Adam Lallana stepped up, Willy Caballero dived to his right, and in that moment everything changed for the Manchester City goalkeeper. It was Yaya Touré who dispatched the penalty that won City the Capital One Cup at the expense of Liverpool last February but as the Ivorian embarked on a conceited, shirt-waving sprint across the Wembley pitch it was Caballero who was mobbed by his teammates. He was the real man to thank here and he deserved this moment.
“After the Capital One Cup final, everything changed and I felt a lot of affection from the City fans and I’ve really enjoyed it since,” Caballero told City’s official website.
Before this the 35-year-old signed from Malaga in the summer of 2014 had been the last person City fans would have hoped to see between the sticks. Caballero had been brought in as an understudy to Joe Hart but never really challenged for the No.1 jersey, instead doing his best impersonation of a stick man in a 5-0 defeat to Chelsea and just generally being a donkey, really. Caballero had been the Claudio Bravo of City’s past and consequently a victim of the relentless taunting all fan bases dish out to their worst players.
Most footballers living out the twilight years of their career at a new club in a new country would put two fingers up to a crowd mocking their every move, but Caballero paid attention to the criticism, eager to win us over. Willy had been overlooked by many in the Bravo vs Hart debate that has endured for the entire season but there in the background, working hard, was a safe pair of hands ready to step in and do his best to carry out his manager’s orders. Today, albeit in unusual circumstances, Caballero is City’s first choice goalkeeper and one of the most likable players at the club.
“I tried to focus on the games but I listened and was aware of the criticism in my first year at City, but I learned and worked hard to improve throughout my second year,” the goalkeeper said.
Once on the periphery of the side with no hope of breaking into it, Caballero now appears to be one of its leaders. A quick look at City TV and it’s clear that he’s a respected, easy to get on with member of the squad. He’s up for a laugh, a willing and interesting interviewee, and a guy who seems to put others before himself.
On Pep Guardiola’s decision to drop Claudio Bravo, Caballero, his direct competitor for a starting place in goal, has been the first to support the Chilean.
“I speak with Claudio all the time and have given him all the advice I can about the Premier League – the players, the stadiums, the teams and how they play.
“I also told him that my first season her was difficult and not so happy, but because he plays most weeks, it will be different for him game by game.
“He needs to stay confident, work hard and I am sure we will all see the best of Claudio Bravo very soon.”
Caballero may not be here for much longer, but what a breath of fresh air it is to see one of the nice guys fighting against the odds to succeed.