From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.10 :: Mar. 10, 2011

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FOOTBALL / WHO REIGNS IN SPAIN

In the limelight at last

Diego Lopez, the highly-rated stopper who has made a name for himself in the goal at ‘El Submarino Amarillo' of Villarreal, is being increasingly linked with a switch to the Emirates as Arsenal plans a summer strengthening of its flimsy rear guard, writes Aaron Sharp.

News that Arsenal are finally ready to invest in a world-class goalkeeper will be music to the ears of football fans in north London. And the fact that the man reportedly being lined up by Arsene Wenger has been plugging holes on the Yellow Submarine for the past four years will surely give the Gunners cause for a new song.

Diego Lopez, the highly-rated stopper who has made a name for himself in the goal at ‘El Submarino Amarillo' of Villarreal, is being increasingly linked with a switch to the Emirates as Arsenal plan a summer strengthening of their flimsy rear guard.

The failure of Manuel Almunia, Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny to stake a real claim for the number one jersey at Arsenal is thought to have forced Wenger's hand into looking further afield for both reliability and experience, the like of which they have not had since Jens Lehmann returned to Germany in 2008.

Lopez appears to be the perfect solution. A product of the youth system at Real Madrid, the 29-year-old worked his way up to the creditable position of Iker Casillas' understudy before moving to east Spain for first-team football.

That deal was done for a bargain 6million euros and at El Madrigal he was finally able to prove himself a goalkeeper of exceptional talent.

His marked improvement in a starting role has not been lost on Spain manager Vicente del Bosque, who included Lopez in his squad for the Confederations Cup in 2009. Although an unused sub throughout that competition, the Villarreal star finally got his chance soon after, earning his first cap in a friendly against Macedonia later that same year. Having gone quietly about his rise through the ranks, the common consensus is that, had he not found himself playing at the same time as Casillas and Liverpool's Pepe Reina, Lopez would be among the names elevated to legend status by Spain's recent domination of world football.

But on finally becoming a full international and with four impressive seasons under his belt at Villarreal, it is little surprise that more clubs than Arsenal are likely to be sniffing around.

Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp are known to be fans of Lopez. And although reports suggest that Arsenal's scouts have been most proactive in their tracking of him, the Manchester United manager's need is now greater.

Edwin van der Sar having announced his intention to hang up the gloves at the end of this season will have had United scouts on red alert as they look to avoid the goalkeeping catastrophe that ensued on the back of Peter Schmeichel's retirement.

After spending much of his career in the shadow of other goalkeepers, it now seems a lengthy list of top European suitors will be looking acquire the services of Lopez.

Lopez himself refuses to be drawn on where it is that his footballing future lies. But with Villarreal 19 points behind leaders Barcelona in the Spanish Primera Division and under pressure from the improving Athletic Bilbao in the hunt for a UEFA Champions League place, a poor end to the season could see Lopez looking to make the next step in an ever-improving career.

© PA Sport, 2011, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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