Finding a starting role at Manchester City sees Willy Cabellero having to make a tough decision on the final move of his career
The career of Willy Caballero has in large parts been played out in the shadows, being overlooked and playing second fiddle but Claudio Bravo’s well-documented struggles at Manchester City have provided the veteran goalkeeper with an opportunity to shine on one of the biggest stages.
City’s lethal attacking unit rightly deserved praise after the exhilarating Champions League victory over Monaco last week but amid eight goals it was easy to overlook the contribution of Caballero.
Monaco led 2-1 when the Argentinian guessed correctly to stop Radamel Falcao’s weak penalty allowing City to come from behind to lead and in the closing stages another invaluable stop denied the visitors from narrowing the deficit.
With six penalty saves from his last eight faced, it isn’t only Caballero’s prowess at keeping the ball out from twelve yards that have City reevaluating whether or not to offer a new deal to the 35-year-old.
The position of goalkeeper under Pep Guardiola has been the source of constant debate since the former Barcelona manager opted to get rid of established number one Joe Hart and bring in Chilean international Claudio Bravo.
Caballero had been second-choice to Hart and was firmly expected to be behind Bravo in the pecking order too – and he has been for the majority of the season.
However, stinging criticism of the former Barcelona keeper in light of him having the worst save to goal ratio in the Premier League after the 2-2 draw with Tottenham in January led Guardiola to make changes.
City have been far from perfect defensively since and Caballero was at fault for Monaco’s opening goal last week but with only one conceded in the last three league matches, Willy looks to have seized the number one slot and could be given a one-year extension on his deal.
Caballero isn’t City’s future but for a player that looked set to return to Argentina when his contract expires in the summer it is a remarkable turnaround.
Understandably Caballero is understood to want to know if he would still be number one next season before agreeing to any deal given that prior to this current spell, it was with Malaga that the former Boca Juniors stopper was playing regularly.
It was his outstanding form in La Liga that brought him to Manchester with Manuel Pellegrini having worked with him previously at Los Boquerones but despite breaking a club record for the longest period without conceding in 2011 and being shortlisted with Thibaut Courtois and Keylor Navas as the league’s best goalkeeper for the 2012/13 season, Caballero was still ignored by Argentina.
His best club form went largely unnoticed in Argentina and Alejandro Sabella and Gerardo Martino both remained loyal to perennial bench warmer Sergio Romero meaning Caballero missed out on the World Cup and the Copa America all together.
An understated star at Malaga, Caballero only arrived at La Rosaleda as an emergency signing once the window had closed due to injury to Sergio Asenjo, after largely shining in the Segunda Division with Elche.
Even prior to his switch to Elche, Caballero was still forced to take something of a backseat.
Boca Juniors historically defeated AC Milan to lift the 2003 Intercontinental Cup but it was Roberto Abbondanzieri between the sticks as Willy watched on from the bench.
The Argentina under-20s won the 2001 World Cup and later captured gold at the 2004 Olympics but once more Caballero found himself as back-up, this time to German Lux.
When given opportunities, Caballero has rarely disappointed but his career has been that of a supporting artist rather than the lead man.
City’s Premier League title challenge already appears over but if Guardiola were to capture the Champions League, it would provide Caballero with his moment in the spotlight.
36 this year, there are perhaps not many chances ahead and so if the Citizens splash the cash on a new number one in the summer, an opportunity to return to Boca and take centre stage may be preferred to another year as number two.