THE prevailing wisdom on Brad Jones right now might echo the coolly downbeat retort of John Lennon when asked about Ringo Starr: “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles” – writes LIAM BLAKE.
Very droll but, like all the best quotes, it is in fact attributed to the wrong person. It was Jasper Carrot who, as late as 1983, landed Starr with the comic appraisal he’d never live down. Paul McCartney had a go on the skins here and there and musically could probably acquit himself well on a cardboard box, but only the least generous could deny Ringo his due. You would need to have overdosed on the spirit of Christmas, however, to claim Jones is the best keeper in Liverpool. And no, we’re not including Tim Howard in the headcount.
Simon Mignolet’s career, whatever its trajectory from now on, may never escape the epitaph ‘good shot stopper.’ Even last season, with the focus very much on events at the far end of the pitch, most evaluations of his stock began with the phrase ‘he’s a good shot stopper, but…’ The ‘but’ invariably prefaced a list of shortcomings that his fine reflexes couldn’t distract from, and were usually the type of failings most modern keepers are susceptible to in any case. He shone brightly at the outset of his career at Liverpool, a talismanic penalty save on opening day proving a harbinger for a high-flying season, and should he eventually find that epitaph does stick, he might justly consider it a little unfair.
It was a high-risk decision for Rodgers to drop Mignolet at Old Trafford, but one with no real consequence. He wasn’t left exposed by a high cost error there or subsequently. Jones acquitted himself reasonably well, guilty only perhaps of misjudging the flight of the ball for the first goal conceded at United, thus ensuring that his manager didn’t increase the already intensifying pressure he found himself under. But it’s nevertheless a decision that could never be truly vindicated unless Jones excelled in stark contrast to his rival. Rodgers can’t claim credit for what never happened, any more than Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling could claim kudos for averting a financial catastrophe that never fully materialised, however much they had to do with that outcome.
Mignolet could easily feel himself to be unfairly singled out here. Rodgers has perhaps succumbed to the search for a patsy that has seen Lovren and Balotelli take more than their fair share of flak for their side’s failings in defence and attack. Both have their failings but they’ve hardly been alone in that. But it’s the goalkeeper’s lot to find himself in the firing line. In a team game, he stands alone — ‘The Outsider’ as Jonathan Wilson has recently re-imagined him in his book of the same name.
It’s rare to find a keeper who set out to wear the gloves. Most were happily banging in goals for the school or youth team before a sage coach or scout tapped them on the shoulder, had a word with dad and reshaped their destiny. Only managers will pay a higher price for their mistakes.
Strikers will always have another chance to score, midfielders and defenders will have ample opportunity to play themselves back into form, if only from the reserves, but what can a keeper hope to achieve from the bench? Once you’ve gone from hero to zero — a slight exaggeration maybe in Mignolet’s case — only an injury to the lead and a simultaneous opportunity to save a potentially decisive penalty provides the understudy with a shot at redemption and a reboot for his esteem. Pro-activity is an luxury unknown to the man in gloves, he’s defined by reaction — when he’s benched, he’s beached.
If a keeper is to flourish and stand firm in a top side’s goal for many years — if he’s to become more than just a shot stopper — then he needs the time and space that allows for failure and the lessons it brings. That now seems a fantastical indulgence, with short-term thinking governing the fate of keepers almost as much as managers. There’s been a sea change in culture from which football remained immune for some while — now it’s leading the way.
Just as there was a time when sitcom writers were allowed a series or two of low ratings and bad reviews while they learned their craft, so too could a keeper earn a reputation for clowning around on the edge of his box — and indeed beyond — while the hearts of every team-mate and supporter danced in its owner’s mouth before the benefits of natural athleticism were judged to outweigh an unnatural and insatiable appetite for risk.
Which brings us to Bruce Grobbelaar, whose recent summary of Mignolet was as colourful as his style between the sticks and somewhat uncharitable to boot. He benefited from his manager Paisley’s patience — in slower times — though he surely tested it too. He was also fortunate enough to spend a great deal of time as a virtual spectator, shielded as he was by record-breaking defences and back passes that allowed for breathing space.
No such good fortune for Mignolet. With Lovren’s reputation decomposing game-by-game ahead of him, the charge of spreading panic cannot be levelled at him alone. In the chaos before Rodgers’ recent tactical realignment, there had been no centre, no marshal, no organising voice, nothing had held. Mignolet’s qualities were well known before his arrival, and it’s hard to believe that bossing the defence was one of them. But to single him out as the root cause, when if anything he’s spared his team even deeper blushes on occasion, was nonsensical. To assign the blame for 20 of 50 conceded last term to the keeper alone was to ignore the breadth of a problem that still plagues Liverpool under Rodgers. Scared of crosses Mignolet may be — he’s earned a few ironic cheers when he has managed to claim them — but Dracula would have spread less panic than the Belgian in the limp back line of this vintage.
If Grobbelaar’s analysis was scatter-gun, then Rodgers’ solution to the problem has been questionable. If the problem was that Mignolet wasn’t being pushed and — whether the manager acknowledged it or not — there was no-one to push him, then dropping him was an extreme measure; a last resort perhaps. There’s a recent precedent, of course — it seemed to work for Joe Hart, after all. But there were key differences. Manuel Pellegrini had, arguably, a more able deputy in Costel Pantilimon at his disposal but, more importantly, Hart was dropped not on account of confidence but form. A succession of errors hadn’t dented his confidence and it’s to his credit that he was willing to put himself back in the firing line repeatedly — indeed it was in his nature to do so. But form betrayed him; the costly errors stacked up and, crucially, they couldn’t be blamed on the back four.
