Saturday, December 24, 2011

An unknown at first, but Swansea have found... Vorm the penalty killer


In the next few hours Demba Ba might have cause to wish his goalkeeper had kept his mouth shut.

It’s been four months since Tim Krul took a call from Michel Vorm. At the time, Krul was breaking through at Newcastle after five years of trying and was one of the few people this side of the North Sea with an idea of who Vorm was. 

They had read about each other for years - Krul, now 23, was the hyped prospect who left Holland for the  Premier League in 2006; Vorm, now 28, was the ‘Penalty Killer’ of FC Utrecht - but they only met at the start of the summer when they were two understudy  goalkeepers with Holland.

‘We got on really well,’ Vorm says. ‘We’re both easy-going, both goalkeepers. We talk quite a lot, maybe once every  two weeks. One day I asked him what it was like playing in the Premier League.’

He had good reason to. It was August and Swansea had just agreed a  £1.5million fee with Utrecht for a  goalkeeper whose height only tops 6ft when he’s got boots on; a goalkeeper who was not Brendan Rodgers’s  first-choice replacement for Dorus de Vries; a goalkeeper who some are not convinced is the best shot stopper in the Vorm family.

Suffice to say, there were a few doubts among Swansea supporters when Vorm was first linked with the club. There were none whatsoever in the advice Krul gave Vorm.

‘He told me, “It’s a beautiful competition, you have to come”,’ Vorm recalls. ‘I had loved the Premier League since I was a kid watching Overmars and Bergkamp at Arsenal. I wanted to come. Tim thought it was a good idea.’

Later today Krul might not be so sure. He has been outstanding this season, a key component in Newcastle’s excellent start. But Swansea arrive at St James’ Park with arguably the signing of the season between their posts. 

Last weekend Vorm pulled off a wonder save when, with three minutes remaining and Swansea 1-0 up against Fulham, Clint Dempsey put a penalty to his right. It led to his seventh clean sheet of the  season - a record matched only by Manchester United in the Barclays  Premier League.

Three months earlier he went low to his right to stop Ben Watson’s penalty when Wigan were chasing a late winner. In between he has been nothing short of exceptional.

‘He is the best keeper I’ve played with,’ says Swansea defender  Ashley Williams. ‘Put it this way, in training whoever has him on their team that day is likely to win. There’s a lot more to the guy than penalties.’

Vorm grew up in Utrecht, the middle child of five to a barber and a housewife. His father was a  goalkeeper, and a good one at that if the stories are to be believed. ‘I never saw him play,’ Vorm says. ‘He’s 71, so quite old and he never played professionally. But he tells me he was very good and I used to hear it around the barber shop from people who saw him play.

‘Football was always big in my house. My younger brother Eddy is also professional.’
Vorm, like many Dutch children in the mid-Nineties, grew up as an Ajax fan and admired Edwin van der Sar. ‘It was around the time they won the Champions League (1995),’ he says. ‘But I loved all football.

‘England, Spain, Italy - I loved it, especially the Premier League. As a kid, when anyone would ask me what I wanted to be I said, “Footballer”. I used to dream of playing for Ajax, but loved to think I could come to the UK.’

He has had the opportunities to do both. As a 14-year-old he was invited for trials with his local side, Utrecht, and also Ajax.

‘I’ll never forget when I saw the Ajax letter on the doormat offering me a trial,’ he says. ‘I was so excited. It’s Ajax!’

It wasn’t what he hoped it would be - even though they offered him a contract after a month.
‘My feeling was the club was a bit cold,’ he says. ‘I didn’t have the feeling that I could play for this club I wanted to play for.

‘At Utrecht it was different. Ajax was a very big organisation - so many people. Utrecht was a lot more like Swansea - small, friendly, a family. The fans of Utrecht all come from Utrecht, it is that kind of club. Again, like Swansea. It was a hard decision but my instinct said Utrecht.’ 

He joined at 14 and left 14 years later having secured his place as Holland No 2 - he was on the bench for the World Cup final last year - and is already a folk hero at Swansea. ‘Life is great at the moment,’ he says. ‘Everything is going so well.’ 
Especially the penalties. 

‘I don’t know where this Penalty Killer name came from,’ Vorm says. ‘No-one at Utrecht called me it. I think it was maybe in the  newspapers and then it got on Google. Now when I save a penalty it comes up. It will be an  embarrassing name if people start scoring every time.’

That doesn’t seem likely. Vorm estimates he saved ‘about 60 per cent’ of the penalties he faced in his first three seasons as a pro. ‘It was not as good the last two  seasons, but still quite high,’ he says. A compilation called ‘Michel Vorm Penalty Killer’ was posted on YouTube a year ago and offers some details. 

‘I remember facing (Yevhen)  Levchenko when he was at  Groningen,’ Vorm says. ‘He was on a big run of scoring penalties. I saved it! But I think a lot of it is luck. 

'Yakubu beat me a couple of weeks ago against Blackburn. I have a method and it is good but there is nothing smart about it. It’s  obvious.’ 

That will be of no  comfort to Ba today if he becomes Vorm’s latest victim.


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