Thanks to all the deadline day frenzy involving Marouane Fellaini, James McCarthy et al, Joel Robles’ arrival at Goodison has almost been forgotten already, but the goalkeeper looks to be a shrewd signing by Roberto Martinez. Though first-choice custodian Tim Howard has been a fine servant of the club over the past seven years, as the popular American approaches the end of his career, it’s reassuring to see that Martinez already has a worthy replacement lined up.
Robles entered English football fans’ consciousness in January with an impressive loan spell at Martinez’s Wigan Athletic – so impressive, in fact, that the 23-year-old ousted Ali Al-Habsi (a veteran almost ten years his senior) as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. However, the Getafe-born shot-stopper is much better known in his home country, having been a part of the Spanish national youth set-up since he was 16.
Joel joined Atletico Madrid’s academy in 2005 and eventually became a regular for the club’s reserve side, but sought a move abroad earlier this year when first-team opportunities remained limited. His time at Wigan was fruitful and culminated in an FA Cup winner’s medal as he helped the Latics surprise Manchester City in the final.
The player cites his physical attributes as key to his success, and at 6ft 5”, it’s easy to see why. Robles believes his huge frame will help him deal with aerial challenges in one of Europe’s more physical leagues. Handed a 5-year deal by his compatriot Martinez, it’s clear Everton see the ‘keeper as a fine prospect and – with the possible exception of McCarthy – Robles is perhaps the summer signing likely to be turning out in royal blue for years to come.
Arguably the biggest challenge for Robles will be to avoid repeating the fate of his back-up predecessor, Jan Mucha, who was consigned to the bench throughout his career at Goodison. The Slovakian was released this summer having made just two league appearances in three years in Merseyside, but Robles looks better equipped to seriously challenge Howard for game time, with the American another year older and Joel already boasting experience in the Premier League.
Indeed, Martinez has described the Spaniard as “someone who is going to give us great protection and fight with Tim Howard – and push him all the way.” For that level of competition, the £650,000 Martinez paid Atletico Madrid seems a bargain. Joel concurs: “It is a great honour to work with Tim – he’s a great, great goalkeeper and I am looking forward to learning a lot from him.”
The player has also been quick to emphasize the importance of being reunited with Wigan goalkeeping coach Inaki Bergara, who also worked under Martinez at Swansea and followed him from the DW Stadium this summer. “I am delighted to be back working with Inaki again – he is a great professional and a really nice guy,” says Joel. The feeling is clearly mutual – Bergara has already professed his belief that Robles “has lots of potential” – and this relationship could prove pivotal to Joel’s success at Everton.
Howard may have seen off many a back-up over the years, but it looks like Robles could finally be the worthy replacement the club have been searching for. With bundles of talent and a long career ahead of him, don’t be surprised if Joel is one of the first names on the Everton team-sheet in a few years’ time.