Arsenal are close to a deal to sign Colombia national team goalkeeper David Ospina from French club Nice. The club president of the Nice team, Jean-Pierre Rivère, revealed, “There is still no agreement, but we are not far.” But if and when a deal is reached, what can we expect from Ospina?
When 17-year-old Ospina put on his gloves for the first time in a top flight match, there were nerves. Yet the casual fan or pundit would have never noticed. In front of him was the most daunting task of his career, debuting in a packed house for one of the biggest clubs in Colombian football with Atlético Nacional, to start out a season.
For the Medellín native, he got to see his club win league titles from the bench but he knew that the chance was there to do great things and the enormous responsibility of being in goal where players like Miguel Calero and René Higuita had soared to tremendous heights at the continental level in years past was relished more than feared.
Ospina would help Nacional in 2007 become the first team to win the league title in back-to-back semesters since the inception of that format back in 2002. His saves were spectacular as were his clashes in the area with any carbon-based object lurking in his box. Overall, the young goalkeeper showed why he was the goalkeeper of the future as the previous generation, with names like Oscar Córdoba, Faryd Mondragón and Agustín Julio, were near the end of their soccer careers.
Just a few months after his success with Nacional, he was called up for the Colombian national team. By the time 2010 rolled around, he established himself as the undisputed number one for Colombia. By that time the eyes of various teams from Italy, Spain and England were inquiring about his services after two excellent seasons at Ligue 1 side Nice.
The 2011 Copa América was where he was supposed to emerge and become one of the best players at his position. Unfortunately an untimely challenge by former Wigan and U-20 teammate Hugo Rodallega ended his participation in the tournament before it even began. Yet that did not deter him from his eventual goal.
His potential contributions to Arsenal
I’ve seen and heard Arsenal fans cringe the past few seasons ever since Jens Lehmann departed off into the sunset from his goalkeeping position.
The list of keepers that have come like Wojciech Szczęsny, Lucasz Fabianski, Vito Mannone and Manuel Almunia did not inspire a great deal of confidence in Gunners fans. As a matter of fact, Alex Manninger, Stuart Taylor and Vince Bartram didn’t inspire the confidence at Highbury in the post-David Seaman era either before Lehmann asserted himself when he returned in 2011.
Some of these goalkeepers have shown flashes of quality, but their erratic play at times has seen that position on the squad become a revolving door of sorts. That is until Szczęsny saw Fabianski leave for Swansea City and Italian goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano did not see action at all during his short time as a Gunner.
Ospina comes in with a completely different pedigree. When Szczesny was just starting as a youth player, Ospina was already gaining experience as a backup and eventually a starter with Atlético Nacional in Colombia. He was talked about by many as a goalkeeper with potential and he showed it at times as a 16-17 year-old etching his place on a professional club. Yet it was his mental strength and maturity that made European sides take notice of what he could offer.
Former Köln and Philadelphia Union shot stopper Faryd Mondragón talked about the fact that the man in front of him on the national team before his retirement was going to be there for a long time.
Right now, Ospina’s skill set is probably the most well-rounded you will see in European soccer. His qualities are well documented – quickness, ability to cut off angles, and vision. Yet it is the work that he has done in the past few years to improve certain deficiencies in his game that are what make him such an interesting long-term project for Arséne Wenger, who saw him up close in Brazil just a few short weeks ago.
“With David, (Colombia) have a goalkeeper for a log time. He is very disciplined in goal. He’s a modern goalkeeper, can stop shots, cut angles very well and makes big saves in crucial situations. I like his style.”
- Faryd Mondragón
Ospina has also shown promise when it comes to using his feet and being able to organize and distribute the ball t0 his teammates. There might be a bit of an issue with the language, but it’s doubtful as he does speak French and Spanish, so from that perspective his bases are covered.
As a younger goalkeeper, Ospina was always a heart attack waiting to happen when he was coming out for crosses. Either he’d misplay the ball or would get smashed by another player (friend or foe) in the process. Ever since he arrived at Nice in Ligue Un, that part of his game improved exponentially.
Being at a club like Atlético Nacional as well as part of the Colombian U-20 team back in 2005 was also a tremendous learning experience. That club, according to many, was one of the best youth sides that Colombia ever had if you start to look at the names. Radamel Falcao García, Camilo Zúñiga, Abel Aguilar, Fredy Guarín, Carlos Valdés, Cristián Zapata, as well as David, were part of the 2010 World Cup side in Brazil. Edwin Valencia was on the World Cup side until an injury forced him out of the squad. Ospina was the youngest player on that squad at 16, albeit he was a backup to Libis Arenas in that tournament.
“He’s a very young goalkeeper but with excellent skill set. I wish him the best.”-
Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo
The experience he gained throughout his career helped him become one of the most solid South American goalkeepers of the past few years. It was an easy choice for many to see that Ospina was the most consistent keepers in the last South American World Cup qualifiers. He was also one of the players in his position that were able to shine the brightest in one of the highest scoring World Cups ever.
Yet, the most important observation that needs to be made is his contribution to help keep Nice afloat in Ligue 1 the past few years. Claude Puel’s side was one of the youngest sides in the league and had the worst offensive output as well. Despite these numbers, Ospina was amongst the best in the league. He was fourth in goals against average (0.86) and tied for third in clean sheets with 13 alongside Monaco’s Danijel Subasic.
There is no doubt in the minds of many that Ospina could be the starter at Arsenal sooner rather than later. If that does indeed occur, the question will not be when will Szczesny get a start. The question will be is which goalkeeper will be the one that can inherit Ospina’s position in the years to come. Until now, he will have to prove himself once more, like he did when he first started.