Celtic’s rewarding of Craig Gordon with a new long-term deal on Wednesday capped the remarkable turnaround in the career of a player who at one stage seemed destined for premature retirement.
Gordon made his name with boyhood club Hearts where he spent 7 seasons and with whom he won the Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year award in 2006. The following year, aged just 24, he was inducted into Hearts’ Hall of Fame, becoming the youngest player ever do to so. 2007 was to be his final year with Hearts, however, as his stellar performances had attracted the attention of a host of Premier League clubs and the Scottish number 1 ultimately joined Sunderland for £9m (which at the time was the most ever paid for a goalkeeper by a British club).
It was at Sunderland where Gordon’s luck would take a turn for the worse. Despite showcasing his obvious talents on the pitch, Gordon’s time at the Stadium of Light is remembered best for the amount of time spent off it. The 2008-09 campaign saw him suffer a serious knee injury which ruled him out of action for several months while things got worse the following season when Gordon’s arm was broken following a kick by striker Jermain Defoe. He missed three months of football as a result and later had to undergo surgery to remove the metal plate from his arm. Soon thereafter Gordon then fractured the same arm once more in during a training session before falling victim to an assortment of injuries over the next few months. Gordon’s fall from grace was completed at the end of the 2011-12 season when Sunderland confirmed that they would not be renewing his contract. Injuries had limited the once infallible ‘keeper to just 88 league appearances (out of a possible 190) over his five year stay in the Premier League.
Gordon then spent the next two seasons out of the game, working on physical rehabilitation and contemplating the idea of taking up coaching. He had trained with a number of clubs to maintain fitness standards throughout his hiatus but the opportunity of regular football had not been afforded to him. That all changed at the start of last season, however, when Scottish superpower Celtic snapped him up following the departure of Fraser Forster to Southampton.
Forster’s impressive performances for Celtic over the previous seasons meant Gordon had some big shoes to fill, but the Scotsman proved that the classic adage is true, class really is permanent. The Scottish stopper kept a clean sheet on debut against St. Johnstone (his first match in more than two years) before embarking on an 8-match shutout between December and February. A Scotland recall was a reward for Gordon’s stellar performances for the Hoops and it inspired him to complete the season in remarkable fashion. Celtic, guarded by Gordon’s brilliance at the back, lifted the Scottish League Cup without conceding a goal before being declared as League champions soon after.
For Gordon it was a season that marked a sensational turnaround in his career. Prior to the start of the season all signs indicated that retirement loomed. By the end of the campaign though, he had amassed 52 appearances across all competitions and kept an incredible 28 clean sheets. Two titles (including his first ever league crown), A Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year award and a return to national team duty prove that Craig Gordon is well and truly back, and at 32 his best years might still be ahead of him.