Sunderland’s latest Italian is the erstwhile Arsenal third-choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone. Arriving after a stand-out season from the Liverpool-bound Simon Mignolet, replacing the Belgian will be no easy task.
Mannone’s arrival was greeted with a fair bit of hesitancy from the Sunderland faithful. A goalkeeper with a chequered reputation and somewhat down the pecking order at a club which hasn’t been known for its goalkeeping consistency in recent years wasn’t a name whom fans had perhaps wished to replace a man with more obvious talent and potential like Mignolet. Is this too unfair, however? At 25, he is still young for a goalkeeper and his time at Arsenal has shown a few glimpses of quality in him, albeit counterbalanced by the odd worrying and costly error.
To find out more, WeAreWearside interviewed the good folks at arseblog.com to get their take on their departing man.
WAW: Everyone knows a little about Mannone, but the general feelings amongst fans is that this is a poor signing, magnified maybe after Mignolet had such a brilliant season for us. Do you think Mannone's reputation is a fair reflection on him?
Arseblog: I don't think it's unreasonable to be disappointed to replace Mignolet, who looked one of the best keepers in the league, with Mannone, who clearly isn't as good. But I think his reputation is a little unfair, he did pretty well for us last season.
WAW: What would you say are his strengths and weaknesses?
Arseblog: Strengths - Good shot stopper, good organiser, distribution is pretty solid. Weaknesses - a flaw all the Arsenal keepers seem to have is a lack of dominance in their area, could be stronger in that regard.
WAW: Is it fair to say that a lot of his mistakes are down to experience or do you think this will be an ongoing trend?
Arseblog: All keepers make mistakes. He had one or two dodgy moments with us, a spectacular error in the Champions League seems to have defined him, but that was very much out of the ordinary. He did well at Hull on loan when he played regularly, and I think he'll become a better player if he plays week in, week out for you.
WAW: Is there a Premier League keeper you can compare him to in terms of quality?
Arseblog: Not really, he's just a reasonably solid, fairly inexperienced (in the grand scheme of things), goalkeeper.
WAW: We know as a keeper he is still very young - potentially how good do you think he could be?
Arseblog: It's hard to say, really. You won't find too many people who would say he's got a ton of untapped potential, but I don't think he's as bad as people make him out to be either.
WAW: Do you have any specific memories or stories which may interest our readers?
Arseblog: He had a brilliant game against Fulham in 09. We won 1-0 and it was down to him, he made a string of increasingly amazing saves. Other than that he doesn't really stand out in the memory (apart from that CL game I mentioned above!). But maybe that's not a bad thing.
WAW: Generally, are Arsenal fans sad to see him go or glad to see the back of him?
Arseblog: Somewhere in the middle. He's a likeable, honest guy, seems a hard-working pro, but there was an acceptance that he was never going to make it as number 1 at Arsenal. I think people are happy enough that he's gone, but that's as much to see him try and play regularly elsewhere than become another Stuart Taylor, a player that was content to sit on his arse and pick up wages without any real ambition of playing. There's certainly no ill-will towards him.
The terrible moment against Olympiakos in 2011 does stand out, when Vito rushed out of the area in an attempt to charge down an attack, missed the ball completely and then kicked the air as he failed to prevent the shot from going in. Whilst such a calamitous rush of blood to the head is not fully representative of the player, it would be wrong to claim that in the few appearances Mannone has made for Arsenal errors have been rare. The words “every goalkeeper makes mistakes” is often a polite way of masking the fact that some make costly mistakes more than others. If Mannone is to make a case for being a Premier League first choice goalkeeper this coming season, concentration is part of his game which requires focus.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Di Canio will prefer Westwood or Mannone in goal. Westwood’s scant opportunities so far have tended to indicate that he can be a very capable performer at Premier League level, and will be desperate to seize his opportunity this year after being very vocal with his frustration regarding the lack of playing time afforded to him as of yet.
As for Mannone, many goalkeepers have been happy enough to remain in the position he had found himself in – a perennial understudy at a top club who may pick up the odd appearance now and then, but will never make a serious challenge for the first choice jersey. The Italian to his credit has obviously no wish to fall into that category. His words during his press conference, stating that the move to Wearside was the realisation of the opportunity he had long wished for, indicate a desire to learn, improve and ultimately fight to be chosen for as many games as possible.
He may lack experience, but all of the sounds about him point to a dedicated professional with a point to prove. Good luck to him.