||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (February 2011)|
Almunia with West Ham United in 2011
|Full name||Manuel Almunia Rivero|
|Date of birth||19 May 1977|
|Place of birth||Pamplona, Spain|
|Height||1.92 m (6 ft 4 in)|
|1999–2000||→ Cartagonova (loan)||3||(0)|
|2001–2002||→ Eibar (loan)||35||(0)|
|2002–2003||→ Recreativo Huelva (loan)||2||(0)|
|2003–2004||→ Albacete (loan)||24||(0)|
|2011||→ West Ham United (loan)||4||(0)|
|* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 22:02, 28 October 2013 (UTC).
† Appearances (Goals).
He was Arsenal's first choice goalkeeper following the departure of Jens Lehmann, although after Arsenal's 3–2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion in 2010, Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański were preferred, leaving Almunia as Arsenal's third-choice goalkeeper. He was subsequently released from his contract in July 2012 before joining Watford.
Born in Pamplona, Navarre, Almunia started his senior career with Osasuna's reserve team in 1997, playing two seasons with the team in Segunda División B. He went on to spend two more seasons in the category, with Cartagonova and Sabadell, joining the top flight in 2001–02, with Real Club Celta de Vigo.
However, shortly after joining Celta, Almunia was loaned out to Segunda División side Eibar, where he spent 2001–02 as first-choice goalkeeper. During the 2002–03 season, Celta loaned him out to first-division club Recreativo de Huelva, where he played understudy to José Antonio Luque and César, only making two league appearances. Almunia's début in the first division came on 17 November 2002, following a red card to the latter, in a 3–0 defeat at Deportivo Alavés.
He then returned to Celta, being loaned for the third and final time, now to Albacete Balompié on 1 November 2003. He made his club début the following week, in a 1–0 loss at Málaga. Almunia achieved first-choice status, making a total of 24 league appearances until the end of the season, while helping Albacete finish 14th.
Almunia joined Arsenal on 14 July 2004 for an undisclosed sum to provide back up to Jens Lehmann. He made his debut for Arsenal against Manchester City in the League Cup on 27 October 2004. Almunia went on to make his Premier League debut against Birmingham City on 4 December 2004. The highlight of Almunia's first season at Arsenal came in the FA Cup 5th round replay at Sheffield United. With the game finishing 0–0 after extra time and heading to penalties, Almunia saved from United's Alan Quinn and Jon Harley in the shootout to book his club's place in the quarter finals. Arsenal went on to beat Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup Final and Almunia picked up a winners' medal as an unused substitute.
The following season he remained as the second choice behind Jens Lehmann but found himself thrust into the spotlight in 2006 when he replaced Robert Pires in the 20th minute of the Champions' League Final against Barcelona following the sending-off of Lehmann. Almunia played well for the most part, with Barcelona only managing to score the game-tying and game-winning goals late in the game.
He and Lehmann were by all accounts rivals off the pitch as well. In an interview with German television in October 2007, speaking about Wenger's decision to drop him in favour of Almunia, Lehmann said, “It’s possible that some day I’ll feel like talking about the whole issue. But at the moment I’m just swallowing it all as part of the humiliation. But I think – and this is aimed at my dear manager – one shouldn’t humiliate players for too long. I won’t just fade away quietly. Almunia has not yet showed he can win matches for us. I’ve experienced this before and know what the others are expecting from the goalkeeper.” Five months later, in April 2008, Almunia responded, “I treat people the way I would like to be treated myself. To have someone here who hates me is just amazing. Every morning I wake up I know it is going to be the same. But I don’t care any more. I come into training and work with Łukasz Fabiański and Vito Mannone. They are better than him anyway.”
Almunia broke out of Lehmann's shadow in the 2007–08 season when he finally displaced the German. A highlight of this season was memorably saving a Robbie Keane penalty to help Arsenal beat their rivals Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. He was given the number one shirt after Lehmann left for Stuttgart at the beginning of the 2008–09 season. Another important penalty save came that season, this time from Newcastle's Obafemi Martins in a 3-1 victory. In 2008, Almunia signed a new four-year contract with Arsenal. Despite being the first-choice goalie, Almunia's performances often frustrated Arsenal's fans. He veered between brilliant—the 2008–09 Champions League semi-final first leg match against Manchester United, and the 2009–2010 Champions League quarter final first leg against Barcelona—so much so that speculation surfaced that he might play for England, and very poor (see 2010–11 season below) with the result that rumours arose that he would be sold.
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger publicly stated that he was looking to improve the defensive line up of the first eleven which exacerbated public speculation that Almunia would be sold. However, he did save a penalty against West Ham in a 3–0 victory and kept a clean sheet against Hull City in a 3–0 victory. Over the entire season he kept ten clean sheets.
Despite speculation that Almunia would be sold, he started the season as the first-choice goalkeeper. However he was criticised for his performance against West Bromwich Albion on 25 September, conceding a penalty (which he saved), letting a tame shot slip through the near post, and being caught out of position for the third. Almunia lost his place through injury and was subsequently kept out of goal by Arsenal's second and third choice keepers, the Polish goalkeeping duo of Łukasz Fabiański and Wojciech Szczęsny.
