Simon Mignolet’s Liverpool career started on a high, the goalkeeper making a late penalty save on his debut to preserve a 1-0 victory over Stoke City. For at least one week, he was the hero and nothing else. Since then, it’s been a rather bumpy ride for the former Sunderland man, with at least as many downs as ups and a constant stream of criticism to deal with.
Few doubt Mignolet’s ability as a shot stopper. Most would go so far as to say he’s one of the league’s best in that department. When it comes to his aerial ability, though. When it comes to his command of the box, his communication with his defenders, and his distribution. When it comes to those other things that make a well-rounded goalkeeper, that’s when the troubles start.
Amongst former Liverpool players, the criticism for Mignolet has been especially harsh. Ex-Red goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar famously said the Belgian was worse than Dracula when asked to come out of his box. He has his share of fans, though; of supporters. Including another former Liverpool goalkeeper, David James, who is happy about reports a new contract is on offer.
"I’m a Simon Mignolet fan," James told the Liverpool Echo, responding to the latest criticisms of Mignolet, who was at fault for West Brom’s opener on the weekend. "Goalkeepers are human beings. They make mistakes. It happens. Another goalkeeper I’m a big fan of is Petr Cech. His first game for Arsenal against West Ham he wasn’t the best, but he’s still a top drawer ‘keeper.
"There have been questions asked about Simon ever since he joined Liverpool. I think a lot of that is down to the calibre of goalkeepers Liverpool had before him. It wasn’t easy replacing someone like Pepe Reina who had done so well for the club, [and] the goalkeeping position at Liverpool will always be under scrutiny because it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world."
James is further convinced that Mignolet has the ability to develop the weaker aspects of his game, and that those looking closely have seen the beginnings of just that under Jürgen Klopp. He may never be as well rounded as Reina in his prime, but if he can at least develop his distribution and command of the box to the point it’s not a liability, Mignolet would be a top goalkeeper.
"Forget that mistake," added James. "In general, I’ve seen a change in Simon’s overall performances under Klopp. He’s been given the confidence to do more, not just take the easy solution and kick the ball down field. I still think there’s lost more to come from Simon and he’s in the right environment to keep improving. Klopp clearly things he can get something special out of him."