Having been indispensable to Paris Saint-Germain since his arrival in France for just 3.5 million euros from Italian side USC Palermo in July of 2011, almost three years later Salvatore Sirigu is now being questioned for the first time.
The second choice Italian goalkeeper has started to make an increasing number of blunders with the French champions and, although not all of them have led to conceded goals, his status as PSG’s undisputed No. 1 isn't certain anymore.
Away at AS Saint-Etienne back in October, Sirigu was at fault for Romain Hamouma’s strike that doubled Les Verts’ lead, although neither Alex nor Marquinhos helped him in the build-up. But his latest gaffe came against Monaco in the high-profile 1-1 draw between Ligue 1’s top two at the Stade Louis II a fortnight ago and was his own making. Badly misjudging a high bouncing ball, the 27-year-old almost gifted Emmanuel Riviere the perfect chance to score an equaliser before just about holding onto it at the second attempt with an open goal gaping.
That error did not cost PSG, who ultimately succumbed to a Thiago Silva own goal equaliser, but it will be a cause of concern for coach Laurent Blanc as those two instances have not been isolated incidents. The side from the capital are not as watertight in defence this season as they were last campaign under Carlo Ancelotti, even if both teams have conceded the same number of goals (16) after 25 Ligue 1 matches this term and last. They certainly look less assured, understandable given the change in tactics last summer, but that is only a minor negative in a term of major positives under Blanc so far.
However, Sirigu’s increasing unreliability will not be doing the back four’s confidence any good.
Of greater concern, for now perhaps, will be that perennial reserve Nicolas Douchez is in no shape to challenge PSG’s starter at goal. The Frenchman failed to take one of his rare chances to impress in the recent Coupe de France home defeat to Montpellier HSC, putting in a pathetic performance that underlined why he was immediately ousted as No. 1 upon his arrival at the Parc des Princes the same summer that Sirigu arrived.
Former PSG keeper Bernard Lama has always been an outspoken critic of the Italian though.
Sirigu broke Lama’s club record of 697 minutes without conceding a goal back in January of 2013. But the legendary former PSG netminder, who is still considered by many as the capital club’s best ever between the sticks, has always insisted that the Italian is “too keen to punch the ball.” He has a point.
Almost all of Sirigu’s errors and shaky moments have come from crosses, or are at times when he must claim the ball aerially. The Azzurri star’s hesitancy to catch the ball has been amplified this season, with many now questioning whether he is genuinely one of Europe’s top goalkeepers.
Recently the French champions have been linked with Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris who is also Les Bleus’ current captain, as well as Chelsea’s 21-year-old Belgian star Thibaut Courtois who has been on loan at Atletico Madrid since 2011. Both moves would make sense, particularly Lloris. The Spurs keeper could be targeted at a substantially lower fee should his club fail to qualify for the UEFA Champions League and would be in line with PSG’s new policy of buying the best French international talents.
However, there is also the issue of outstanding and upcoming home-grown talent Alphonse Areola.
Although arguably not mature enough yet to command a starting role for PSG, the 20-year-old is currently excelling on loan at second tier promotion chasers RC Lens under former PSG coach Antoine Kombouare. Should Les Sang et Or return to the French top-flight for the first time since 2011, the under-20 World Cup winner would arguably benefit more from another season of first team football on loan with RCL in order to get accustomed to regular Ligue 1 football. The temptation to encourage him to put pressure on Sirigu, even at this early stage, could be great.
The seven-times capped Italian international recently appeared noncommittal when questioned over the possibility of signing a new deal with PSG, brushing it aside as “unimportant for the moment.” But Douchez’s reported talks over a one-year contract extension suggests that Areola will be loaned out once more, possibly to Lens if they are promoted, in order to garner that vital top-flight experience. Considering his status as an academy product, it appears that the Nuoro native’s days as undisputed No. 1 could be numbered from the end of next season, unless Blanc decides that Areola is ready now.
Following his arrival, Sirigu has proven fantastic value and, relative to his modest fee, has arguably been the best value for money purchase of the Qatar Sports Investments era so far.
He is a fantastic shot stopper, having made numerous vital saves, particularly in one on one situations over last few seasons. Included in the 2012-2013 team of the season as Ligue 1’s best goalkeeper, he won last year’s UNFP goalkeeper of the year, unseating three-time winner Lloris after his move to Spurs. It would be ironic if the former Olympique Lyonnais man was the one to dethrone Sirigu after three unchallenged seasons in the French capital.
However, when looking at the current PSG team, certainly in light of their recent mauling of Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, many are now asking whether PSG are genuine contenders for that title. Sirigu, despite his many positives, is one of the players in the current side that could arguably be upgraded and would not automatically walk into all of the teams left in Europe’s elite club competition at this stage.
With the prodigiously talented and solid all-round prospect Areola making great strides in his progress up north, Sirigu’s future depends on how the remainder of this season works out.
Advancing past last year’s achievement of a quarterfinal berth in the Champions League, particularly if the Italian plays a key role in their progress, may convince Blanc and the PSG hierarchy of his quality. But if the ambitious side from the capital fall short once again in the last eight, then the Italian’s position is likely to be one of those up for review with a busy summer of business appearing likely, regardless of any potential domestic successes.