Brighton keeper Sanchez has created a buzz, even Casillas is on alert

‘Even Iker Casillas thinks I’m a good keeper!’: Brighton’s No 1 Robert Sanchez has Spanish seal of approval after his breakout season… and he’s available for England

  • Robert Sanchez has held a regular spot in the Brighton squad since December 
  • The 23-year-old Spaniard has overtaken Mat Ryan in the starting line-up  
  • His sudden emergence has created a buzz at the south coast top-flight club
  • Idol and goalkeeping legend Iker Casillas has spotted Sanchez’s talents
  • There is talk over his international future as he is eligible for Spain and England

Robert Sanchez is reflecting on an incident in Brighton’s shock win at Liverpool last month that proves how far he has come.

‘There’s a through ball, [Roberto] Firmino runs to it but you can tell he’s never looking to touch the ball. He’s waiting for me to touch him to dive for a penalty,’ Sanchez begins.

‘But, [I] slow down, he doesn’t touch the ball it goes out for a goal kick. Good decision. If I decide to come, dive into the ball, he gets a little touch, I hit him, penalty. But I decided to stand up and it went for a goal kick.’

Robert Sanchez has been a regular in the Brighton starting line-up since December

The Spaniard has at times proven to be an unbeatable last line of defence for Brighton

A younger Sanchez, desperate to show how proactive and commanding a goalkeeper he can be, would have launched himself at Firmino’s feet, ignoring any risk that might involve.

Indeed, he remembers giving away two penalties in identical circumstances during a learning curve loan spell at Forest Green.

But Sanchez is a different keeper and person now – older, wiser, calmer and Brighton’s new No.1 as a result, proving an at times unbeatable last line of defence for Graham Potter’s side.

His emergence this season has created a buzz that has spread well beyond the south coast with even his idol, Spain’s World Cup winning captain Iker Casillas, among those alerted to Brighton’s breakout talent.

‘I did an interview the other day and he [Casillas] was friends with the person doing it,’ Sanchez, 23, said.

‘He sent me a little message saying about how well I was doing. It was amazing.

‘I said to him thank you for being the way he was and to make me dream to become what he was.

‘He said thank you so much for taking me as an example. Hopefully one day I get to see him in person.’

His international future has also become a talking point here and his homeland with Sanchez eligible for Spain and England.

‘All of my focus at the moment is on Brighton and my football here in the Premier League,’ Sanchez insisted. ‘If the opportunity does come, then I’ll sit down and decide.’

Sanchez, who joined Brighton aged 15 from Levante, started pre-season as arguably their fifth choice goalkeeper.

Iker Casillas sent Sanchez a message congratulating him for his performances at Brighton

But his development and how he had matured on and off the pitch had been noted and he was handed a surprise debut at Tottenham in November.

With all the technical and physical qualities required, that 6ft 6in Sanchez had the stature and ability for the Premier League was never in doubt.

What, for some time, was a little less certain was whether he was ready mentally.

But Sanchez passed another test with his response to being briefly taken out of the side following his debut and has not looked back since returning to the team at Fulham in December.

Key to Sanchez establishing himself so successfully that Mat Ryan was allowed to leave for Arsenal in January has been proving he can be relied upon.

‘I’ve always been one who likes to over show when there is no need to,’ he admits. ‘So becoming trustable, being reliable is about making the right decisions, the right choice every time.

‘Taking less unnecessary risk? Yes, that would be a good way to say it. We know you have it, you don’t need to do it all the time.’

Now Sanchez will think twice about piling through bodies to claim a cross as well as rushing off his line to confront strikers in one-on-ones.

His international future is a talking point as he is eligible to play for England or Spain

It might look good and he is more than capable of doing it but what if it goes wrong?

Against Spurs, an opportunity to show his ability with his feet arose but Sanchez opted to boot the ball into touch rather than overplay.

‘It’s not the most beautiful thing but it’s the simple thing,’ he said. ‘Don’t complicate yourself.’

Sanchez has learned, sometimes the hard way, via loan spells during lower league loans at Forest Green and Rochdale.

‘I always thought there is no point for them [loan spells] but now looking back it’s the best thing that has happened to me in football,’ he admitted.

‘Playing games in front of people, older men, 32 year-olds, big guys that come and hit you on crosses which I never really got before.

‘Being put on the bench and coming in again, making those mistakes. Sometimes, little mistakes which people didn’t realise but you do, sometimes big mistakes.

‘That’s why the loan spells and making mistakes is good because then when the same thing happens at this [Premier League] level then you’re like “wait, let’s do this, be better.”

Sanchez is a much wiser and calmer keeper now than during his loan spell at Forest Green

Another big factor in Sanchez’s rise has been Brighton’s highly-rated goalkeeping coach, former Middlesbrough and Seagulls stopper Ben Roberts, who has helped develop the likes of Nick Pope and Alex McCarthy too.

Roberts has always backed Sanchez but also provided the tough love his protégé has needed to keep him on his toes.

‘We have a strong relationship but when you’re really close with someone and he gives you hard love it kind of hurts more but everything was to get me ready for the highest level,’ Sanchez explained.

‘In training for example I would do something that could be a little mistake and he would go harder at me than anybody else because he knew that if I concentrated, that wouldn’t happen.

‘We’ll be doing crossing for example and he’ll be crossing but once he will shoot to the front post and that’s to get me ready for the Premier League.

‘Maybe Kevin De Bruyne is coming from the left side trying to put a ball in and instead of crossing it he will put it in the front post.

‘It’s that level of players in the Premier League. They can do anything. It’s just about trying to be ready for every single situation, which is hard.

Sanchez was brought in as an understudy for Mat Ryan who is now on-loan at Arsenal

‘When you’re young you always think you’re better than the rest and that you can jump in and play.

‘But when you actually jump in and play you realise “there is not a chance that I could have been here two years ago.”

‘Luckily I had Ben who has put me to the ground, given me that tough love and would say “you’re not ready at all. Stop dreaming.”

‘He always used to tell me “when you’re ready, you’ll have your chance” and before I played [against Tottenham] he said “you’re ready now.”

Sanchez has been proving Roberts right ever since, keeping six clean sheets in his 13 Brighton appearances including five shutouts in his last six appearances.

Given Roberts’s role in his meteoric rise it is no wonder that Sanchez’s advice to aspiring footballers is: ‘The same that got given to me a lot of the time – listen to the people that want to help you and reflect on what they say.’

Doing just that is paying off handsomely for Sanchez.

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