Exit Interview: Gerken was firmly cast in Bialkowski's shadow throughout Ipswich Town career
PUBLISHED: 18:04 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:56 21 May 2019
Dean Gerken has been released by Ipswich Town. ANDY WARREN looks back at the goalkeeper's Portman Road career.
The Ipswich Town goalkeeping situation was in a state of flux prior to the arrival of Dean Gerken.
The Blues used 10 goalkeepers during the five years prior to the former Bristol City's man's move to Portman Road but, during the last five, just Gerken and Bartosz Bialkowski have started between the sticks.
Ultimately, Gerken has been cast in Bialkowski's shadow during the Pole's surge from second-choice goalkeeper to becoming a three-time player-of-the-year and heading to the 2018 World Cup.
Signed by Mick McCarthy on a free transfer at the start of the 2013/14 season, Gerken started behind incumbent No.1 Scott Loach but soon made the position his own, making 42 appearances in his debut campaign.
He maintained his place despite Bialkowski's arrival in the summer of 2014 before a groin injury, suffered in the warm-up prior to a home game with Huddersfield in the October of that season, opened the door for the Pole.
Injury cost Gerken again the following March when he was stretchered off at Middlesbrough, in just the second game after regaining his place from Bialkowski, before reclaiming the gloves at the start of the following season while his team-mate was on compassionate leave following the death of his father.
Bialkowski finally regained his place in February 2016 and the rest is history, with the Pole winning his first player-of-the-year award despite playing in just 20 games.
McCarthy used to talk of there being 'nothing between' his two goalkeepers and that was certainly the case prior to Bialkowski's major upturn in form which transformed him into an Ipswich Town icon. As Bialkowski's star rose, Gerken's seemingly fell.
He played just three league games in the following two years, settling into a back-up role while also suffering with a nagging hip injury which required surgery.
Gerken made 18 appearances during his final season at Portman Road, a campaign in which the club's two goalkeepers were each dropped by both Paul Hurst and Paul Lambert as they struggled for form as the Blues suffered relegation.
What went well
Bialkowski's form over a three-year period did much to mask the contribution Gerken made to Ipswich Town.
His arrival was the beginning of continuity between the sticks following five years of goalkeeping mayhem, with his shot-stopping ability in his first season keeping the Blues in a string of games.
There was the penalty save in the home victory over Huddersfield in 2013, the match-winning display at MK Dons in 2015 and a superb performance in the 1-0 victory over Leeds in 2018 as he replaced Bialkowski despite training just twice in six weeks prior to that game, due to his hip problem.
He rarely let McCarthy down while his role in Bialkowski's rise must also be recognised, with the presence of a Championship-standard goalkeeper on the bench pushing and driving the Pole to reach peak form.
Areas to improve
This season has been a struggle for all associated with Ipswich Town.
Gerken came into the side for the 1-1 draw with Norwich in September and performed well there, but cracks began to show as he flapped at a cross in the 2-2 draw at Birmingham and then clawed the ball into his own net as he tried to deal with a corner at home to QPR.
That highlighted perhaps his biggest weakness, dealing with high balls into the box, while he also didn't do enough when palming Nahki Wells' shot into the path of Pawal Wszolek at Loftus Road on Boxing Day.
He got lost in traffic and hit the deck as Sheffield United scored their second goal in what proved to be his final game as an Ipswich player, as he failed to deal with a corner into his six-yard box.
Gerken stated during an interview in January that he had a set figure in his mind in regard to how many games he hoped to play between now and the end of his career.
He currently sits on 307 career games and will be 34 before the start of next season.
As a goalkeeper he still has a few years left in him but you have to feel he is now at the point in his career where he must decided whether it is game time or the best-possible financial deal he values most.
It's certainly possible a Championship club would see Gerken as an able back-up, particularly given he is a free agent, but how many second-tier clubs will be looking for a starting goalkeeper this summer? Not many.
It may be, then, that in order to play regular games, he will need to follow Town into the third tier and ply his trade at that level for the first time in a decade.
A return to Colchester, where he played between 2004-09, should not be discounted.