Cam Ramsey looks at our newest recruit between the sticks.
I’ll try my hardest to refrain from using cheap puns centred squarely around breasts and nipples, but in the wake of Alphonse Areola’s arrival from Paris Saint-Germain on a season-long loan, we are clasped in very safe hands indeed.
Recognised as PSG’s third-choice stopper behind Keylor Navas and Marcin Bulka, the need for Areola to depart the Parc des Princes, albeit temporarily, couldn’t have been greater. The 27-year-old’s esteemed career, so far, has harboured reward, acclaim and now he’s at a tantalising crossroads, facing an opportunity to flex his credentials with London’s Originals in the Premier League.
Nurtured in the Parisian’s youth ranks, Areola progressed through the age groups rapidly and in 2010, the senior set-up under Antoine Kombouare’s command awaited him. RC Lens were the first club to come knocking for his youthful services in 2013 then, a year later, SC Bastia took custody of the fledgling stopper. In 40 appearances for I Turchini, Areola – 21-years-old at the time – recorded 13 clean sheets, a return that promised competence as well as improvement.
Areola’s physical presence within his 18-yard box, alongside his deceptive agility, caught they eyes of Villarreal CF in the summer of 2016 and in the coming campaign at the Yellow Submarine, he only conceded 32 goals in 37 outings, tallying 17 shut outs in the process. That was a defining season for the Frenchman, a campaign that truly highlighted his game-saving qualities as Villarreal finished fifth in La Liga.
A Spanish sojourn
Returning to France, Areola remained part of PSG’s plans until Real Madrid drafted him into their squad for the 2019/20 season and, whilst an interim stint with Los Blancos is a ridiculously attractive prospect, he only took to the turf nine times. Passed to and from Europe’s elite, Areola was in need of an impromptu revival so for the coming season, low and behold, he now resides by the river with a resurgent club that mirrors his immediate ambitions.
On the international stage, Areola is a trusted member of Didier Dechamps’ France fold and though he’s Hugo Lloris’ understudy, he’s still a revered component withing Les Bleus‘ 2018 World Cup-winning contingent. Yes, he may not have played during France’s successful trip to Russia and he may only have three caps, but Fulham have a stopper with a medal that tops every attainable accolade in the professional game.Embed from Getty Images
What this means, essentially, is Areola’s an accomplished specialist with planet-toppling prestige. With Madrid, he claimed the Spanish title, as well as the Spanish Super Cup. With PSG, unsurprisingly, of course, he’s won three Ligue 1 shields and two French Cup trophies, not to mention the four French Super Cups, but what the heck. He’s a player that’s familiar with accomplishment, he’s tried and tested at the pinnacle of club football but, refreshingly, he evidently possesses a humble, modest ethic, a perfect match for Fulham’s honest ideology.
Jostling for position
Why would he openly swap Champions League contention for Premier League obscurity? Simple, Areola wants to give his all for Scott Parker’s camp and contribute wherever possible but make no mistake, he will aim for supremacy between the sticks. This is excellent for Marek Rodak’s development, by the way, and it’s an ideal platform for Areola to showcase his capabilities to the wider masses, too.
Our gifted Slovakian is still my first-choice, although Areola will push him to obtain a higher level. Our newcomer will introduce a standard that will test his teammate’s capabilities and if Rodak isn’t sharp on the training field, if he isn’t equipped to equal his colleague’s work-rate, Areola will prove to be a tremendous mentor and motivator for the 23-year-old.
Being in the presence of a ‘keeper that’s worked with the very best himself, that’s got to excite Rodak greatly. If Rodak is as strong mentally as he is between the sticks, he’ll relish the opportunity to potentially upstage Areola, he’ll overcome obstacles and if he’s fishing for pointers, there’s really not many better to learn from.Embed from Getty Images
A prestigious recruit
Sure, Areola isn’t Gianluigi Buffon, he is not Iker Casillas or Manuel Neuer, but he’s a stopper that’s rubbed shoulders with men of the same venerated calibre and he’s had to wait patiently for his chances to guard the target for some of the continent’s most respected superpowers. That experience, knowing you have to bring your best, 100% of the time, will serve the Whites very well indeed.
If countless media reports are to be believed, we beat Chelsea and Arsenal to his signature, Parker pull relinquishes Frank Lampard’s magnetic energy and what’s more glorious is the realisation that the best ‘keepers in SW6 represent the super shaggin’ Whites. Kepa Arrizabalaga, with his poppadom wrists, and Willy Caballero cower in Rodak and Areola’s domineering shadows and if that’s a reason to be smug, despite the Blues ridiculously scary offensive departments, I’ll take it.
Assured, vocal, resistant, 6ft 5, broad shouldered, Areola will raise the bar in the coming months and, though he’ll inevitably pick the ball out of his own net on multiple occasions, he’ll thwart the cream of English footballing royalty with qualified reflexes and an appreciation of angles and margins when it matters most. I said we didn’t need another ‘keeper, but this one’s welcome. As Marcus Bettinelli dines on Parmos in Middlesbrough, we gorge ourselves on the finest French Fancy the loan market had to offer.