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Keeping Your Head

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You can talk all you like about being positive, but to survive a professional setback of the ilk that beset Simon Mignolet, resilience, stoicism and a very philosophical nature are also required.

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Imagine how safe you'd feel in the middle of that embrace...cramped and massively awkward...but safe.
Imagine how safe you'd feel in the middle of that embrace...cramped and massively awkward...but safe.
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

There's a tremendous amount of pure bilge talked about the power of positive thought. The world is full of new-age guff-merchants spouting their own slightly tweaked philosophy about how to attain spiritual nirvana. If there's an unfeasibly smug fellow beaming condescendingly at you from a website, you can be quite sure that as you scroll down through this doyen of good cheer's top tips for a better life, you will inevitably encounter a button on which to click and relieve yourself of your hard-earned simoleons. Bookstores are teeming with volumes of self-help guides written by spivs and charlatans looking to turn a quick profit from human anxiety and insecurity. How's that for positivity?

You may be sensing a jaundiced authorial tone here, dear reader, but rest assured this is not the wittering of an embittered soul, just a wary one. However, as with most major phenomena, there is a kernel of undeniable wisdom at its heart, an incontrovertible truth which is enough to sustain this cynically contrived industry. Thinking positively and focusing on the better side of life does work. We've all got our own stories -- a relative who survived a treacherous ailment, a friend who believes they willed themselves a promotion, a lover who manages to see enough redeeming features in you to stay around. You know the type of thing.

Yet simply thinking in an affirmative or constructive way is not enough. One must also engage with the unpalatable reality one is trying to rise above. Stoicism, courage and an ability to endure are also paramount. Those who seem to be truly content, in this Irishman's limited experience, are those who have let go of past injuries and slights and are untroubled by the type of gnawing regret, vengeful fantasy and esprit de l'escalier that plague most of us. Such zen calm is a rarity -- how many hours have you spent designing elaborate reprisals upon those who have wronged you? -- but at Liverpool Football Club, the Belgian goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, is thriving again after an entirely odious spell and it appears to be largely down to his tremendous attitude to life's vicissitudes.

In a bullish display of this laudable perspective, the Redmen's goalkeeper can reflect on a spell that saw him dropped from the first team due to wretched form, whilst apparently harbouring no ill-will or resentment towards either the manager, his Antipodean understudy or the world at large. Certainly, the egos of many would have been badly buffeted by the slight, especially given that the amiable Brad Jones is hardly of an equivalent standing. In the end, it was an injury to the unfortunate Australian that opened the door for Mignolet's return. He has seized that chance with relish but his sanguine take on the events that led to his initial removal from the side quite remarkable.

"I look back to it only in a positive way," the number 22 insisted to the official website. "That's what I did when it happened. I told myself I could do two things; let my head drop or work hard and come back stronger. I am happy with how I reacted in that sense. I am happy I kept my head down and worked hard in training. I didn't speak to the outside world, I just kept doing what I can do. It's something positive to look back on, it was a new experience. The older you get, the more experience you get and through these kind of situations, you only come back stronger and more positive."

"It wasn't easy, but the manager, the coaches, everyone at the ground and the players helped me with it, so it's big credit to them as well for giving me their support," he continued. "I didn't only have my fiancé at the time, but also people who work at the ground [Melwood] -- they always kept believing in me. Then it was up to me to do it on the pitch and change things. We're very pleased with how things have turned around, but I am not one who wants to think about that. I am looking forward and I know that I have to keep doing what I am doing and playing how I am at the moment because things will otherwise be forgotten very quickly. That's how football goes - you're only remembered for your last performance. That's why I keep working hard in training and try to keep improving my game. Any stage of your career you can still improve and hard work will pay off in the end."

Perhaps Liverpool's greatest ever net minder, Ray Clemence, is a man whose opinion should be treated with respect. It was very notable that throughout the really bad days, when even normally level-headed types were carping incessantly about the Belgian's poor form, the man who soldiered under Shankly and Paisley retained faith. Call it a kind of goalkeeping solidarity, if you will, but Clemence was on record as saying that Mignolet would emerge from his bad patch a better player.

"I don't think Simon's character was ever in doubt," insists the three time European Cup winner. "I remember reading an interview with him a couple of months ago when people were asking serious questions about him. He was asked if he felt he had to prove himself and his response was 'I've got nothing to prove'. He's shown great character to come back the way he has. The problem these days is too many people make snap judgements. Have a few bad games and everyone says you're rubbish, play well for a short period and they talk about you cementing your place for years to come. At a club like Liverpool you are always playing for your place and you need to show consistency."

The old fashioned common sense of a true winner is always a pleasing thing to encounter. Mignolet may never be a goalkeeper to rank alongside Clemence, but he is a custodian of genuine talent and, as the legend himself attests, a man of considerable character. It's often shocking, in an era of complex approaches to sports psychology, to see just how right the old Liverpool, one-game-at-a-time philosophy has always been. If the rest of us had Mignolet's mental fortitude or the innate ability to live our lives according to that old maxim, there'd be far fewer self-styled gurus and more room for, oh, let's say, sports writing, in the book stores.