The Hard Journey for Simon Mignolet

With Loris Karius away on loan and Alisson Becker the new number one, Simon Mignolet is left in a peculiar position. The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) takes a look at the Belgian’s situation…

The tale of Simon Mignolet is not one that will fill too many back pages. It is unlikely to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster anytime soon but that doesn’t lessen its importance by any means. It is a story of patience, restraint and most importantly professionalism. It is not the most fashionable journey, but it remains one to highlight given the nature of what has taken place over the past year or so. It was a situation that easily could have turned bitter or ugly and yet it never did. For that, Mignolet certainly deserves credit.

There has instead understandably been widespread attention paid to the Loris Karius saga since that famous night in Kiev when the seemingly rejuvenated goalkeeper may, or may not have been concussed after being elbowed by public enemy number one Sergio Ramos. In the months leading up to the Champions League final, many believed that the previously dodgy net minder had in fact turned the corner. Whatever opinion you may have on the Karius situation, the forgotten man amongst all the hysteria was the man he usurped back in December, Simon Mignolet.

I have always backed Mignolet but I can admit there have been moments during his Liverpool career where he has justifiably allowed himself to come in for some criticism. Most of it was borderline excessive, often deserved yes, but still excessive. Be that as it may though, if there was ever a time when the Belgian seemed to have been reaching levels of consistency never before seen in Red, he was eventually strangely dropped for good so that Karius could take over.

It had to be puzzling times for Mignolet as Karius had shown essentially nothing to date that he was capable of stepping in as the main man. His Champions League appearances in the group phase had been fairly unspectacular at best. It was actually Mignolet’s penalty save away at Hoffenheim in the qualifiers which had arguably been the most significant goalkeeping intervention until that point in European action.

 

Mignolet’s attitude has been severely tested to its limits since that demotion at New Year. A lesser man would have been outwardly petulant due to the trying circumstances that he found himself in. Instead, he got behind the team and supported them publicly as much as anyone could expect even going above and beyond what he needed to. For a player with so much confidence in himself, he had to be raging behind the scenes but not once did he show any signs of stirring up trouble or tension in the squad.

One could say that Mignolet behaved in such a civilized manner as he has had many years of practice in a similar role for the Belgian national team. At that level, he sits behind Thibault Courtois and has done so for quite some time despite again being the elder statesman. There is though unquestionably a slight difference in the situations. Courtois is well renowned as one of the top five keepers in world football so backing him up is an acceptable role even for a supreme competitor like Mignolet but to sit behind Karius… he must have near bit right through his tongue trying not to vent his anger.

After all, for many players international football can be an outlet. It could be an opportunity to get game time not available with their club. There was no such reprieve for Migonlet though. Belgium had a brilliant run at the World Cup in Russia but even when their manager Roberto Martinez rotated almost the entire squad in their final group match with England, only one starter remained in his place… you guessed it… it was Courtois. It felt like a particularly cruel blow at the time and who knows what goes on behind the scenes but it had to be a bitter pill to swallow. On their road to a third place finish, the entire Belgian squad played a part except Mignolet and third string goalkeeper Koen Casteels. Still, Mignolet said nothing publicly and kept up his role as a supportive teammate. In this current era of prima donna footballers and their gargantuan egos, Mignolet showed remarkable restraint.

 

While he had become the forgotten man on Merseyside to some degree, Mignolet did finally return to Liverpool’s bench for the match against Crystal Palace last week. He still has not played a competitive game for club or country since January’s memorable win at Burnley. The model pro that he is you just know that he will have kept himself sharp in training. As he has always maintained, all he wants to do is play and while he may not get that wish just yet, I am selfishly extremely happy that we still have him in reserve.

Simon Mignolet was sadly never exactly a fan favourite at Liverpool. His occasional mistakes for the most part seemed to have erased memory of his many brilliant saves and game changing moments for the Reds. However, it does seem that over the past few months he has gained the respect of many for his professionalism in what must be incredibly frustrating times for the player. Not once has he complained, and has even been one of the more consistently vocal supporters of the team on social media. He is understandably now a little disappointed to be still deputizing Alisson Becker this season but the team is certainly overall in better hands with Mignolet than they would have been with Karius as the back up. For that we should most certainly be grateful. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea on the pitch, but his exemplary attitude is an example to anyone.

Ronan O'Rourke

Irish/Belgian. Lifelong Liverpool fan and eternal optimist. Always been a firm believer in the Kloppolution.

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