There was a time when Simon Mignolet was “the answer” for Liverpool Football Club. At first, he was Brendan Rodgers’ answer to the Brad Smith/Pepe Reina conundrum, and he started off his Liverpool career in emphatic fashion, saving a Jonathan Walters penalty in the dying minutes of a match to preserve a 1-0 victory during the first match of a roller-coaster 2013-14 season.
More recently, when Loris Karius - expected to become Mignolet’s successor - had a shaky introduction to the 2016-17 season, the Belgian international reclaimed the starting position and put in some critically important performances that helped Jürgen Klopp’s side qualify for Champions League football at the end of that campaign.
Qualifying for the marquee club competition in Europe gave Liverpool the ability to pursue a different class of transfer target, and a year later the Reds would flex that market muscle by signing Alisson Becker from Roma for a then-record goalkeeper fee. There was a new “answer” in town, who so far has lived up to the billing. The rest, as they say, has been history.
Faced with this situation, it might be easy for someone to sulk - and to be clear, there have been some low frequency grumblings here and there, either from Mignolet or those around him, concerning the Belgian keeper’s long term future with Liverpool. But no mysterious back injuries have materialized, and Mignolet will dutifully take the pitch when the Reds take on Wolves in the FA Cup on Monday.
Asked about his professional situation, Mignolet unsurprisingly stated to the club’s website that “[o]f course it isn’t easy.” He also declined to talk down his colleague’s accomplishments, and offered a rather objective and reasoned assessment beyond the usual “each of us has to be ready platitudes.”
“I’m behind Alisson, who is a really good goalkeeper - probably within the best five goalkeepers in the world, if not the best - and you can accept and understand it,” said Mignolet.
“We try to work hard and we get along really well as well, the both of us. I can learn from him, he can learn from me and we just try to work as hard as we can.”
Speaking about what exactly makes Alisson a good keeper, Mignolet was almost waxing lyrical.
“I think he’s just a naturally good goalkeeper,” he answered.
“He’s got the talent and everything comes natural to him, which makes him a really special goalkeeper. He doesn’t have to really think about anything and switch off, it’s always coming fluently and that makes it very easy for him to play in goal.”
Professional players in these situations very often do try to claim that “we learn from each other” - but perhaps there’s more than a grain of truth here. If so, we might see a revitalized and energized Mignolet in the FA Cup, which would be a win-win situation for all concerned.