McDiarmid Park, home of St. Johnstone, may not be foremost in the minds of soccer fans, but on the 13th of August it did play host to a couple of firsts. It was Celtic manager Ronny Deila’s first taste of action in the Scottish Premiership; but perhaps more importantly the match marked the first competitive game Craig Gordon has played in since 2012.
The former Hearts stopper has endured a torrid time with injury that has disrupted and at one point even threatened to end his playing career. At 31, Gordon is still relatively young for his position, and if he’s beaten his injury nightmare he could still play for at least six or seven years.
Gordon still retains the key ingredients to be a good keeper, if not one of the very best.
First and foremost, he is a sensational shot stopper possessing fantastic reflexes. The finest example of this was his stop from point blank range for Sunderland against Bolton which was voted the best save in the Premier League era when it was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary in 2012.
In the Euro 2008 qualifiers he demonstrated his big game temperament, keeping two clean sheets against France as Scotland beat the 2006 World Cup finalists 1-0 both home and away. Scotland narrowly failed to make it to the tournament with France and the then World Champions Italy occupying the top two spots.
His quality didn’t go unnoticed amongst his peers with no less a figure than Gianluigi Buffon saying, “I think he is a great goalkeeper at international level,” and backing the Scot to become one of Europe’s best.
His former Hearts teammate Gilles Rousset enthused “He is one of the best, most talented goalkeepers in Europe and has the potential to be a big, big star.”
Standing at 6 foot 4 inches, Gordon is an imposing figure but he does perform some of the more underrated aspects of goalkeeping effectively as well, such as organizing his defense and sensible ball distribution. It’s no understatement to say that he was one of the best British goalkeepers (if not the best) when he moved to Sunderland. He possessed all the attributes to become one of the game’s elite keepers had he stayed free of injury.
Gordon’s club career, for one reason or another, has never been straightforward. At Hearts, where he made his name, Gordon got caught up in the ugly world of soccer politics after taking a stand against the erratic ownership of the club by Vladimir Romanov. In October 2006, he along with Paul Hartley were with then Hearts captain Stephen Pressley, who told the assembled media at the club’s Riccarton training ground that morale was “not good” and that there was “significant unrest in the dressing-room.” The incident led the trio to be known as the ‘Riccarton three’ and despite leading Hearts to the Scottish Cup the season before, they were all eventually forced out of the club. Gordon was sold to Sunderland for £9 million in August of 2007. It remains the highest fee ever received by Hearts for any of their players and was at the time a British transfer record for a goalkeeper.