Goalkeeper | Watford | Sweden
2017 was an appalling aberration of a season for IFK Gothenburg that culminated in their worst finish in Allsvenskan since 1970 but undoubtedly one huge plus was the emergence of Pontus Dahlberg.
The 6ft 4, blonde and very-very-serious-looking teenage stopper was consistently immense from his debut on and so mulish were his displays it at times looked like a cruel experiment that pitted one brilliant kid against the world. To give some idea of how good he was and how often he won out against that world consider this: without exaggeration the renowned Blavitt would probably have endured the ignominy of relegation without him.
Inevitably from such sudden exposure and one-man heroics transfer rumours began in earnest and the big clubs circled with Watford eventually securing his signature back in January. It was a move that flew somewhat under the radar at the time but won’t in hindsight because what the Hornets have is a keeper destined to inhabit the very highest echelon of his profession for years to come. Dahlberg is fearless, an exceptional shot-stopper, and comfortable with the ball at his feet while routinely showing a composure that belies his inexperience. He is of course not yet the finished article – at just 19 it would be positively strange if he were – but occasional lapses in concentration will lessen with maturity while an improvement in commanding his area will come from further development.
2018 has been…
….fine but painful. Loaned back to Gothenburg for the first three months of the Swedish season Dahlberg picked up where he left off and though there are numerous outstanding saves to highlight a favourite moment came when facing a spot-kick. The taker cheekily enacted a Palenka which was a big mistake against a keeper as solemn as Dahlberg who clearly has little time for such frivolities. The giant from Alvangen simply collected the ball in his arms and resumed play, treating the incident with utter disdain.
His immediate return home coincided with an international bow and he is surely fated to replicate Andreas Isaksson’s long-term stewardship of the national side especially given the mediocrity of his rivals.
Elsewhere Dahlberg made headlines recently when a stray knee in training led to a horrific-looking head injury. We’re not talking a cut here. We’re talking a bloodied crater. Ben Foster later tweeted that his colleague wanted to forego medical attention and carry on impressing boss Javi Garcia.
The only blot on the landscape comes from the counter-productive trajectory that can befall a rising star in nets. First they show a lot of promise and natural order decrees they soon end up at an elite club. Then perhaps they’re loaned out but sometimes not. Then, at an age when their outfield contemporaries are let loose on the big stage young keepers are typically installed for some considerable time as the number three choice behind the established talent and highly experienced back-up.
There stagnation becomes a risk and other examples across the Premier League include Freddie Woodman, Arijanet Muric, and Angus Gunn at Newcastle, Manchester City and Southampton respectively. At least in the case of Dahlberg his pathway looks clearer in the short-term with both Foster and Heurelho Gomes deep into their thirties.