Everyone's a critic these days. People seem to believe that they have a divine right to simply assess others from a position of absolute authority and moral rectitude. Whilst doctoring my absurdly large vat of coffee on Saturday, there was a conversation taking place next to me in the kind of deliberately audible hushed tones that are often adopted by the indignant. Two puce-faced matronly types were simply aghast at what they perceived as the curt and unfriendly manner of their barista, an earnest girl who had failed to laugh at their tedious attempts at mirth.
The pair of wretched harridans, so convinced of the irrefutable correctness of their self-righteous whinging, failed to note that the young woman in question, not native to these shores, was not conversant with their rural idiomatic chatter and simply didn't get the joke, such as it was. Sadly, my polite sharing of this knowledge was not well received and the affronted duo waddled off to their seats muttering into their cappuccinos about how people these days are so judgemental.
As football fans, when we open our Twitter accounts, scan our newspapers and watch the highlights and analysis packages on television, we are subjected to a barrage of daily critical commentary. Whilst some of it is wonderfully and consistently incisive, much of it can be about as constructive as the ignorant carping of your scribblers's two café companions. Deducing which is dross and which is gold can be an onerous and time-consuming process. We do, however, tend to return to our trusted sources of wisdom and remarkably, for a channel which can be so full of histrionic bleating oafs, Sky Sports have managed to pair up two such studious observers on their Monday Night Football show.
The often enjoyably tense interactions between the two men, both of whom offer a fresh perspective on the game, have become a staple of many football fans' weekly viewing schedule. Last night, however, they were in full agreement, yet as they turned their condemnatory attentions towards Simon Mignolet, Liverpool's beleaguered goalkeeper, the result seemed a trifle harsh. Mignolet has been under a lot of scrutiny of late, with his positioning, proficiency on crosses and even his courage being called into question by fans across various fora.
Having spent much of last season frustratingly rooted to his line, the 26 year old custodian began this campaign with a more notably aggressive attitude. However, as results have failed to materialise, the Belgian has retreated deeper once more and now, even his famed shot-stopping prowess has been called into question. Mignolet himself is more than aware of the negative press and the looming presence of Victor Valdes, with whom Liverpool are reported to have a recovery-dependent deal in place. The affable Liverpool number one, has tried to be phlegmatic in the face of such talk.
"If I had to look into all the players who are linked with Liverpool, then there would be another team on the pitch!" Mignolet averred. "Every week there would be a different 11 playing. If you play for a big club, you have to accept that is the way it is, but I don’t read anything into that. I am here to play my game and to do my best every week. I can only work hard in training, be positive and make sure I play well. The only pressure is what you put yourself under. What is pressure? Pressure is what is happening in Iraq at the moment where there is a war. That is pressure.
"We are football players and we are here to do our best. I can only do my best, work hard in training, be positive and confident and believe in myself. That is the only thing I can do. We’re not happy with some of the goals we’ve conceded in recent games but we’ve worked hard on things. We want to do better and that showed against Everton. We worked on it during the week and I think it showed. Everyone was organised and spoke a lot with each other. Everyone was loud on the pitch and showed the authority that was asked of them."
Last night, however, Carragher, who remains close to the Liverpool set-up, was quite scathing in his assessment of the club's first choice goalkeeper. Earlier, in a vaguely comical demonstration, a be-suited Neville had tried to explain why he felt Mignolet should have saved Phil Jagielka's thunderously spectacular late equalising effort on Saturday. The gist of the Mancunian's argument was that the Liverpool man had made a "technical error," having adopted a starting position which was too low, thereby giving himself too much to do. The relative merits of that theory can be debated at length by more knowledgeable and analytical types than your scribbler, but it was notable that Carragher pointedly agreed with his sparring partner's assessment and indeed he went on to highlight other occasions on which he would have expected more from the net minder.
"I think the best goalkeepers who win big trophies make big saves at big moments," the Reds defensive legend insisted. "That was a big moment. It’s not a massive mistake, but can he do better? Everyone always talks about Steven Gerrard slipping and costing Liverpool the league and you can never look at one individual and one mistake, but Demba Ba still had to go through. You’re looking at your keeper and thinking: ‘Come on, win us the league. Make that save that’s going to be a defining moment in the season.’
"Against Manchester City Liverpool lost 2-1 and if he’d made the save from Negredo then that’s two points off City and another one for Liverpool. I think of Joe Hart. After the Chelsea game, Man City had a tough game at Everton and they won 3-2. Joe Hart had to make a save from Naismith, flicking his left hand out and that wins them the league. We can all talk about goalscorers, players who win the league and make a big difference, but goalkeepers make a massive difference and at those big moments you’ve got to make big saves. Up until now in his Liverpool career he hasn’t made those big saves. If it continues I can see Liverpool looking for another goalkeeper."
Of course, cynical folk will dismiss Carragher's harsh evaluation as mere ratings fodder but the fact that the Valdes rumours persist and the uncomfortable ongoing reality of Liverpool's inconsistent centre-half situation will no doubt be currently playing on Mignolet's mind. The player himself has been at pains to point out that, as a goalkeeper, he is still comparatively young and with much to learn. Indeed, it does seem unnecessarily disparaging to be speaking of replacing him based on his performances to date whilst donning the Liverbird, many of which have been distinguished by stunning saves which contributed to the points the team have accrued. Realistically, however, it seems that the next run of games may tell us much about whether or not Simon Mignolet will be the long-term solution at Anfield.