On Wednesday, Wolves announced the signing of 32-year-old goalkeeper Andy Lonergan from Fulham. The financial details of the transfer have not been disclosed.
Lonergan began his career at Preston North End, making his debut as a 16-year old under then manager David Moyes. He has also had spells at Leeds United and Bolton Wanderers, before joining Fulham at around this time last year, making 31 appearances.
Undoubtedly then, a good signing for manager Kenny Jackett and the club. He has an abundance of Championship experience, as well as an ambitious personality which was reflected in his first interview as a Wolves player. He said that the chance to play for a massive club is something that he is looking forward to. Perfect.
However, Lonergan’s transfer will do no favours for one club stalwart in particular – Carl Ikeme.
Ikeme initially made the first team squad in the 2003-04 season because of a long term injury to Matt Murray. Since then, he has endured no less than nine loan spells, including stints at Accrington Stanley, Stockport County and most recently, twice at Doncaster Rovers.
And after making his senior debut in 2005, Ikeme finally became the club’s first choice goalkeeper season following relegation from the Premier League in 2012. Since then, he has been a main stay in an ever changing Wolves squad, despite missing a large chunk of the disappointing 2012-13 season under Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders after injuring his hand punching a tactics board in frustration after a bizarre own goal against Bristol City. He also spent a brief spell on the sidelines last season.
The point that I’m trying to make is that Ikeme has been a terrific servant to Wolves, he is quickly approaching 200 first-team appearances. He has been a member of the squad as part of the Premier League down to League One, under a variety of managers, captain, as an understudy and also mentor to a vast array of talented fellow goalkeepers.
And, new signing Lonergan has already openly recognised this.
‘In my opinion Carl is comfortably one of the top three keepers in the league. It is up to me to put pressure on him’, he told BBC Sport.
As a fellow goalkeeper myself, I know that by merely presenting himself as a challenger for the prized position in goal at Molineux, he will do exactly that.
I mentioned that last season Ikeme endured a spell on the sidelines. This was because of the signing of Argentinean goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Arsenal on a season-long loan deal in the summer transfer window. He made fifteen appearances before Christmas.
I think that Martinez’s involvement in the first-team squad put immense pressure on Ikeme to perform. The pressure led to a dip in form for the Nigeria international, given that only a few months previous he was named in the League One Team of the Season for the 2013-14 campaign.
During the first game of the season, a 2-1 win against Blackburn Rovers, Ikeme uncharacteristically let the ball loop in over his head from some distance, way outside of the penalty area, to allow Rovers to equalise. He isn’t the first, and certainly will not be the last, to bow down to the level of responsibility as a goalkeeper with an understudy breathing down your neck.
Take world-class Belgium and Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as an example. In his first season as a Chelsea first-team player, he was arguably one of the best in the Premier League.
Last season, after the signing of Asmir Begovic from Stoke, he looked a shadow of his former self, picking up two red cards on the way to Chelsea’s dramatic fall from grace. Other top level goalkeepers such as Tim Howard, Iker Casillas and Wojciech Szczesny have also fallen foul to the same fate.
And, I would say that my point is proven considering Ikeme’s rise in form after Martinez suffered a thigh injury in late 2015. Back on New Years Day, Ikeme put in a Man of the Match display against high-flying Brighton and Hove Albion to keep the score at 1-0, including a series of breathtaking saves in the final stages of the game.
And it’s because of games like that I find it hard to understand why Jackett would move to replace Ikeme. To me, he’s not only one of the best in the league, he’s a role model.
If Jackett was to keep him as his first choice goalkeeper, Aaron McCarey would surely have been offered the chance to stay at Molineux, or Jon Flatt would have been promoted to the first-team squad in a similar fashion to Ikeme thirteen years ago.
The fact that Lonergan has been signed on a two-year deal, with the option for an extension in the club’s favour, is bad news to me.