The sun shone down on Selhurst Park for Crystal Palace’s draw with Newcastle United last Sunday, but Vicente Guaita wasn’t there. Instead, he was still in Madrid and was stood in the middle of a freak blizzard, jumping around from side to side to try to keep warm as his Getafe teammates dominated Leganés and left him with very little to do.
The Spaniard probably expected to be playing in the cold in the second half of this season, but in the English capital, not the Spanish one. He was linked with a move to Crystal Palace throughout January, with Roy Hodgson keen to sign a third goalkeeper, but no deal could be done between the two clubs and Guaita instead signed a pre-contract agreement to move in the summer.
So what can Eagles fans expect when the shot-stopper does finally make the move from LaLiga to the Premier League?
Well, they’ll be getting a goalkeeper who is in the form of his life. Guaita is a late bloomer, who came through the ranks at his local club Valencia, breaking into the first-team squad in 2008, just as legendary ‘keeper Santiago Cañizares was preparing to hang up his gloves. José Manuel Ochotorena was the goalkeeping coach for both Valencia and the Spain national team and he could see Guaita had talent and even suggested he had a chance to one day play for La Roja.
First, though, the youngster had to rack up minutes at club level. But, with other goalkeepers better and more experienced than he was, Guaita was rarely used at the Mestalla and was sent out on loan to second-tier Recreativo Huelva for the 2009/10 season. There, he finally enjoyed some first-team football and he showed the promise that those in the Valencia academy had long been talking about. By conceding just 24 goals in 30 matches, an average of 0.8 per game, he won the Zamora trophy as the best goalkeeper in the division, an impressive achievement considering Huelva were a mid-table team. The fact that Bernardo Domínguez conceded 1.4 per game whenever he was given an outing between the posts proved just how well Guaita had done.
Despite that impressive feat, Guaita still wasn’t considered ready to start for Valencia in the top division by coach Unai Emery, however injuries to both César Sánchez and Miguel Ángel Moyà provided him with an opportunity to show what he could do at the top level. Without ever being brilliant, he did well enough and let in 26 goals in 21 top-flight matches, a good enough return for him to be considered the starter at the beginning of the 2011/12 season. But what goes around comes around and this time Guaita was the one to pick up an injury, allowing Diego Alves an opportunity to impress and a competitive goalkeeping tussle emerged from that point onwards, until Guaita was sold to Getafe at the end of the 2014 season, with 113 first-team Valencia appearances to his name.
It was clear from early on that Getafe had made an astute signing. Guaita made save after save after save and his parries kept the team in the division that first year in the Spanish capital. Los Azulones were relegated the following season, but through no fault of their goalkeeper. Guaita may have conceded 67 goals that campaign, but he also made 98 saves, the third-most in the division. Without him, Getafe would have been relegated even sooner.
Injury kept him sidelined for much of their promotion attempt the following year, but he returned in time for the play-offs and he helped his side make a bounce-back return to LaLiga. Now 30 years of age, Guaita was back in the top division, at a club where he was comfortable and playing the best football of his career. Looking solely at the first half of the current LaLiga season, he was probably one of the five best in his position, which is an extraordinary feat.
In terms of his style, he is the kind of goalkeeper whose main strength is commanding his area and claiming crosses, which bodes well for a future in the Premier League. One potential weakness may be his tendency to punch the ball away rather than catch it, as he led LaLiga in punches in each of his last three seasons in the Spanish top flight. But, of course, that stat also proves that he is able to get something on the ball, an achievement in itself.
Part of his penalty-box-commanding package has to do with his organisation of his back four. Guaita is calm, professional and studies opposition strikers well, so he knows exactly what kind of instructions to give his defenders and when to do so. His four years at Getafe have made him a well-liked character in the dressing room so he automatically commands respect, but there’s no reason why he cannot do likewise at Selhurst Park.
As for his stot-stopping ability, he isn’t the kind of goalkeeper to make many ‘Hollywood’ saves, but he stands tall at six foot three and is a tough man to beat. He wouldn’t have got to where he is otherwise.
So Crystal Palace look to have made a smart signing by agreeing a deal for Vicente Guaita to join in the summer. Of course, it would have been better for them had they been able to bring him in last month, especially now that Julian Speroni has picked up an injury, but this ‘keeper should be worth the wait.