If there was a Scottish tourist board for attracting footballers of a certain position, a slogan wouldn’t be hard to conjure up: If your goal is to be a keeper at the highest level, come north. Freddie Woodman could be considered a cert to post a glowing review on Tripadvisor for that.
The 20-year-old keeper on loan at Aberdeen from Newcastle United is a young man with a clear plan for career progression. Scotland figures front and centre in it. Following a loan stint at Kilmarnock last season, Woodman has returned north even with his status emboldened by becoming an Under-20 World Cup winner – and earning the Golden Glove accolade for best keeper at the tournament – because he recognises how treading this path has proved a route-map to reaching their desired destination for a host of current English Premier League keepers.
He rattles off Southampton’s Fraser Forster, who had two loan spells at Celtic from Newcastle and then joined the Parkhead club permanently before earning an England cap, Danny Ward, a Welsh international on the books of Liverpool who had a successful loan spell at Aberdeen, former Newcastle keeper Tim Krul now at Brighton, who is an ex-Falkirk loanee, and another who had an important grounding at that Scottish club, Kasper Schmeichel, who went on to win the English title with Leicester.
“Fraser is the prime example of an English goalkeeper coming up here and then going into the national team,” said Woodman. “I set my goals quite high and one day hopefully I can emulate what he has done. There are loads of goalkeepers who have come up here. Danny was up here, Tim Krul and Kasper Schmeichel so there have been a lot of goalkeepers. It has been on my mind and it did make my decision a lot easier.
“I had just come into Newcastle when Fraser was in and around the first team. I knew him a little bit and when I am down at St George’s Park and if he is in the England squad then I get to see him work and I manage to get in amongst it.
“I speak to Tim daily. He told me how great the league was when he was here and before I came up to Kilmarnock. He rung me the other day and is keeping an eye out. It is always good to have these sort of mentors to keep an eye out for me.”
Woodman’s display in the chastening that Hibernian handed the Pittodrie side last weekend was declared by Derek McInnes as the only positive from a grim afternoon. The youngster feels he was able to assimilate immediately because he understood the league from spending the second half of the season at Kilmarnock. He also credits that experience with allowing him to glide into the World Cup finals in South Korea where he completed a remarkable double. The keeper saved a penalty in the 1-0 final win over Venezuela. Three years earlier he had saved a penalty as England beat the Netherlands to claim the Under 17 European Championships. The Golden Glove he snared now has a special place in his family home.
“My mum has got it secured in London at home, it’s sitting on the mantelpiece,” he said. “To win an individual trophy to get recognised for the effort I put in at the World Cup and the performances that I did to win that was amazing.
“Before that I played for Kilmarnock at Celtic Park, I played against Rangers, against Hearts. Some big teams. That only helped me when I went away to the World Cup and played in some big atmospheres there,” he said. “It’s always nice to have these big games, environments, it’s going to test you mentally more than it is physically and that’s been really enjoyable.”
Woodman arrived at Pittodrie on the final day of January’s transfer window. He could have diverted to Celtic Park that day with Brendan Rodgers making a late attempt to bring him to the Scottish champions on loan. The Londoner plays down the notion he could have been lining up against Aberdeen today as Celtic are hosted by McInnes’s side.
“All window I had teams wanting to get me, and it’s always nice to be in that position,” he said. “But as soon as I spoke to the manager here, once he told about what he wanted and about my game, I was just like: ‘I want to sign.’ At that point, if Newcastle were going to let me out I was going to sign for Aberdeen, and once I’d given my word it was a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
‘I didn’t really have time to think about what was going on [with the late Celtic interest]. I let my agent deal with everything going on. I was still focusing on the game I had against Burnley [on 31 January], where I was on the bench.
“It would’ve been silly if I had to come on and play and I’d been thinking about something else and wasn’t in the right frame of mind. So I just tried to keep my mind focused. I let others deal with everything else. I was just sitting waiting to get through [the Burnley game] and get signed, and I did it straight after the game. That was a great moment for me because I know how big this football club is and the history it’s got. I am really enjoying it. I am loving it and it is a great city.”