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Beesotted contributor Jem Rampling reflects on David Raya’s Brentford career in the wake the breakdown of his move to Tottenham

Football is a game of low scores and fine margins, and in no position is that more apparent than in goal. To my mind, this makes the goalkeeper the most important player in the team. Leicester, I argue, were not the third worst squad in the Prem last year but they went down because they failed to replace Kasper Schmeichel who had been carrying their defence for years.

But I admit my prejudice. I was a Sunday League goalkeeper, and I watch the game from a goalkeeper’s perspective. Tony Parks was my first, Graham Benstead an early favourite, and I felt safe with Kevin Dearden. Paul Smith and David Button were two of the best and it was a privilege to watch a young Wojciech Szczesny cut his cloth. But Raya is, as they say, different gravy.

Having dropped a clanger for Blackburn at GP a few months earlier, his seemed an underwhelming signing during the legendary Summer 2019 transfer window. On his competitive Bees debut he was beaten by a header from outside the box, raising questions about his height and his positioning. Stupid questions. The guy’s a marvel. Sorry I doubted you, David.

Many who haven’t played the position will judge goalkeepers primarily according to saves, but I think that’s wrong. Consistently impressive saves may distinguish the good from the exceptional, and a goalkeeper who doesn’t make saves is a problem. But saves are expected, and sometimes the ball just hits you in the face and everyone applauds. First impressions are made on other matters.

Start by asking, does this goalkeeper have a presence? All the best goalkeepers do. Think of Buffon, Neuer, Jennings, Southall, both Schmeichels. The greats of their era. You know they’re there, they own their box, they boss their defence. You can pick out pretty quickly if a keeper has presence, and that’s where the appraisal begins.

Presence is a composition of physique, judgement and confidence, and it generates control. Some goalkeepers lack self-belief, fearing they might get their timings wrong or be bullied out of a claim for the ball. They retreat, don’t play to instinct, and lose their presence. Raya’s judgement is something else. How many times in four years has he come to claim and failed to get it? Not many. And he’s not afraid to come right to the edge of his box to do so. Defenders love it. A good strong goalkeeping claim at a time of pressure may be my favourite sight in all of football.

At 6ft 1in he’s not the tallest, but he reads the play so well that he knows when to commit and he commits early. He gets into the right position to execute his takes, and makes it look so easy you might not notice the skill involved. This judgement closes off so many opposition attacks before they have meaningfully begun, and that’s worth countless saves.

Footwork is also key to goalkeeping. If a goalkeeper has good footwork he doesn’t have to look spectacular. A nimble goalkeeper who moves his feet correctly is already in the right position to stop the ball. If a goalie makes a hash of something, watch the replay and look at what their feet are doing. More often than not, they’re not moving correctly. De Gea’s footwork, for example, can be terrible. Seaman’s was exemplary. Raya moves well.

Raya’s defenders love him, that’s clear. They’re in constant dialogue and he’s a part of the defensive unit. The way he steps up, off his line and outside of his box tidies up that gap behind the defensive line. Recall how exposed we became behind the last defender when he was injured. Recall how much better, how much happier the defenders looked when he returned a few months later.

Saves matter. Of course they do, and Raya makes great saves. This aspect of his game has definitely developed with the step-up to the Premier League. He’s a brilliant Fantasy League pick because he’s guaranteed at least three saves a game. Many from outside the box, and some unbelievable reflex saves from closer in. That stop from Jota in 2021 was profound and it wasn’t luck, he put his body in the best position to maximise his chances of deflecting the ball.

All goalkeepers make mistakes and some of Raya’s were high profile, but for his aggressive style of play they have been rare. He is, in fact, extremely reliable. And like David Button before him, he has the ability to move on from his mistakes with the minimum of fuss. That ability speaks to a strong self belief, fundamental in such an exposed position as goalkeeper.

There is one glaring weakness, however. He doesn’t get close, ever, to saving a penalty. I can’t quite explain it, it seems that he loses the courage of his convictions when facing a spot kick, and he doesn’t fill the goal. It’s an odd one, but penalties are a relatively small part of club football and to my recollection it only really cost us a League Cup tie against Gillingham. So I’m giving him a pass on that, but I am subbing him off in the 119th minute of a World Cup tie if I ever get to manage Spain.

Raya’s reputation, more than anything, is as a modern goalkeeper who excels in distribution. He’s composed with the ball at his feet under pressure, accurate in his delivery and quick to release the ball if he spots a counter. It’s a strength, but it’s just one element of his game. To emphasise this aspect of his play alone is to undersell him. He is a proper keeper with confidence and control, he bosses every inch of the 18 yard box through judgement that is nothing short of phenomenal. His skill-set is close to complete. And now he’s off, and until I’ve seen enough to form an opinion on Mark Flekken I will be struck with this returning feeling of despair and unease last felt when we were oscillating between the inept Fernandez and the static Lӧssl.

The Brentford model is the right one, and now is the time to cash in and move on from the gloveman who saw us into the Premier League. So thank you David Raya, and farewell. I assume we have seen the last of you in a Brentford shirt. Now go quick and go clean. And go for £40m. I’ve watched a lot of you in the last four years, from a goalkeeper’s perspective, and you’re worth every damn penny.

Jem Rampling