Rafa Benitez, Karl Darlow and goalkeeping conundrum at Newcastle

Karl Darlow concedes a goal to Leeds' Chris Wood.
Karl Darlow concedes a goal to Leeds' Chris Wood.

Newcastle United have had a lot of problems over the years.

But goalkeeping, in the main, hasn’t been one of them.

The club, as far as goalkeepers goes, has been in safe hands.

From Shay Given and Steve Harper to Tim Krul and most recently Rob Elliot and Karl Darlow.

It’s been a near-seamless transition from one able goalkeeper to another, with Matz Sels abortive introduction to the starting XI having been the exception to the rule.

Newcastle could even afford to let Fraster Forster leave for Celtic in 2012.

Forster, now Southampton’s No 1, has since played for England.

There’s still strength in depth in the goalkeeping department. Strengthening the outfield positions would seem to be the priority for Rafa Benitez ahead of the club’s return to the Premier League.

Benitez, however, is determined to sign another goalkeeper just 12 months after signing Sels.

Sels has already left the club on loan – who had a forgettable debut for Anderlecht at the weekend – and Darlow, outstanding last season, is set to leave.

Darlow, like United, had a golden season in the Championship.

If he is sold, then Darlow – who was the subject of a £5million bid from Middlesbrough last week – can leave with his head held high.

But the 26-year-old had an inauspicious start at the club.

Darlow, also interesting Reading and Aston Villa, made a mistake on his Premier League debut against West Bromwich Albion.

The error cost United the game.

Long after the final whistle at an empty The Hawthorns, Darlow briskly walked through the mixed zone.

He looked stunned and shell-shocked. He didn’t stop to speak to journalists.

Only last season, in the middle of a long run in goal, was Darlow able to talk about what happened in December 2015.

“That afternoon was tough,” he said. “I didn’t have a good game. In fact, I was terrible.

“It was a real low point. I was devastated, and couldn’t believe I’d played so badly, because I knew in myself I was better than that and did not do myself justice.

“But I always knew that given a run of games, I would be fine.”

Last season Darlow got a run of games, and he was fine, as he had been late the previous season in the final eight games of the club’s relegation season.

Darlow made mistakes – all goalkeepers do – but he made many, many more saves. He dominated his box and was a vocal presence behind the back four after being recalled to the side in September in place of Sels.

He came for umpteen long balls and crosses, and was the last line of defence the club needed.

Darlow settled the back four down and was a calming influence on the team. Remember those two penalty saves against his former club Nottingham Forest at the City Ground?

Darlow would have been forgiven for thinking he had done enough to convince Benitez he could start the coming season in goal.

Not so. Benitez had other ideas.

Darlow could yet choose to stay and fight for his place. But he, more than anything, will want to play week-in, week-out.

He has international aspirations and was understandably unhappy at losing his place for United’s final three Championship games. Elliot played in the promotion and title-securing fixtures.

And he will not want a season on the bench.

Nor will Elliot, who went on to silence his doubters after a shaky cup debut at the City Ground almost six years ago.

And Krul, the club’s longstanding No 1, will want to play too after proving his fitness on loan at AZ Alkmaar in the second half of last season.

The 29-year-old has a year left on his contract.

Krul – who ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament playing for Holland in October 2015 – will want to show Benitez in pre-season that he still has a lot to offer the club he has represented for more than a decade.

Benitez is interested in bringing Pepe Reina to St James’s Park. Willy Caballero was a target before he joined Chelsea after leaving Manchester City.

United’s manager previously signed Reina for Liverpool and present club Napoli, where he has a year left on his contract.

At 34, Reina would be a shorter-term signing, and that could make sense given that Freddie Woodman, one of English football’s brightest goalkeeping prospects, is only a year or two away from being ready to challenge for a place in goal.

The 20-year-old – who helped England win the Under-20 World Cup this summer – will almost certainly be loaned out this season.

It will be a summer of change in goalkeeping terms.

And the challenge for Benitez – and goalkeeping coach Simon Smith – is to ensure that the club remains in safe hands.