It's Westwood For Me! - Stephen Goldsmith
I'll throw it straight out there, at this stage a year ago I was rooting for Westwood ahead of Mignolet. Simon has developed significantly since then, of course, so i'll hold my hands up a little. But that's not to say Kieran Westwood isn't a Premier League standard keeper and a ready made replacement. We all know he is, how many have honestly said otherwise since the Belgian's departure?
Now I was one of the few who defended Manonne on his arrival (as the Roker Report staff can confirm) so I have no reason to start slagging him off just to fit the narrative of this article. I'm of the firm belief that he can't be as bad as his general perception, because he'd have simply fallen well away from top level football by now. He just would have. The goalkeeping version of Luke Chadwick, if you will. No, I simply think a bit stage fright has been the only problem for Mannone and that's a good starting point in my reasoning for him being our number two. Once he becomes a number two with the genuine belief he should be more, that's where his form will come to the forefront. Did he ever really experience this at Arsenal, or was he always the nervous back up without the self belief?
He can reach the former here, but that's where Westwood is already at in his development.
Because remembering that he was many a person's fancy for the number one jersey a year ago, there's no doubt that Kieran has waited and waited and waited for his chance. And I think he's good enough to take it. He's at a very good age for a keeper (nowt cliched about that) and despite Mannone appearing to be Di Canio's choice at present, I honestly think the former Coventry stopper is the one ready for the call. I'd rather allow Mannone's indecisiveness be worked on slightly behind the scenes for now, until he's totally ready.
Let's not also forget that there's a bit of the X Factor in Westwood, I was at Old Trafford when he pulled off that remarkable double save from Rooney and Evra, and for the love of God remember that save that prevented Darren Bent from grabbing the winner for Villa on his return to The Stadium of Light! Come on, he could win for that alone. Seriously though, a full and trusted season was what was required to nudge Simon Mignolet up to the next level and the same could very much be true in the Irishman's case. Let's not allow the fact that Mannone has started games in pre-season throw your judgement here, be true to yourself. (Unlike voting for Poom ahead of Whitehead and Malbranque ahead of Arca).
Westwood for number 1.
Mannone All The Way! - Chris Weatherspoon
At first, like most, I suspected Vito Mannone would be a mere backup at Sunderland. Keiren Westwood's time had come, and Mannone would be employed as the sort who would look to put reasonable pressure on the Irishman, but never offer a realistic chance of usurping him.
Yet, when the fee of £2m was announced, eyebrows raised. A couple of million quid is nothing to shout about in football these days, but it seemed odd that the club would depart with such money for a backup goalkeeper when there were more pressing issues at stake.
Mannone's starting berth in each of the two Hong Kong friendlies now suggests the issue might not be so clearcut. Despite conceding in each game, Mannone could do neither about those goals, and looked a generally assured presence between the sticks.
Should his performance in two pre-season fixtures be the only thing we consider? No. But there are a few other factors that support Mannone's claim to be number one.
For a starter, in moving here he has shown ambition. That might seem an idiotic thing to say - how can moving from Arsenal to Sunderland be ambitious? - but that would be ignoring the pragmatics of the situation. Mannone realised that, through both injury and misfortune, he had fallen down the pecking order at The Emirates. Though 25 is not
in any way old for a 'keeper, the Italian had clearly decided that first-team football was much more appealing to him than sitting in the stands every week. As a result, he has moved to a club where hard work is newly rewarded, and there is genuine potential for him to prove his worth.
In addition, the wails that he "isn't good enough" don't have too much supporting evidence just yet. Yes, Mannone made errors at Arsenal, but surely that is part and parcel of a goalkeeper not getting the continuity of appearances that is needed to build confidence? There is clearly talent within - it would be foolish to write him off just yet.
Ultimately, a big deciding factor may surround his competitor Westwood. The Irish stopper's brief appearances in a Sunderland shirt so far have brought excellence and error in equal measure, while doubts surround his mentality. His decision to pull out of a tie with Manchester City with a cold, leaving the broken-nosed Simon Mignolet to step in, is well-documented. Westwood claimed this summer that he may have to leave the club if he does not get first-team football; but was this a genuine threat or an attempt to manipulate his fortunes favourably? Certainly, the fact Mannone has been selected in the starting XI ahead of Westwood twice already would suggest that perhaps Westwood's undoubted talent is not matched by his willingness to put in the necessary effort.
So who do you think should start the season in goal? Vote in our poll below, for what it's worth!