Marian Kello's shut-out record shows his worth to Hearts
Marian Kello may soon be held in similar high esteem in his homeland, for he has become a man mountain all across Scotland.
Kello recorded his 12th clean sheet of the season at Aberdeen on Saturday, helping Hearts to a decent 0-0 draw. He was, in a word, impassable, with a sequence of vital saves from Sone Aluko, Rory McArdle, Chris Maguire and Nick Blackman. At 28 he is approaching his peak during a campaign which has already yielded an international debut. Back home, headlines of "Incredible" accompany tales of his success in the SPL, witness the Slovakian daily newspaper Sport last week.
Statistics show he is responsible for three-quarters of Hearts' 16 clean sheets this season. Twelve shutouts in 26 apperances equates to almost one every two games. Compare those figures against those of Kello's Old Firm counterparts, Allan McGregor and Fraser Forster, and his value at Tynecastle becomes instantly clear: Forster has recorded 15 clean sheets in 29 appearances, McGregor 12 in 33. That Hearts currently possess a keeper at the top of his game is undeniable.
Previously, there was a nervousness about Kello after he arrived on loan from FBK Kaunas in summer 2008. His performances were peppered with anxiety on big occasions which caused some to question his mental strength. That uneasiness is no longer evident. Manager Jim Jefferies publicly announcing him as Hearts' undisputed No.1 in turn imbued the talented Slovakian with unwavering confidence.
He signed a permanent contract with the Edinburgh club last summer and is now secured until June 2012. That prevents any potential suitor whisking him away for little or nothing this summer, for majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov is a huge admirer and would rightly want top dollar for such a capable shot-stopper.
However, consistency at club level and potential future international exposure mean Kello is likely to attract interest from scouts across the country. "He is a very good keeper for the future. He will become big, (there is a) real chance," said Vladimir Weiss, the Slovakian national coach.
Certainly, those back home are taking note of someone who had never previously represented his country before last month's friendly in Luxembourg. Adding to the pile of praise bestowed upon the man mountain is a penalty-saving record which is the envy of goalkeepers across Europe.
Kello has stopped four successive penalties for Hearts dating back to December 2009, three of them against Dundee United. He saved from David Goodwillie in the recent victory over United in Edinburgh, which followed on from his stop against Hamilton's Simon Mensing last November. Earlier in the season he repelled Jon Daly's penalty having saved from Danny Cadamarteri last season.
"I think that only the last three saves, which all were this season, were mentioned (in Scotland)," he said. "Last year I didn't play regularly so maybe they didn't realise it. I didn't occupy my mind with it."
In fact, the last player to successfully convert from 12 yards against Kello was Cadamarteri. He scored in United's 2-0 win in the opening game of the 2009/10 campaign. From six penalties aimed at him during his time in Scotland, only two have bulged the net. That phenomenal record allied to his shutout rate make him one of the most consistent performers in the country.
"He deals with everything comfortably and, for me, he's a top, top keeper," said Jefferies. "Since I came in he's been number one and he's getting better all the time. Craig Gordon is a top goalkeeper and Kello is up there with the best of them. This year we've had a lot of clean sheets. The defence have done great and he's part of the defence. I would say he has played a major part for us time and time again."
Ranked in the same bracket as Gordon, a shutout record to match Old Firm goalkeepers and a penalty expert into the bargain. There is one Slovakian mountain in Scotland which is simply immovable.