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.
It all started well enough for Gordon as he made a winning Premier League start, keeping a clean sheet against Tottenham as Sunderland emerged victorious 1-0. Oddly enough his opposite number that day was England’s Paul Robinson. However Gordon’s time at the Stadium of Light was plagued by injuries.
In the 2008-09 Premier League season he suffered an ankle problem that kept him out for three months. In November of the 2009-2010 season he broke his arm against Spurs when contesting for the ball with Jermain Defoe. Gordon wasn’t terribly impressed with the challenge, claiming it was poor. The Scot managed to return in January of that season, but in the summer of 2010 he fractured his arm again days after having the metal plate removed. That setback ensured he would miss the start of the 2010-2011 season. Once again he came back in November of that season, but he suffered another setback in April 2011 when he had to get surgery done to treat a knee problem. Gordon’s knee injury would eventually call time on his career at the Stadium of Light.
Gordon’s last game for Sunderland in any capacity was on the 4th of January 2012 when he kept a clean sheet for the Sunderland Reserves in a 2-0 win over the Arsenal Reserves. In the summer of 2012 he was released by the club.
Since being let go by Sunderland Gordon battled to recover from his knee problems, working with physiotherapists and specialists and undergoing a course of injections to overcome the issue. According to The Guardian, as part of the injection treatment blood was taken from Gordon’s arm where it was spun in a centrifuge to make platelet-rich plasma. The plasma was then injected back into his knee to speed up the recovery process. As it turned out, the tendon in his knee was torn vertically which made it difficult to treat the problem.
At one stage Gordon seriously contemplated retirement from the game. When asked if the thought crossed his mind he replied:
“Too many times to count. There have been so many lows over the past couple of years, trying to get back and most of the time finding yet another dead-end. I’m not one for giving up, I have kept going, but it has been tough at times. There has been a lot of soul searching”.
During his years without a club Gordon took on a casual coaching role with Dumbarton. In order to keep up his fitness Gordon trained with Rangers and Hearts.
Happily for Gordon, he has appeared to overcome his knee problems and just recently signed a two-year contract with Celtic with the club having the option to extend it by a further 12 months. Gordon’s signing and return to fitness is a boost for the Buoys, especially in light of Fraser Forster’s departure to Southampton. Gordon played a half against Dynamo Dresden which he admitted gave him a mental boost before taking part in a full match against Tottenham, which didn’t turn out so well as Celtic were thumped 6-1.
On the 13th of August at McDiarmid Park, Craig Gordon, after two long years out of the game, made his competitive comeback and perhaps unsurprisingly kept a clean sheet. Gordon did have to make a smart save as Celtic ran out comfortable winners triumphing 3-0.
After gaining an unlikely reprieve at the expense of Legia Warsaw, Craig Gordon could well be a crucial figure if Celtic are to progress into group stages of the Champions League
Gordon does retain ambitions of returning to the international stage again.
“I would love to play for Scotland again, but I need to get back playing regular first-team games.”
If he can stay injury-free and get a run of games under his belt, Gordon could realize his wish of donning Scotland’s goalkeeping top and adding to the 40 caps he already has.