In what could well prove to be one of the shrewder bits of business done by the club in recent times, Simon Mignolet was officially signed by Liverpool a couple of days ago, following a short but intense courtship. The goalkeeper arrives into a club whose current incumbent is a well-loved, well-established leader of the team and it was only natural that speculation would centre, at least amongst those who believed Reina would stay, on how the two men might deal with a rivalry for a starting berth.
Allow me to cynically avoid the potential bear-trap of dicussing whether or not Reina will leave Liverpool, by stating my take on it and moving swiftly on to the purpose of this piece. Pepe Reina is, for me at least, the best custodian the club has had since Bruce Grobbelaar. The man is a huge character and a leader in a squad that badly needs them. However, much as I am fond of the follically-challenged Spaniard, I cannot see him remaining at Anfield.
Reina has far too much frustrating experience of playing second or third fiddle internationally and I would hate that fate to befall such a Liverpool hero. For many, the dream scenario is a kind of hand-over season, where Reina is still top-dog but eases the new man in to the role before departing. Such an option has much to recommend it, far-fetched as it may be.
Mignolet, following his ten million pounds signing, will most certainly be a feature of the team next season and it is inconceivable that he will not play regularly after such an outlay. The Belgian international is coming off a mightily impressive season for Sunderland, where he deservedly won the player of the year award. The twenty four year old managed eleven clean sheets in a team that finished fourth from bottom and flirted with relegation all season. To my mind, Mignolet was the Premier League's best last campaign and he was unlucky to lose out to David De Gea for a spot in the PFA team.
After making one hundred senior appearances with his home-town club of Sint Truiden -- in which he once scored a penalty -- Mignolet had already helped his side gain promotion to the top division and won the Belgian Goalkeeper of the Year award. In 2010, PSV Eindhoven, FC Twente and Udinese all lost out to Sunderland who signed the promising young goalkeeper.
He was man-of-the-match on his debut and followed that up with a clean sheet and a win against Manchester City. The youngster was eventually ousted by Craig Gordon but returned after the expensively signed Scot was injured in February. From that point on, Mignolet has proved himself more than worthy of his first team berth and, barring injury, has remained there, quickly building a reputation as one of the Premier League's finest.
Of particular interest to Reds will be the opinion of a local Sunderland journalist, Chris Young, who was interviewed by Liverpoolfc.com, in order to provide an expert insight into what Liverpool might have on their hands in Mignolet. Young confirmed that Sunderland fans were disappointed to lose the goalkeeper but had taken a practical view, given the large transfer fee their club received. No doubt this pragmatism was aided by the fact that Mignolet seems to have been well-liked and highly professional.
"He's one of the most down-to-earth, sensible footballers you're likely to meet," avowed Young. "Liverpool fans won't read about any tantrums from him. I can't remember an interview he ever turned down either. Even after he dropped a clanger against West Bromwich Albion -- his one glaring mistake of the campaign -- he willingly faced the press afterwards."
Pressed as to what Mignolet's best features as a goalkeeper are, Young was effusive in his praise, citing the young Belgian's mentality and athleticism.
"Some of his shot-stopping is stunning, particularly when faced with a one-on-one. He's managed to perfect the Peter Schmeichel-esque star-shape ploy in closing down an opponent. But just as important is his temperament. He doesn't get flustered or nervous. He's a level-headed guy, who keeps his head in the heat of battle. Even after a rare mistake, Mignolet doesn't let it dwell on his mind."
After so many false dawns, this genuinely feels like a new era and the understandable fears about the massive loss of Carragher and Reina, should he leave, from the squad have been eased considerably by the knowledge that the players coming in are of high quality and, in the case of Simon Mignolet at least, impressive character and resolve. Kolo Toure, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Simon Mignolet are, as a buch of signings, in many ways the complete antithesis of the Brit bundle bought on the watch of Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish -- and that can probably only be read as a positive sentence.
So let us shelve the gloom and heartbreak that is inherent in any over-analysis of the potential loss of those we love and instead warm up our vocal cords in order to welcome our new goalkeeper. Watch out for the chorus, however, and I recommend taking the high notes down an octave or two, lest voice-cracking embarrassment ensue.