by Joshua Richards
JAK Alnwick admits he took a gamble when selecting his club for this season, but after being awarded a new two-and-a-half year contract just two months into his Port Vale career, he is delighted that risk has brought great reward.
The 22-year-old played eight times for Premier League Newcastle last term, being given a real baptism of fire with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham among the opposition.
And though his phone was ringing with offers from new clubs over the summer following his release from St James’ Park, Alnwick resisted overtures until he could be guaranteed first-team football.
It was not until the eve of the new season that Rob Page at Port Vale offered Alnwick that chance, initially with a deal until January.
But after keeping five clean sheets in 16 games, Alnwick was tied down for the long term and is delighted with his reward.
“I had a few offers but I felt they weren’t right for me,” said Alnwick, who played against his big brother Ben, the Peterborough keeper, yesterday. “I didn’t want to be a number two. I spoke to my brother and agent and they both said the same thing: that I needed to play games. I knew it was risky to wait, but Port Vale was the right move.
“Ben said at Tottenham his biggest regret was not playing many games and he said he wished he had moved on at a younger age. I didn’t want to look back and feel like I had made the same mistake.
“Port Vale are a great club moving in the right direction and the length of contract they offered me shows their ambition. They have shown a lot of faith in me. It’s rare in the Football League to get that length of contract, but now the hard work starts.
“I spoke to the chairman (Norman Smurthwaite) after I had played five games and he said to me a contract would be put on the table, it was up to me to keep playing well. Now that I’ve got my contract that does not mean this is the end of anything. My next goal is to play for Port Vale in the Championship.”
With Alnwick having seemingly made his breakthrough in the top-flight last term, he immediately talked of his ambition to rival Joe Hart as England’s No.1 goalkeeper.
And despite dropping down two divisions since making that statement, his ambition remains.
He says: “Look at Joe Hart, he was playing for Shrewsbury, Jack Butland was at Cheltenham. When Jamie Vardy was at Fleetwood I’m sure he never believed he would go on and play for England. You just have to keep trying to step forward.
“Goalkeepers come into their own when they are 26 or 27, so I have time on my side.
“You learn from your experiences, good or bad. I had a steep learning curve at Newcastle. I had barely played football and suddenly I was up against Chelsea, Man United and Spurs.
“But I think the club have learned too about the importance of sending young players on loan rather than keeping them in the reserves as they did with me.
“You can see with Freddie Woodman, he’s gone to Crawley and he will come back to Newcastle a better keeper for it.
“I’m a better player now for having a run in the Port Vale team.”