“As for Samir Handanovic, I'd start with an appointment to get his eyes tested. He needs to work on his mentality to stay focused for 90 minutes." (Sandro Mazzola)
Following Inter’s 2-2 draw with Torino, Sandro Mazzola hadn’t held back in his criticism of the Nerazzurri goalkeeper. After all, the mistake was a bad one and in some quarters, this saw the custodian branded not good enough. Days later in La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Luciano Spalletti claimed that along with Milan Skriniar, Radja Nainggolan and Marcelo Brozovic, the Slovenian would be one of the men the Coach would rely on this term. The week after against Bologna, he showed just why he perhaps should not be underestimated.
After the game against Bologna, the Corriere Dello Sport said that after the mistakes he had made against the Granata, he had to send a message to stop Inter looking for a replacement next season. They admitted that this comment was perhaps more based on the reaction from the fans on social media rather than from the club itself, but it still highlighted the constant debate he causes.
They went on to say that the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara is one of the stadiums where he has made some great saves before, often rescuing Inter. He did it again in that game and this perhaps is why the enigma that is Handanovic becomes so confusing. Whilst he seems to be often the saviour, he is also quickly branded the villain.
It is the Corriere Dello Sport who seem to be mostly behind the debate. Perhaps the Rome based newspaper has been so blessed with goalkeepers in the capital recently that they can be critical? Back in March in 2017, they concluded that Handanovic was being forced to make fewer saves, but was conceding more goals. The Corriere calculated that in the first half of the season the Nerazzurri team had conceded 96 shots on goal, for an average of 5.05 shots per match where Handanovic intervened on 60 occasions, or 3.16 times per match. However, the goals conceded were 14 averaging 0.74 goals per match.
They went on to talk about the second half of the season and said that here the number of saves reduced, and in the first seven rounds the average of opposing chances had been 4.86 per game and the average number of saves 2.72 per game with only four clean sheets.
Perhaps with these statistics they have a point, but when you compare his overall season he stacks up to the best in the league. Clean sheets – Gigi Buffon 11 in 18 games, Handanovic 16 in 34 and Alisson 15 in 34. Saves per game Alisson 2.71, Handanovic 2.32 and Buffon 2.01. Average claim success, Alisson 90%, Buffon 89% and Handanovic 88% and finally, average saves per goal, Handanovic 3.76, Buffon 3.70 and Alisson 3.41. There is enough evidence to suggest that (as he finished second in the goalkeeping statistical rankings) he had an excellent season.
It is true statistics can be twisted to support either argument and the above is evidence of this. More people will remember this season’s mistake on Torino’s long ball, or his wonder save against Filip Helander. These are the moments that stick in the memory, not his average claim percentage. The Slovenian seems doomed to be judged by the media continually as he was by Tuttosport, who labelled him Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Perhaps they have a point? After all he has won Inter so many games in such spectacular fashion. His penalty saving record, his amazing reaction saves and his ability to reach for shots he has no right to get. On the other hand, his mistakes are also often bad ones and often in decisive games (albeit few and far between).
Mazzola was perhaps harsh on the ‘keeper, but did touch on a point about his concentration. Every so often he does seem to be absent and in those few moments a season, it has cost Inter. The mistakes are glaring and cause uproar with fans who see are often so angry with other components in the team, that Handanovic simply exacerbates this on occasion. Perhaps this is why when Inter had less pressure in the second half of last the season, he conceded more? He switched off?
On the other hand, he has won Inter countless games in heroic style and he certainly has been forced to play behind some quite poor defences. His reactions, agility and often decisive actions have allowed Inter to punch above their weight at times and he has been a key factor in this. His loyalty is also second to none, refusing moves elsewhere despite the fact this is the first season where he'll be in the Champions League.
Handanovic perhaps should be appreciated for what he is. He is imperfect in an imperfect team, but at the same time he has an incredible amount of ability. One could argue that he is much more decisive than divisive.