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Opinion

A blessing in disguise? Nick Pope to Newcastle United

2 months ago
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Martin Dubravka has been one of the few bright spots in the Mike Ashley era, with little to no competition in his time at the club, now though we have the arrival of Nick Pope, a Premier League shot stopper of the highest quality.

Newcastle United’s transfer policy this summer has seen real improvement to the squad in defence, at left back with Matt Targett, goalkeeper Nick Pope and agreed in principle, central defender Sven Botman.

Whilst in January we also saw right back Kieran Trippier and another central defender, Dan Burn, arrive.

Maybe the goalkeeping position will see the most interesting / intense competition, Martin Dubravka or newcomer Nick Pope?

Nicholas David Pope, 30 years old and 6 foot 3, did not have the easiest journey to the Premier League. Beginning at local club Ipswich Town at age 10, Pope was eventually let go and aged 16 went to non-league Bury Town in 2008.

In 2011, Charlton Athletic took a chance on Nick Pope and he would be on their books for five years. However, making only 33 league starts in that time for the South London side, going out on loan to five different lower league and non-league clubs.

An impressive loan campaign in the 2014/15 season at Bury saw him help them win promotion to League One.

That helped Nick Pope at last get some regular football with Charlton, starting 24 Championship matches in the 2015/16 season.

In turn, that led to Sean Dyche signing the keeper up for Burnley in summer 2016 for a reported £1m fee, completing a great turnaround in his career, Nick Pope bouncing back from non-league football to eventually reach the Premier League.

Eventually making his first Premier League appearance in 2017, Nick Pope has excelled, despite injury leading to him not starting a single PL match in 2018/19.

The other four of the last five seasons have seen Pope a near ever present for Burnley in the top tier.

Known for his incredible shot stopping ability and cat-like reflexes, in 141 Premier League appearances the 30 year old has kept 46 clean sheets.

Nick Pope has won Burnley’s player of the year twice from just four (playing) seasons at the Lancashire club there. Further, in 2019-20 he was named in the PFA Premier League team of the year after keeping 15 clean sheets in 38 games. Losing the golden glove by only one clean sheet to Ederson at Manchester City, who had the assistance of a vastly superior defensive line and indeed team.

With Newcastle finally deciding against pursuing Manchester United’s reserve keeper Dean Henderson, Pope was Ashworth and Howe’s first choice. Howe has allegedly been a long-term admirer of Pope and it is understood he attempted to sign him for Bournemouth in 2019.

Further, Nick Pope has impressed when with the national team, keeping clean sheets in seven of his eight appearances and only conceding one goal in total.

Ben Roberts, Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeper coach who worked with the now 30-year-old in his Charlton days has said of Pope: “I’ve been uncomfortable with people repeatedly mentioning his distribution ‘deficiencies’, and I don’t agree. He’s played in a particular way at Burnley and, whatever Newcastle ask him to do, he’ll be fine.”

To add further validity to this under Sean Dyche at Burnley, Pope was part of a very direct side. Last season showed, the (Burnley) goalkeeper position is essentially an island, with Pope not expected to pass out to his centre-backs.

Under Eddie Howe this will change and will no doubt be something worked on for this coming season with the new look defence.

The evidence is clear that when you provide competition for first team places, players will improve performance, with Nick Pope now joining Martin Dubravka, Newcastle United are going to be the beneficiaries.

ANALYSIS

Nick Pope is a terrific pure shot stopper, Premier League season 2020/21 saw a ridiculously good 77% save rate, whilst the 73% save rate in 2021/22 was still top tier. Remember, Nick had a regressing Burnley team in front of him all season.

Despite the relegation, Nick Pope actually had Burnley with the tenth best defensive record, conceding only 53 goals despite dropping into the Championship.

An often  underappreciated element of Pope’s play is his role as a sweeper-keeper. In the 21/22 season, he had the joint-most defensive actions outside of the box (interceptions, tackles or blocks) of any premier league keeper (1.8 per 90) alongside Alisson of Liverpool. For context ,Dubravka averaged just 0.4.

Pope’s overall defensive actions also took place further up the field (18.2 yards) than any keeper, with Dubravka often contributing from a deeper position (12.7 yards).

Nick Pope could help allow Newcastle to have a high attacking press further up the pitch and assist Eddie Howe in revolutionising the way Newcastle United play.

CONCLUSION

Competing with Martin Dubravka for that top spot, in Nick Pope you have a terrific signing, especially when he cost only a widely reported £10 million.

(Ilkka Howard (AKA NunewcastleFC) was born and bred in Sydney, Australia and got into supporting Newcastle United from afar in 1998 when watching them on TV highlights shows down under, he now has his very own NUFC blog which you can visit here)

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