Tim Krul is the first among equals in Newcastle’s goalkeeping department – and has the shirt to prove it. The Dutch international talks exclusively to Chief Sports Writer Mark Douglas about the long road to being established - and where it goes from here.
TIM Krul is familiar enough with Newcastle United folklore to know there are more important numbers in the black and white imagination.
But if number nine represents the Holy Grail to most Gallowgate regulars, it is the shirt that he now possesses that means the most to United’s Dutch master.
A year on from winning the three-way scramble to be Newcastle’s number one, Krul now has the squad number to prove it. Given the strength of the challenge posed by the evergreen Steve Harper, it is a highly symbolic move by Alan Pardew.
One that has pleased Krul, too. For while his elevation to the top now seems like something of an inevitability, it is important not to lose sight of what he has achieved to consolidate his position at the peak of United’s goalkeeping pecking order.
When he joined United as a raw teenager – poached from Eredivisie outfit Den Haag, a club that he returns to next weekend – he was confronted with an goalkeeping department overloaded with talent.
As well as Harper, Krul had Shay Given to dislodge to establish himself as Newcastle’s number one. And in the meantime a towering talent emerged from the Academy in the shape of Fraser Forster, who was in with a shout of making an impact on the first-team last summer. Krul still managed to come out on top, and his performances last term confirmed the wisdom of Pardew’s big call.
“It is amazing really, to think of it like that. I do feel a bit more established now,” he told The Journal from United’s Portuguese training base. “The last year has flown by but last summer it was really a proper fight for the number one shirt with Fraser and Harps.
“In America we really didn’t know what was going to happen but thankfully I managed to get the number one shirt and it has been brilliant ever since.
“It has been a battle during my entire time at Newcastle because the quality of the goalkeepers has always been very high and it still is when you look at what we have at the club now. Now I’m looking forward to the second season and just trying to roll on and improve on what we did last season.”
Avoiding complacency seems to be the key theme of Newcastle’s summer preparations. Although no senior players have been recruited yet, there is a strong determination and competitiveness underpinning United’s work in these crucial weeks.
Thursday afternoon’s initial training session in Vale dos Lobos was a case in point. Players were snapping into tackles and there was a fierce spirit about the camp that seemed to suggest fears that the team might tail off are being taken seriously in these parts.
Krul acknowledges the importance of building on the foundations of last season, which he rates as one of the most crucial in the recent history of the club.
“Last year was a really important year in the history of the club,” he said. “The team was so together. Whether it was an important save, a good goal or an important tackle, we all celebrated together. We were a united team and a united party.
“I think that is the main ingredient of our success – that togetherness. The team is together and willing to fight for each other and we can go a long way.
“We showed that last year and there is a real opportunity for us to progress and keep moving forward. Now, hopefully with a few additions to the squad, we can take that chance.”
Not that the Premier League will get any easier for United.
With quite a small squad they will attempt to compete on four fronts – with Europe a new frontier for the players to contend with.
A Brendan Rodgers-inspired Liverpool will look to bounce back, while most of the top four appear to be consolidating with some major signings.
“It is going to be harder – teams are going to be more alert to us,” Krul said. “But that could be a positive thing as well. If teams know all about us they should give us some respect because we are a good team – as we proved last year.
“We should look forward to it all though, because it is an exciting time to be at Newcastle United and to be involved in it. Europe will be fantastic for us.” Krul also says that he has expunged the disappointment of a depressing European Championships that concluded with a very unexpected failure.
Holland entered the tournament as one of the favourites and notwithstanding a difficult group, they were expected to make an impact. Three games and zero points later, Krul was suffering one of the biggest disappointments of his nascent career.
“It was a nightmare and unexpected for us. We expected to reach the semi-final at least and we should for a country like Holland,” he explains. “To get zero points is totally unacceptable and everyone associated with the team knows that. Coming back with Newcastle means it is forgotten about.”