NEIL Etheridge’s move to Championship side Birmingham City FC has been met with much excitement not just among the club’s followers but his fans as well.
The 30-year-old Etheridge is a hero in the Philippine football community, so it’s been quite disappointing knowing that the Azkals keeper just sat on the bench for most of last season.
This after Etheridge played a key role in Cardiff City’s promotion to the English Premier League in the 2018-2019 season.
At the top-flight Premiership, Etheridge made such an impression that he won Cardiff’s Player of the Year award despite the club’s relegation at season’s end.
Even Premiership sides Aston Villa and West Ham thought they could use Neil on their squad that they bid £7 to £8 million for his services, though none prospered.
But following Cardiff’s return to second-tier football, the unthinkable happened: Cardiff’s new coach opted for another first-choice keeper for the season, leaving Neil often on the sidelines.
So, a move to Birmingham—a £2-million four-year deal “bargain”—makes the most sense for Neil, given his top-flight quality.
Perhaps it’s in Neil’s contract that he should be first-choice keeper, but many factors come into play when managers must make the tough choices of whom to send to battle week in and out.
As past lessons would show, Etheridge must fight for his place in the squad, something his followers here in the Philippines need to understand.
In Birmingham’s first game this season last Sept. 12, Neil, who had just joined the club the day before, had to watch from the bench as head coach Aitor Karanka opted for English under-19 national Zach Jeacock, who made his senior debut with a first clean sheet following a 1-0 win.
The other new goalkeeper, Spaniard Andres Prieto, was out on injury.
Birmingham’s next match will be away against Swansea City this Saturday, Sept. 19.
Let’s hope Neil sees action this time and show the Blues why he’s the best man for the job.