THE in-flux state of Southampton’s goalkeeping department has rumbled on for a full year now. 

As we get closer and closer to the end of the 2021/22 season there is still a lack of clarity. The likelihood seems to be growing that Fraser Forster will leave in the summer with Alex McCarthy sticking around as Saints search for a younger goalkeeper to challenge him.

READ MORE: Saints boss remains coy on goalkeeper situation

It’s been a lengthy process to get to this resolution and we still have nothing actually confirmed. The lack of transparency throughout has left a lot to be desired.

Will letting Forster walk be the right decision? Only time will tell. But this isn’t actually about the decision itself, it’s about the manner and communication of it.

The 2020/21 campaign ended with Ralph Hasenhuttl rotating McCarthy and Forster, giving both shot-stoppers a chance through the final 13 games of the season. 

Forster started seven of those matches and McCarthy six, but the latter was chosen for each of the final three games. 

“We will definitely extend the contract of one of the two keepers, then the other one will leave,” Hasenhuttl said in August. “I think that, in the future, we will look to sign a new goalkeeper.”

Daily Echo: McCarthy and Forster pictured. Image by: Stuart MartinMcCarthy and Forster pictured. Image by: Stuart Martin

Entering 2021/22 it appeared a decision had been made with McCarthy firmly planted as the team’s number one keeper amid reports that he’d signed a new three-year deal. Yet through each of those first 14 games there was no official word from the club.

Then game 15 arrived. Brighton at St Mary’s. Southampton’s slender 1-0 lead lasted until the 98th minute when the ball fell to Neal Maupay following an initally blocked free-kick.

The Frenchman was given time and space to finish, left onside after James Ward-Prowse raced back to cover McCarthy’s far post with the goalkeeper hobbled by a hamstring problem.

Following the draw, Hasenhuttl ripped into his goalkeeper for not communicating the extent of the injury.

“If you have a goalkeeper that is not 100% fit in that moment and cannot jump and then you send someone back into the line, then the rebound that comes out is normally offside.

Daily Echo:

“But Prowsey's there, so he has a free shot at goal. This is something we cannot accept. There must be a message: 'I cannot jump,' and then we can make a change.

“We still had one change at the end and I could have changed the goalkeeper if necessary in this moment.

“But Alex must be definitely more professional than that. This is what I missed from him today in such a game.

“Yes it is hectic at the end and everything, but this is the reason why I sometimes keep the changes until later, because especially in such a game we've seen today, if you change too early you can be one man down.

“Today I had one change and I couldn't take it because he didn't say anything, and this for me is not acceptable.”

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Forster was also injured at the time and Willy Caballero not yet signed, leaving Harry Lewis - who joined Bradford on Monday - as the only option on the bench. Hasenhuttl later backtracked on the harsh criticism, saying:

"I was not perfect to do this after the game.

"I didn't have all the information I should have after the game and that is always an issue.

"I hadn't spoken with everybody. I know more now about what happened on the pitch and I would do it differently.

"But now isn't the time to speak about it. We took a few good things from the last game."

The hamstring injury proved serious and McCarthy has made just one appearance for the B Team since while Forster put together a run of excellent performances in his absence.

In late March as all this played out on the pitch, the FA Intermediary report was released stating that McCarthy did indeed sign an ‘Updated Contract’ - something that has still not been announced by the club despite the whole world seemingly knowing.

Daily Echo: Hasenhuttl and Forster following victory at West Ham. Image by: PAHasenhuttl and Forster following victory at West Ham. Image by: PA

Additionally, the Daily Echo understands that Forster was not informed of the decision to award McCarthy a new contract, instead finding out when the news became public.

With all this murkiness, serious questions need to be asked about how Southampton have handled this goalkeeping situation, letting it fester and leaving fans and players in the dark.

It was reported as far back as August that McCarthy had signed a new deal, yet there has still been no actual confirmation from the club. 

Why the silence? What has been gained?

Ahead of Southampton’s final two games of the season, it appears McCarthy may make his long-awaited return. Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s visit to St Mary’s, Hasenhuttl said Forster is struggling with “back problems, joint problems, knee problems, a little bit of everything.” 

Pressed on when decisions related to his goalkeepers will be announced, Hasenhuttl answered:

“After the last game. Before, we don’t need to do it because we don’t know what happens next season. And even then, we will have a look at what direction everybody goes and then we will do it."

Asked about the previously mentioned plan to keep one goalkeeper and let the other leave, the Austrian continued: “This is not written in stone, if you want. We definitely have to look on all opportunities we have.

“The good thing is we have goalkeepers who have shown their qualities in Alex, Fraser and Will. They are not the youngest, this is right, and it is up to us to decide to go for a younger one or what else we do.”

In terms of the decision itself, only time will tell if it’s the right one. At 34 and 32-years-old, Forster and McCarthy are heading toward the twilights of their careers and Southampton’s desire for younger blood in their goalkeeping position is understandable.

Fans have questioned whether either goalkeeper is good enough going forward and most believe some fresh competition is necessary at least. With that in mind, one of Forster or McCarthy would have to depart this summer.

Judging purely by the quality of their play, Forster has had the better season although he hasn't always been better than McCarthy across their respective six and eight year Southampton careers. 

Of course the financial element has to be kept in mind. McCarthy is believed to be on lesser wages while he’s already shown his ability to fight for the spot, having fended off competition from Angus Gunn in the 2019/20 season.

Multiple sources have told the Daily Echo that Saints are on the look-out for a new goalkeeper under the age of 30. Should they get that choice right, fans will quickly move on from this saga. But if any new goalkeeper fails to win the top spot and McCarthy struggles to find his best form then naturally more questions will be raised.

But this isn’t even about the decision or the hypothetical outcomes. This is about the process and the process that has led to this place has been greatly flawed.

Ignoring the lack of transparency with the players involved - not that that should be ignored - the much bigger issue is how the fans have been ignored in this ordeal - as it continues to rumble on.

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