Vicente Guaita is largely an unknown quantity outside Spain, and after being linked with a move to Arsenal, the reaction from some Premier League fans about signing a “back-up goalkeeper” only confirms that.
Guaita progressed through the Valencia youth system, and like other Paterna products such as Jordi Alba, David Silva and Raúl Albiol, he had to go on loan to a Segunda club in order to gain experience before making the step up to first team. He was awarded the Zamora trophy for best goalkeeper in Segunda in 2009/10 for his performances with Recreativo de Huelva.
Upon returning to Valencia, the then 23 year old Guaita would have to wait for his chance, as he had the Mallorcan Miguel Ángel Moyá (now at Getafe) and the veteran César Sánchez to contend with. His opportunities were extremely limited until injuries to both Moyá and César meant that he would be thrown in at the deep end, having to play against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu and Manchester United at Old Trafford in the space of four days. I was fortunate enough to be at the Bernabéu on that occasion, and despite a 2-0 loss, the Valencian was outstanding. He helped Valencia to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford and would hold onto the number one shirt until the end of the season.
During his breakthrough season, Guaita, sadly, had another issue to deal with; the death of his father, and the man that convinced him to be a goalkeeper. Despite being offered the number one shirt at Valencia, Guaita continues to wear the number 13, as it was his father’s preferred number.
Ahead of the 2011/12 season, both Moyá and César would leave the club, but would also bring a new challenge. Diego Alves, one of La Liga’s most talented ‘keepers arrived for a bargain €3m from the relegated Almería. The Brazilian was immediately linked with a €10m move to Atléti to replace David de Gea, but despite Guaita’s success, Valencia wanted both goalkeepers for what would be a long season. There is a strong case for Diego Alves and Vicente Guaita being labelled as the best pair of goalkeepers in the league, just behind Diego López and Iker Casillas at Madrid.
Since then, the rivalry between Guaita and Diego Alves has been compared to that of Santiago Cañizares and Andrés Palop during Valencia’s title winning years. Vicente Guaita has suffered from persistent wrist problems, which have affected his continuity in the team. He was Unai Emery’s first choice, but once injury struck, it took time to regain his position from the talented Diego Alves.
It was a similar story under new managers Mauricio Pellegrino and Ernesto Valverde, as Guaita was made to earn his place and push Diego Alves to the bench. He succeeded both times, and was Valencia’s number one during the impressive run-in last season, only to be pipped to Champions League football by Real Sociedad on the last day. After Valencia lost to 4-2 to Real Sociedad at Anoeta with Diego Alves in goal, Guaita would be handed the final five games. He kept four clean sheets.
Now at 26 years old, it would appear that Guaita’s patience is running thin. Diego Alves has admittedly being the superior ‘keeper in pre-season, and new manager Miroslav Djukic prefers meritocracy over the aristocracy which saw David Albelda remain at the club a little too long due to place of birth.
In recent weeks, Guaita’s attitude has come into question. I do believe that he is a better all-round goalkeeper than Diego Alves, but before Valencia’s opening game against Málaga, possibly on the advice of agents, he issued a threat to Djukic; if he didn’t start, he wouldn’t renew his contract. Djukic, refusing to be bullied into decisions, went with the Brazilian.
Vicente Guaita is an excellent goalkeeper. He has extremely fast reactions, and when he does make a save, noticeably forces it to the left or right, rather than back to where it came from. Premier League fans, as with all La Liga imports, have jokingly brought up the cliché (which is beginning to get old), “Could he do it on a cold, rainy night in Stoke?” In fact, he already has. Valencia met Stoke in the 2011/12 Europa League. Guaita, predictably, would have to deal with Stoke’s aerial game, and he excelled, plucking several corners and Delap throw-ins out of the air whilst under pressure. In fact, this ability is why many fans prefer him over Diego Alves. Stoke were beaten 0-1 at the Britannia (on a rainy Thursday night), and again 1-0 at Mestalla.
One aspect that he does set him back compared to Diego Alves, is his distribution, which is by no means bad, but there is significant room for improvement. His mentality was also called into question this season, after conceding two soft goals against PSG in the Champions League which ultimately led to Valencia’s elimination.
In Guaita, commonly known as San Vicent in the city, Valencia thought they had a top ‘keeper ready for the next ten years; the new Cañizares. Instead, his latest statements have disappointed both fans and the club who want him to work and fight for his place, rather than force an exit.
Finally, Arsenal’s interest may have been fuelled by the player’s agents who are attempting to put pressure on Djukic to start him. Valencia fans certainly want him to stay at Mestalla and become the legend that he was destined to become, and with a €30m buyout clause, perhaps he will end up fighting for his place another season.