Nick Pope's Newcastle United arrival set to provide a welcome headache for Eddie Howe
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A £10million fee for an England international on a four-year deal represents good value in today’s market and continues the pragmatic approach that has characterised Newcastle’s transfer policy under new ownership.
Pope follows Matt Targett as United’s second major signing of the summer window. While it may not be the most glamorous acquisition, it’s one that will reinforce a key position at the club.
Since Martin Dubravka’s arrival in 2018, the Slovakian has been the firm first-choice goalkeeper. Now, for the first time, the 33-year-old has genuine pressure and competition in Pope.
It’s an arrival that will reinvigorate Newcastle’s goalkeeping department, an area head coach Eddie Howe highlighted as one to improve shortly after his arrival.
While Dubravka has proven a dependable No. 1 at Newcastle over the years, his comfortable position in the side has seen the odd mistake creep into his game.
Yet not a single error has seen the goalkeeper’s place in the starting line-up questioned. The fear of Newcastle being without Dubravka in the Premier League deemed too high a risk to put his first-choice status under threat.
That fear manifested itself at the start of the 2021-22 campaign when Newcastle were forced to use Freddie Woodman and later Karl Darlow in goal for an extended spell.
While Darlow and Woodman are competent goalkeepers in their own right, Newcastle failed to win any of their 12 league games with them in the side – conceding 27 goals in the process.
Woodman has recently moved on to Preston North End to secure regular first team football and Darlow’s future at the club remains uncertain amid Championship interest.
Pope isn't viewed as a significant upgrade on Dubravka, but he does represent a marked improvement on Darlow and Woodman. It's a squad game after all.
Not since Newcastle’s days competing at the top of the Premier League with Pavel Srnicek and Shaka Hislop have the club faced the prospect of having two elite goalkeepers competing directly for the No. 1 spot in the top flight.
Although Pope may not tick all the boxes of being the polished distributor Howe was understood to be after, his strengths are not too dissimilar to Dubravka’s.
The 30-year-old has developed a reputation of being one of the most reliable shot-stoppers in the Premier League while his sweeping ability and judgement claiming crosses set him apart from Dubravka.
Statistically, Pope boasts an impressive clean sheet record considering his entire Premier League career has been at Burnley.
In the four full seasons that he played for the Clarets, Pope kept 46 clean sheets in 141 matches. Only Manchester City’s Ederson (71), Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris (49) and Manchester United’s David De Gea (48) had more shut-outs over the same period.
He’s a signing that will not only keep Dubravka on his toes, but potentially usurp him as Newcastle’s No. 1. The fear of being without the Slovak has been alleviated.
And with no European football and limited opportunities to rotate the side, it is bound to be an interesting competition between the pair as Howe faces the difficult but welcome task of keeping both happy.