Kirkland’s career in safe hands

The likeable Wigan custodian continues to impress on the days when he is fully fit, and he may yet force his way back into the reckoning to add to his solitary international cap, achieved back in 2006 in a friendly against Greece, writes Robert Meaden.

In his youth, Chris Kirkland was hotly tipped to be the successor to a long-line of world-class English goalkeepers. Nobody would argue that the tall stopper still has the talent, but injuries have persistently plagued Kirkland’s footballing career.

Still, the likeable Wigan custodian continues to impress on the days when he is fully fit, and he may yet force his way back into the reckoning to add to his solitary international cap, achieved back in 2006 in a friendly against Greece.

Kirkland, now 28 years old, shot to prominence as one of the most promising young English goalkeepers in the Barclays English Premier League in the 2000/01 season while with his first club, Coventry City.

He progressed through the youth system with the Sky Blues and made his debut in the English League Cup against Tranmere Rovers on September 22, 1999.

Kirkland was then bought by Liverpool for GBP6 million on the last day of the transfer window at the start of the 2001/02 season, making him at the time the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history, at just 20 years of age.

However, the magnificent form of the Reds’ then No.1 goalkeeper, Jerzy Dudek, meant that Kirkland’s first team chances at Anfield were limited. Indeed, he played in only four games during his first season, but his performance away at Galatasaray in the UEFA Champions League was highly impressive and one of his most memorable.

His opportunity arose during the 2002/03 campaign following a sting of errors by Dudek in December 2002, in the midst of Liverpool’s run of poor form. Kirkland seized his chance and played regularly for a number of games until he was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury following a clash with Crystal Palace striker Dele Adebola during the FA Cup fourth-round tie at Selhurst Park.

Kirkland was hoping to be fit for pre-season training after an operation, but ended up missing the majority of the following campaign with a broken finger and a broken wrist.

The 2004/05 season was no kinder to Kirkland. Beginning the season with a flurry of appearances, he briefly replaced Jerzy Dudek as Rafael Benitez’s goalkeeper of choice. However, Kirkland’s season was brought to a premature end by a back injury. As a replacement, Liverpool bought ex-Leeds shot-stopper Scott Carson, bringing Kirkland fresh competition for that No. 1 jersey.

Another new face arrived that summer when Jose Reina was recruited, which forced Kirkland to go on a year-long loan to West Bromwich Albion to get some first-team football. Again, injuries hindered his progress at The Hawthorns, but his luck finally changed with a temporary move to Wigan Athletic in July 2006, giving him another chance to re-launch his career. And following a hugely successful loan spell, the Latics agreed to sign Kirkland on a permanent deal and he has not looked back since.

It was while at Wigan that he secured his one and only international cap so far, in August 2006. Kirkland played for 45 minutes in a 4-0 friendly win at Old Trafford against Greece.

The international appearance not only brought huge pride for his family, but also a cash windfall of GBP10,000, as his father Eddie had staked GBP100 at odds of 100/1 when Kirkland was just 11 years old that his son would one day play for his country.

Speaking at the time, his father Eddie said: “A tenner was a lot of money when I made the bet because I was seriously ill with cancer and wasn’t working.

But since Chris was around 13 I believed he could do it. He’s always had the talent and the right attitude.” Kirkland has suffered repeatedly with injuries throughout his career. Most notably at Anfield where his first-team opportunities were limited to just 45 appearances over a five-year period.

He and his wife Leona had a daughter, Lucy, on 14 November 2006. The new arrival caused Kirkland to miss an international friendly match against the Netherlands the next day.

Kirkland was recently seen driving the GBP53,000 BMW X5.

FACTFILE Name: Chris Kirkland Position: Goalkeeper Club: Wigan D.O.B.: 02/05/1981 England caps: 1 England goals: 0 England debut: August 16, 2006 v Greece Moment to remember

Making his European debut in front of Liverpool’s famous Kop, Kirkland’s performance in keeping out a talented Galatasary side in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League in 2002 was highly memorable.

Moment to forget

Kirkland has not made too many high-profile mistakes, but when he hangs up his gloves he will probably look back on his career and think what might have been, had his body been equal to his undoubted talent.

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