by Richard Brook

Former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland is reported to be locked in talks with new employers Sheffield Wednesday regarding his desire to see his contract terminated. Kirkland’s Hillsborough career looks set to be over before it had ever begun,  with his signing for the Owls only formally completed following the expiry of his contract at Wigan Athletic, on June 30th 2012. Needless to say Kirkland, should he depart, will depart having failed to make a single appearance for the club.

The reasons behind Kirkland’s apparent request to have his Wednesday contract torn up are anything but clear. Rumours have now been circulating for a week, that Kirkland was seeking to leave the Hillsborough club. Despite the voracity of these rumours the silence, from both Sheffield Wednesday and the player, has been deafening. Many variations of the story have popped up in newspapers local to Kirkland’s current and previous clubs, as well as football news sites, and internet message boards. These have ranged between Kirkland having been given extended leave by the Football League Championship newcomers, and the former Liverpool shot-stopper having asked for his new contract to be ended. There has been speculation as to the reasons behind the apparent change of heart, but it would not be useful or sensitive to repeat this  here. The common ground between all the stories is that Kirkland cannot currently continue his Hillsborough career due to personal reasons, although it is to be stressed that this is unconfirmed by club and player.

When approached, the club have advised that there is no time scale for any statement being made on Chris Kirkland. There had been speculation that Owls captain Rob Jones might have inadvertently confirmed the keeper’s departure, when asked about competition for places during a recent interview, Jones replied “We’ve got two goalkeepers and should have, maybe another one coming in”. On the face of it, the two would be Nicky Weaver and Stephen Bywater. Sheffield Wednesday have dismissed this as being in fact a reference to young development goalkeeper Cameron Dawson, and his involvement in the pre-season tour of Portugal.

The news has provoked a mixed reaction from Owls fans, as did Kirkland’s signing. On the one hand there are fans who were delighted with his signing, who would be very disappointed by the idea of never seeing Kirkland in a Wednesday shirt. Kirkland is a goalkeeper of unquestionable quality. It was seen as a terrific signing for a club recently promoted from the third tier, to bring in a player that once cost Liverpool £6 million. Wednesday will not be able to replace Kirkland with a goalkeeper of a similar track record.

On the other hand some Wednesdayites were concerned with Kirkland’s signing, and may view his departure, should it happen, as a narrow escape. For all his quality, Kirkland does possess an unenviable record of recurring injuries particularly to his back. Upon his signing Owls manager Dave Jones noted Kirkland’s fitness issues commenting “He’s had one or two problems with injuries but he had an extensive medical and he passed with flying colours”. Kirkland himself claimed that he had been fit for the last two years, but that he had been out of favour to Wigan’s first choice keeper Ali Al-Habsi, although this assertion is at odds with several reports relating to the early termination of loan spells during that period.

Dave Jones will be particularly disappointed, should Kirkland leave, having described the signing as a “major scoop” for Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls boss also spoke of Kirkland as being a “top class goalkeeper” and being delighted to have him at the club.

The potential blow might be softened, for Jones and Wednesday, by way of he fact that they would still have two experienced senior professionals in the goalkeeping department. Nicky Weaver, a boyhood Wednesday fan, started last season as the first pick for the keeper’s jersey. Weaver was unfortunately injured in the early part of the season, and Stephen Bywater was brought in from Derby initially as loan cover, then until the end of the season and went on to sign a new contract this summer – in spite of Kirkland’s arrival. Both men must be considered very able goalkeepers at Championship level. Prior to the capture of Kirkland, Wednesday had been linked in the press to Tom Heaton. If Kirkland is to leave maybe Wednesday will review their options in the transfer market once again.

Indeed Jones had spoken to the press of his uncertainty as to who would be the first choice goalkeeper, even when Kirkland looked set to start the season on Wednesday’s books. Jones said of Kirkland: “There’s no guarantee he’ll be number one here… Whoever plays the best in pre-season will earn the right to play”.

Only time will tell whether Chris Kirkland truly will leave Sheffield Wednesday without playing a game for the club, and we may never know the reason why. The club’s silence for so long, on a rumour so rife, remains a curious decision, as surely they could confirm or deny whether Kirkland was to leave the club without, necessarily revealing the details of any delicate circumstances that may surround such a decision.

One thing is for certain, and that is that all Wednesday fans and I am sure fans of other football clubs too, will wish Chris Kirkland all the best in dealing with whatever personal circumstances have prompted this apparent, dramatic change of heart over signing for a club, in such a short space of time.