Barcelona Femení and Manchester City Women are in “advanced” talks to get England goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck to the Catalan capital in the summer. She would bring significant strength in depth to the position.
As reported by Goal, Sport, and a variety of other journalists from both England and Spain, Roebuck would become the fifth English player to join Barça Femení. Three of her predecessors have also been signed directly from Manchester City (Toni Duggan, Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh), with the other being Sporting Huelva’s goalkeeper Chelsea Ashurst.
Rumours appeared earlier in the season saying Mary Earps could join Barça, but this was deemed fanciful. Nothing on the Barcelona side pointed to a connection – Sport‘s Maria Tikas suggested Earps had reached out to Barcelona. Though such a player-first approach is how Lucy Bronze became a cule, a new goalkeeper, especially of Earps’ profile, wasn’t on Barcelona’s shopping list.
So why is Ellie Roebuck on their radar now instead? Earps has won all the recent world goalkeeping awards, and in a simple world, the best goalkeeper and the best club would be paired together. But football is not that simple. Various factors, from both the club and players’ perspectives, make Roebuck a much better match for Barcelona than Earps.
Barcelona Femení already has (more than) its fair share of high-profile players, and is currently going through a process of renewing them, which involves updating salaries based on performance. In the climate of Earps being considered the world’s best, she would be unaffordable to Barça. She would also command an unquestionable starting role, in the league at least, while Barça enjoys rotation. Roebuck’s lower profile makes her a better economic prospect. And her current complete lack of minutes for club and country means she is likely to take second-choice.
This is where timing is also important. At the last Olympic Games, Roebuck was England’s number 1. Now, she’s lost her spot in the Lionesses squad to Khiara Keating – supposedly her back-up at Manchester City – and they (by way of Great Britain) are not going to the Olympics. If they were, Roebuck would be seeking game time before the summer in hopes of making the squad (including competing with her other more-active Man City back-up in Scotland’s Sandy MacIver). Instead, the Lionesses will probably have a series of friendlies in the first half of 2024 before the Nations League returns. So Roebuck is not scrambling for any club to take her now, but able to wait for an ideal move, with her sights set on the Euros next year. Her arrival to Barça Femení in the current January window is not ruled out, but summer seems most likely.
Which is when Barcelona want her, too. Sandra Paños and Cata Coll currently share the primary goalkeeping duties, but Paños seems set to leave in the summer. And though Barça have a chain of La Masia-raised goalkeepers at staggered age intervals to be set for years to come – a main reason to neither need nor want external goalkeepers like Earps – a wrench has been thrown into this plan recently. Paños’ expected departure sets up Coll as the number 1, with the Font sisters ready and intended to be second and third choice in the position. However, Gemma Font has been rather AWOL this season, while Meritxell “Txell” Font tore her ACL and meniscus in December, set for a long recovery. In addition, Gemma is undoubtedly good enough to be a starting goalkeeper, and with her contract up this summer too, she might be thinking of leaving.
Barça could be left with only Coll and a selection of B-team goalkeepers. And sure, the under-12 ‘keeper Alexia Jiménez recently went viral for an epic triple-save, but even Barcelona can’t be calling up 11-year-olds to the first team.
A match made in heaven
Adding Roebuck to Barcelona’s line of succession is not going to be as disruptive as Earps would be – or disruptive at all. Earps is a few months shy of being the same age as Paños, and while being over 30 is less of an issue with goalkeepers, this still means she would not be a signing for the future. Or, realistically, present, based on Paños bowing out for the next generation. Earps arriving (and being first choice for a year or more) would effectively postpone Barcelona’s long term plans (the upcoming crop having developed since 2018), and could make some of the youth prospects leave the club instead of wait too long to debut – as happened with, for example, Ona Batlle when Barça experimented by looking outside La Masia for defenders.
Barça Femení may be losing Paños, but in a “circle of life” way, not in a needing to find someone of the same age and experience way.
Ellie Roebuck, on the other hand, is the same age as Gemma Font. With the hints that Gemma could be an unexpected summer departure, her place in the first team and the future accession realistically does need to be filled. Roebuck is entering her prime years and still emergent in international football, making her a good fit.
What makes Roebuck an even better fit is how she plays. Sarina Wiegman prefers Earps (over Roebuck) for her athletic shot-stopping abilities. Blocking and catching balls with the body and hands is a goalkeeping fundamental, but Barcelona has a preferred ‘keeping style based on the whole team’s playing identity and the team’s unique needs.
With the reporting of Roebuck to Barça, the standout memes were of the “pivote FC strikes again”, “Cata-Roebuck double pivot”, “Roebuck finally gets to be a midfielder” flavour (apologies that we’ve sucked all humour from them). But it’s funny because it’s true: just like Cata Coll, Ellie Roebuck enjoys dribbling, enjoys playing on the ball. And she knows how to be useful in making herself available for passes with the defenders and midfielders to build out from the back, something Barcelona likes to do. The Lionesses play like this, too, but Earps is rarely involved. Nor is Earps the strongest ball-launcher, while Roebuck has that directness to a fast-paced attack in her locker.
Speed, and response to speed are key. Most attacks Barça Femení face come from rapid counterattacks – and it prefers to face them with a goalkeeper who will come off the line rather than wait for an actual shot. Roebuck, like Coll, can recover the ball in these situations almost like a defensive midfielder in a 1v1 (Paños prefers to shut down the attacker’s space).
Manchester City Women is not exactly like Barça Femení, but it’s probably no coincidence that the blaugrana seem to scout English talent exclusively from there. Even before Pep Guardiola was at the blue side of the rainy city (though Roebuck has trained with Guardiola’s men’s goalkeepers), the women’s team was building itself around how Keira Walsh, a perpetual student of Barcelona, played. Roebuck’s familiarity with an on-the-ball involved goalkeeper role – when called upon to do anything but be a luxury spectator between the sticks – is an advantage. And what she doesn’t already know about Barça’s play, she would probably be very willing to learn. Lauren Hemp is Man City’s most vocal culer, even with Jill Roord there now, but Roebuck’s social media history also points to being a Barcelona fan. And she didn’t take long to come to Catalonia to visit Walsh after her arrival back in 2022, either.
For fans of Barcelona, there is a lot to be excited about with the “extremely likely” signing of Ellie Roebuck.