Almunia made a return to the team on 30 January 2011 against Huddersfield in the FA Cup and went on to play both games in the next round against Leyton Orient. On 8 March 2011, he came on as a 19th-minute substitute for the injured Szczęsny against Barcelona in the Champions League last-16 stage and made a series of fine saves as Arsenal lost 3–1 to exit the tournament, 4–3 on aggregate. He was voted the Man of the Match by fans on the club's official website. With Szczęsny out of action for up to six weeks after suffering a dislocated finger, and with Fabianski out with a shoulder injury, and with Mannone out with injury, Almunia again became Arsenal's first-choice keeper. On 19 March, during a 2–2 draw at West Brom, Almunia was caught out of position along with Sébastien Squillaci, gifting the home side their second goal. Former Arsenal number 1 Jens Lehmann had returned to the club as backup to Almunia. Almunia's woes continued when he injured his knee during the warm-up in the Premier League match away to Blackpool on 10 April 2011. Almunia had to watch the match from the bench as Jens Lehmann took over in goal in the match that Arsenal won 3–1. Szczęsny then returned from injury and Lehmann was again backup which left Almunia as third goalkeeper who did not feature again for the rest of the 2010–11 campaign.
Almunia began the season out of favour with manager Wenger preferring Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański. Almunia was not even on the bench for the Gunners' League Cup match on 20 September 2011 against Shrewsbury Town (which Arsenal won 3–1), with the reserve goalkeeper being named as 19-year-old Argentine Damian Martinez who has yet to make a first team appearance in any competitions for Arsenal.
Loan to West Ham
On 30 September 2011, Almunia signed an initial one-month emergency loan deal with Championship side West Ham United after Robert Green was ruled out for six weeks with a knee cartilage injury. Almunia made his debut for the Hammers on 1 October 2011 in a 2–2 draw away to Crystal Palace. At the end of October 2011 after four games for West Ham and with the return to fitness of Robert Green, Almunia returned to Arsenal.
Released by Arsenal
On 22 May 2012, Arsenal announced that Almunia and six other players would be released from their contracts as of 30 June 2012 and would be free to seek other clubs from 1 July.
In July 2012, Almunia signed a one-year contract with Championship side Watford for the 2012–13 season, replacing Scott Loach who had moved to Ipswich Town. He made his debut on 11 August in a League Cup tie at home to Wycombe Wanderers, and kept a clean sheet. Having played in all thirty four of Watford's league games, Almunia injured his hamstring against Derby County on 23 February 2013 and was substituted. The Spaniard would then miss the next six league games as young understudy Jonathan Bond deputized in his absence, but he would return in a 0-0 draw with Cardiff City on 6 April 2013.
On 12 May 2013, in the play-off semi-final second leg at home to Leicester City, Almunia made a double save from Anthony Knockaert's penalty in injury time with Watford leading 2-1 on the day, 2-2 on aggregate. Watford counter-attacked from the resulting saves with Troy Deeney scoring a goal to put them in the play-off final at Wembley, 3-2 on aggregate. In the play-off final, Almunia made a string of fine saves to keep Watford in the match, but a Kevin Phillips penalty in extra time meant Crystal Palace won 1-0 and sealed promotion to the Premier League, with Watford competing in the Championship the following season.
On 5 July 2013, Watford announced that Almunia had signed a new twelve-month deal, to keep him for one more season. His new deal delighted manager Gianfranco Zola commenting "His experience and influence are so important for us and the impact he had at Watford last season was magnificent."
- As of 28 October 2013
|Club||Season||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Europe||Total|
|West Ham United (loan)||2011–12||4||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||4||2|
Apps – Appearances; C.S. – Clean sheets.
Almunia has not played international football. He has stated on more than one occasion his wish to play for England, only provided that he did not receive a call-up from Spain first. He has not been called up to Spain's national team so the option of playing for England is still available. However as per David Berry's orders he can never qualify due to not sending five years in education before 18 years of age.
- Ricardo Zamora Trophy: 2001–02 (Spanish 2nd division)
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- Montgomery, Alex (1 October 2011). "Crystal Palace 2 West Ham 2: Sub Carew to the rescue for Hammers". Daily Mail (London).
- "Almunia returns to Arsenal". Sky Sports. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
- "Almunia Released". ESPN Soccernet. Retrieved 22 May 2012.
- "Official: Hornets delighted with a magnificent seven signings". Watford F.C. 30 July 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
- "Watford 3-1 Leicester". BBC Sport. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- "Watford goalkeeper Manuel Almunia signs new one-year contract". Sky Sports. 6 July 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- "Almunia eyes international call". Sky Sports. 16 January 2008. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
- Arsenal.com profile
- BDFutbol profile
- Manuel Almunia career stats at Soccerbase
- FootballDatabase profile and stats
- Photos and stats at sporting-heroes.net