As Balerno’s own Craig Gordon was settling in nicely at Sunderland after becoming the most expensive keeper in Britain, Broomhouse boy Allan McGregor was earning rave reviews after helping Rangers to the 2008 UEFA Cup final.
Along with Darren Fletcher, this shot-stopping duo were considered the jewels in an otherwise unspectacular Scottish crown.
The general consensus was that it would only be a matter of time before McGregor and Gordon would go on to become first choice at one of England’s top clubs. Arsenal were regularly linked with Gordon before Wojciech Sceszny made the No. 1 jersey his own at the Emirates, while both Scots would surely have, at one stage or another, been on Sir Alex Ferguson’s radar as he pondered potential replacements for Edwin van der Sar ahead of his retirement last summer. However, as David de Gea, the 21-year old Spanish keeper Sir Alex eventually plumped for, finds his feet at Old Trafford, Edinburgh’s two finest keepers of recent times are in danger of going down as unfulfilled talents.
At first glance, that may seem a tad harsh in the case of both men. After all, it was only last week Gordon was nominated for the English Premier League’s best-ever save for a sensational stop he made for Sunderland against Bolton less than 18 months ago. Likewise McGregor has been a pivotal member of a Rangers side which has won three SPL titles in a row, while both men have excelled whenever donning the gloves for Scotland.
However, while the quality of these talented shot-stoppers is not in doubt, there is a gnawing sense of frustration at where they currently find themselves. As he approaches his 30th birthday, Gordon hasn’t played a first-team match since February last year. This lack of action is mainly attributed to injury, but since recovering he has been down the pecking order at the Stadium of Light under Marin O’Neill. Even before this lay-off, Gordon could never truly consider himself first-choice under Steve Bruce.
At this stage in his career, the confident and ambitious Gordon can’t have envisaged that he’d be the subject of a possible career-reviving loan move to Celtic. No disrespect to the Parkhead club, but Fraser Forster, on loan from Newcastle, is currently finding that excelling in the SPL no longer provides an automatic catapult up the career ladder.
With this in mind, it is also disheartening to see a keeper of McGregor’s quality still playing in the SPL at 30. While it is the player’s prerogative to do what makes him happiest, the decision last year to pledge his future to Rangers until 2017 effectively suggested he had no ambition of playing at the highest level. He is still producing the goods for Rangers and Scotland, but, unless he cuts it in a more competitive league, it is difficult to cast the Ibrox man as a truly top-class keeper.
That chance may yet arise given financially-crippled Rangers’ need to offload their prized assets, but it is likely that McGregor will have to settle for a mid-range English Premier League side at best, rather than one of the elite clubs he should have been aiming for when he seemed at his peak a few years ago. Of course, goalkeepers are renowned for producing their best in their 30s, so they both still have time. But, given their lack of progress over the past two years or so, the likely career moves Gordon and McGregor will have to make this summer will go a long way to deciding whether they are able fulfil the talent that not so long ago looked destined to take them to the very top.