the trepidation. My point is that whatever is done needs to be done with decisiveness and consistency. Pardew wasn't the manager when Harper had to sit for Given, but there's a track record there that I think needs to be honored. I think we can both agree on the decisiveness issue. If Pardew hems and haws and makes this a week-to-week decision, eventually you face a split locker room and hurt egos on one side or the other, with people asking to transfer out. I obviously prefer Harper, but if he's going to choose Krul he doesn't need to lead Harper (or the other players or the fans) on and make him think he's got a shot when he doesn't.

Well there you have it. We've solved, well, nothing really, but it was a fun conversation about a problem most teams can only wish they had. Let us know what you think about the Krul/Harper decision, the comments are open, and you are invited.


  1. Think Krul should keep his place. He's been a little shaky at times, but he's a much better shot stopper than Harper.

    The big goalkeeping debate for Newcastle will be Forster vs. Krul. It's great that both are playing regularly right now. Harper has been loyal and was a great backup to Given, but the future is one of those two.