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The Goalkeeping Decision

62347692I should preface this with the fact that I love Jussi Jaaskelainen. Even in the games in which Bolton was the moving manifestation of mediocrity under Megson, Jussi was solid. He's been with us for 14 years, and is one appearance shy of 500. The man is a legend. But, as much as I wish it were true, he's not ageless. 35 isn't that old in goalkeeper years, but it is significant. This season has seen his form waiver more than before, letting in more questionable goals. While he has made some spectacular saves this season, he's not the rock he used to be. He retired from international play October of 2009, and had his testimonial match a few months before that. Back then I thought his retirement might be nigh, but almost a year and a half later he's still chugging along. In spite of him proving me wrong last time I claimed this, I do now believe he is in the twilight years of his career. Now Owen Coyle must worry about when to phase him out, and most importantly who to replace him with.

The first question is a difficult one for any player. The issue is finding a balance between playing for as long as you can and stopping before your form drops entirely. So far, Jussi has successfully navigated this tightrope so far, but it's difficult to know when the glaring mistakes are going to out number the saves. Personally, I would like Jussi to go out on a high note, in the manner that befits him. I reckon this season should probably be his last. This means that we need to start focusing on who is going to step between the posts permanently for us.

We have two realistic candidates for this position already on our roster, Adam Bogdan and Ali Al-Habsi, who is currently on loan to Wigan. Al-Habsi, our Omanian option, has looked solid for Wigan this season, convincingly usurping the starting position from the rather mediocre Kirkland. There are rumours that Wigan will sign him permanently at the end of the season, but it seems foolish to let go of a talent when Jussi will be around for another 3 seasons at most. While Al-Habsi has been taking care of the neighbors, the young Adam Bogdan has been serving as our second choice keeper. He's made 9 total appearances this season. His most recent work was against Fulham, and really he did quite well. Bogdan's only 23, a mere toddler in goalkeeper years, and he's got a lot of potential to grow into.

So it seems that post-Jussi Bolton is not such a scary prospect as it first sounds. We have two solid options in Ali Al-Habsi and Adam Bogdan, and I reckon they'll go in that order. This would give Rob Lainton, currently our Reserves, the chance to go out on loan and get some experience for those 20 year old hands. I'll miss Jussi terribly, he's been amazing for us, and he is undoubtedly my favorite Finn. His departure, whenever it happens, will be sad, and a crucial point in Bolton history. It's a little scary, but I've gotta say, I'm excited.