Scott Loach is one of THOSE players. One of those players that football fans have seen time and time again. He’s Anthony McNamee without the asthma, he’s Freddy Adu with a driver’s licence, he’s Cherno Samba with real life ability.
Let’s start off by saying the nice stuff. Scott Loach had enormous promise, and with that came a fair amount of ability. He had the capacity to make some fantastic saves… and, er, that’s about it. Command of his area? Forget about it. Judgement? Not an iota of it. An aptitude to handle crosses? I imagine Dracula coped with them better than our Scott. But a good save – that was something he definitely had in his locker. That is, until he didn’t. Scott’s habit for making errors was permissible while he made up for them with impressive feats of athleticism, making saves worthy of Ben Foster in his Watford prime. Sometime a couple of seasons ago, that ability vanished. Perhaps it can be traced back to that unfortunate error-strewn performance in the European Under 21 Championship final in 2009, when Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira took England apart. In fact, the diverging paths of the two goalkeepers that day is telling: Manuel Neuer has gone on to become perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world, whilst Loach looks unlikely to become anything other than a Championship keeper.
Loach came to Watford’s academy from Lincoln with high expectations, and after a fleeting appearance amongst the play-off celebrations in Cardiff in 2006, seemed to cement such a reputation with good reports from loan spells at Stafford Rangers, Morecambe and Bradford – rising through the divisions with rapidity. And then came his inauspicious first team debut. After a poor start to the season with an over-the-hill Mart Poom in goal, Scott was thrust into the action when the huge, but unassuming Estonian dislocated his shoulder. The rest of that match is history. A man crueller than me might suggest that John Eustace’s “own goal” 9 minutes into Loach’s Watford career was the last goal that he wasn’t in some way at fault for. This is poppycock, of course, but part of the infuriating nature of Loach was that he was rarely, in those days, directly at fault for a goal: initially, he didn’t let a ball squirm through his grasp, he didn’t miss the ball when kicking, only for it to roll cruelly into the net, but his complete lack of decision-making skills with balls put into the box led to goal after goal conceded.
Despite this, and because of the aforementioned tendency to pull of world-class saves, his stock stayed high and interest from Premier League clubs followed. Perhaps we should have taken Spurs’ £2 million pound offer in January of 2010, considering we won’t be receiving half of that when he departs this week [the fee has since been confirmed as £150,000], but nobody was to know the fall from grace that would follow. When Sean Dyche dropped him for Rene Gilmartin last winter, the writing was on the wall and although Gilmartin failed to capitalise, the thought was clearly never far from Dyche’s mind, taking the vastly superior Tomasz Kuszczak on loan from Manchester United. The Pole’s form was superb, and it was ridiculous that he was not at least part of the Poland squad for this summer’s European Championship, but Loach seemed to have won himself an unexpected stay of execution with an impressive showing on the last day of the season against Middlesbrough. As it was, Dyche was halfway through signing Cardiff’s Tom Heaton, a fellow former England under 21 international, when he was sacked, and Ipswich’s bid was unlikely to have caused Franco Zola too much of a headache.
Let’s be fair to Loach. Maybe he’d merely stagnated. His best form for a number of years came after Gilmartin’s brief foray into the team, and in the game in April he proved once more that a stint off the pitch had done him some good. It also didn’t help that he had fallen into the vicious circle of supporter distrust. When he was active on Twitter, Scott was wont to retweet abuse he’d received from fans following errors, something that can’t have aided his performances. In response he was unconfident and even more hesitant when making decisions, which in turn led to more mistakes and further abuse. This cycle is tough to get out of and meant that he became one of those keepers that prompts a sharp intake of breath whenever the ball goes near them.
Scott is 24 now, and was unlikely to be the number one this season – luminaries like Manuel Almunia (!) would see to that – but a return of 123 appearances by this stage of his career is notable and it seems that, a lifelong Ipswich fan, this move may just be the rejuvenation he needs to get his career back on track.
Good luck Scott, we’ll try to remember the good times, as hard as that may be.
Crap tattoos though.