There’s a stat that keeps popping up in the pre-match previews where Fulham are concerned.
Mark Schwarzer has saved just 60% of the shots on target he has faced this season, the worst rate of any goalkeeper.
Now, I like numbers. But that doesn’t mean I trust everything that’s thrown at me. Does this figure mean Schwarzer’s performances are drastically down on last season when he was our player of the year? No. Might it mean that old age (of course, a relative term when we’re dealing with professional footballers) is catching up with the Australian? I’d argue precisely the opposite. In fact, yesterday’s excellent display at Wigan suggests that Schwarzer’s lost none of his ability.
It’s not just the saves that he makes that are laudable, though that full-length dive to turn Charles N’Zogbia’s shot onto the crossbar and prevent us conceding a second goal in quick succession was quite majestic. You can see the confidence that he gives the back four. Schwarzer is constantly talking to them, demanding more concentration and application, and he’s not satisfied with having to bail his team out continually as he did at the DW Stadium yesterday. Time and again, after each save, the goalkeeper was quick to issue instructions to his defenders.
Antti Niemi was a good goalkeeper capable of making great saves, but where Schwarzer has the edge is in the manner he commands his penalty area. He’ll frequently come for balls that are heading outside his six yard box thus relieving the pressure on the likes of Hangeland and Hughes. If Edwin van der Sar, who I consider priviledged to have watched keep goal for four years at Fulham, had one failing it was on crosses.
Schwarzer will go to the World Cup with an Australian side that continues to improve. Their progress rather mirrors Fulham’s – we are steadily working our way towards the top half after a rather sluggish start to the season. Like a fine wine, Schwarzer’s getting better with age. Articulate as well as agile, there’s plenty of life in the old dog just yet.