Vasilis Barkas – strengths and weaknesses and what to expect from Celtic’s new £4.5million goalkeeper

It looks like Celtic’s £4.5million goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas is likely to make his debut for Celtic on Sunday against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park. Fraser Forster’s replacement has some big shoes to fill, so what are Celtic getting with Barkas, our only new face of the transfer window so far?

Barkas is an imposing 6ft4 in height and despite only really breaking into the AEK team in the last couple of years already has a League Championship medal and Champions League experience, therefore he’s been used to playing in a team expected to win.

Anyone concerned as to whether he’ll handle the ‘goldfish bowl’ of Glasgow would do well to remember Athens is no shrinking violet when it comes to obsessed football supporters, therefore handling the pressure of a big club, expected to win every week and compete in European competition, allied to the weight of expectation and scrutiny from fans and media will be something Barkas will be more than accustomed to.

He also speaks competent English having come through the Dutch education system, who appear adept at teaching English to their schoolkids that their command of the language would put many of our own natives to shame, so communication won’t be an issue.

His career appears on an upward trajectory, he’s now a Greek international and pushing for the number one position. He has 10 caps and there’s no doubt his decision to head abroad will have had establishing himself as first choice international keeper at the back of his mind. He also seems a confident lad with AEK teammates stating when he signed from lowly Atromitis, Barkas made it clear he intended to cement his place before furthering his career abroad, all before he’d even got his gloves dirty. It seems he’s a man with a plan and believes in his own ability to improve and advance his career.

As a goalkeeper his strengths appear to be agility, reflexes and good reactions from close shots. When it comes to one on ones with opposition strikers Barkas’ fast footwork and positioning is impressive. He doesn’t seem to commit early and seems confident both his frame and sharp shifting of feet can cut down angles and impose himself in the striker’s view, hoping to encourage a moment of hesitancy from the player attacking his goal.

From there the one thing that stands out is the strength of his wrists and ability to deflect the ball away from danger when the save is made. A modern trend for goalkeepers appears to be to make the save and worry later where the ball ends up, Barkas doesn’t do that. His thought process appears to be to make the save and use that strength in the wrists to ensure, not only is the save made, but also that it’s removed as far as possible away from any secondary opportunity for the attacking team.

He commands his area well and also seems happy to come off his line and defend his box rather than leave it to his central defenders, something that may be advantageous to Celtic with neither of our central defenders particularly aggressive defenders in the air. With a team lacking in height such imposing actions from a goalkeeper can only help us defend set pieces- something opposition teams have certainly recognised as a weakness in Celtic sides.

One proviso to that commanding control of his area is that Barkas –again due his confidence in the strength in his wrists- often chooses to punch the ball clear rather than attempt to catch when under pressure or with a busy area to contend with. Normally that would be a cause for concern, yet when you see the distance he gets on his clearances there is something more reassuring about it than you’d normally get from a goalkeeper who punches rather than catches. He seems to read those situations well and picks and chooses when to catch and when to clear his lines. He also appears vocal in organising his area. That may not be something we necessarily see in his first few games but it’s certainly something that will come to the fore after his settling in period and he gets to know his defence.

And for the sake of balance it’s fair to say we are not getting a sweeper keeper. Barkas may be sharp in moving his feet when strikers descend on his goal but one area that looks like it could still develop is his ability with the ball at his feet.

A further weakness would also appear to be that with more time to react Barkas seems a little more hesitant. As such when shots come from distance be it medium or long-range strikes there seems a confidence issue with catching the ball. Whether it’s a difficulty judging the flight of a ball moving and swerving from distance and not wishing to take the risk, his default certainly seems to be to parry rather than catch.

While that develops it’s certainly going to be important for our defenders to pick up quickly on this and be as alert as any striker may be on following up. It seems strangely at odds with his brilliant one on one ability, yet I’d rather have that than the opposite way around and have him struggling with one on ones or short-range efforts. We also have the added advantage of an excellent goalkeeping coach in Stevie Woods who is bound to notice those weaknesses and work on them as the season progresses.

One final concern would be that Barkas appears at this stage of his career to have more in common with Craig Gordon than Fraser Forster in one key area. I could only find four penalty saves recorded and it looks like he has faced up to 21 so far. You’d have to say Forster’s record of nearly 50% of penalty kicks being saved was a bit freakish to say the least, as was Craig Gordon who only made one penalty save in his entire Celtic career. I’d settle for somewhere in between those two extremes and Barkas looks like that’s around where he’ll land when dealing with efforts from 12 yards.

All in all, Celtic appear to have signed a good goalkeeper and not surprisingly, given the market we operate in, one who will also need to improve in certain areas. It looks from Neil Lennon’s comments in his press conference that we’re about to see Celtic’s only new face in action this Sunday.

Strangely, considering we all love to see what new signings have to offer, it would be good if we were none the wiser come the final whistle at Rugby Park as that would indicate a quiet afternoon for Celtic’s new number one.

Niall J

HERE IS MY UPDATE on tomorrow’s opposition Kilmarnock…

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As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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