Mignolet’s confidence, meanwhile, has withered with the defence in front of him and his enforced return has showed little sign of it coming back.
As for not being pushed, it’s difficult to see that as the issue. The finest keepers, you imagine, push themselves — it’s part and parcel of the job. The demands of the position — concentration, judgement, vigilance, self-reliance and decision making — all fit the self-motivating individual. Cech, and more recently De Gea, in the Premier League, elsewhere Buffon — if they require a push, then they do the pushing. There’s an example in Liverpool’s recent history of a failed experiment in two-keeper competition, with Dudek and Kirkland vying for the gloves. It was no more likely to work than Houllier and Evans managing in tandem — two into one doesn’t go, and the one rose as the other fell to the vagaries of fitness and form. Competition had nothing to do with it.
While benching may have worked for Hart, it rarely does for most keepers, and there’s little reason to think it will in this case. Jones’ thigh strain gave an earlier-than-planned-for glimpse at the results of the experiment and it looks to have been counterproductive — Mignolet has hardly been galvanised. If anything his confidence has been damaged even further — his wait for, and late clearance of, a ball that had already crossed the line revealed a man who wasn’t sure where he was, neither position-wise or within himself.
The plan, famously, was to bench him ‘indefinitely.’ In that one word lies another recent anomaly — Rodgers’ sometimes curious approach to man-management. For one thing, it gave Mignolet’s dropping the aspect of a punishment — as though he were consigned to detention until who knows when. It was hardly language to spur the reaction the manager was looking for. But, more to the point, why tell us that at all? And why tell us that Simon needs to keep it simple? Just as with Balotelli and Borini, better perhaps to chivvy them along by keeping the criticism — however justified — out of the public arena.
Mignolet in turn seems to have picked up his manager’s unfortunate habit of dropping the occasional portentous and counterproductive soundbite, confirming that keeper and manager had indeed spoken but that he would “not discuss what we said”. The implicit criticism of his boss points to another relationship suffered out of necessity.
And still we’re left to wonder has the experiment made any difference? It’s hard to tell, and if it’s hard to tell then the answer must be ‘no’. The recent upswing in form is due in the main to a tactical tweak but even the switch to three at the back seems to have helped the side when moving forward more than it’s helped repel the opposition. Leads are still being surrendered; often quickly and almost always cheaply. Set pieces remain a bête noire for the backline regardless of its configuration; Jones dominated his area no more than Mignolet and Mignolet now imposes himself even less than he did before he was benched.
It may be that Mignolet, like Lovren ahead of him, has found himself exposed by the demands of Rodgers’ style of play. A keeper able to command and with the requisite reflexes, but also comfortable as sweeper, at ease with the ball at his feet and with a keen eye for distribution would clearly be better suited. Wait a minute, that sounds suspiciously like Pepe Reina (at his best).
Mignolet may not be the answer in the long run; this experiment might at least have decided Rodgers on that. Maybe he’s comfortable as a purely reflexive keeper and no more. Being reactive means you don’t have to think, you just — with apologies to Nike — do it. It could be that the proactive edge required of a keeper to impose himself takes him too far out of his comfort zone to be reliably effective.
Against Wimbledon, despite the occasional confident claim, he wobbled when command was required. But perhaps more crucially, one excellent reflex save — no thought required — preserved the lead and prevented a possible replay. Not as Hollywood as Gerrard’s already storied contribution, though equally as telling.
So for now, with a defence likely to invite problems upon itself for a while yet, the shot stopper ought to get the nod. Because there will be shots.
The facts our,FSG AYRE TRANSFER COMMITTEE SCOUTING NETWORK,AND THIS SHITHOUSE COWARD OF A MANAGER SHOULD ALL F*CK OFF !!! THE MISMANAGEMENT AND NEGLIGENCE AT THE CLUB IS BOARDERING ON CONTEMPT,THEY HAVE BEEN BUYING CHEAP YOUNG SHIT THINKING TOO MAKE A PROFIT DOWN THE LINE.EVERY WORLD CLASS OR EVEN CLASS PLAYER HAS BEEN SOLD BECAUSE OF THEIR WAGES,AND THEY HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY GARBAGE LIKE allen borini aspas alberto mignolet lambert lovren,£220 MILLION POUNDS TOTALLY WASTED ON DROSS HENCE THE REASON WE HAVE ZERO FIGHT OR FUIDITY TOO OUR PLAY…WHAT SHAMBOLIC MANAGER AND TRANSFER COMMITTEE REPLACES A LUIS SUAREZ WITH lambert & balotelli,,,THEY SHOULD BE SACKED FOR THAT PIECE OF MISMANAGEMENT ALONE…
Strangely enough your shouting somehow makes it easier to ignore your childish rant.
Shut up, The Truth.
I recall Simon’s first game vs Stoke. His shocking control with the ball at his feet for most of the game was only redeemed by that last minute penalty double save. And so that has gone onto define his career at Liverpool – great shot stopper, great angles, great reflexes but terrible with the ball at his feet, terrible distribution and that often leads to mass panic in the ranks and on the terraces.
So it comes down to this, is it a price worth paying for a good shot stopper to be so poor with the ball at his feet, in a fast paced game where passing under pressure is as much of the keeper’s games as actually saving shots? Or is it a price worth paying for a good stopper to be plagued by indecision, timidity and lack of leadership at dead ball situations?
Personally, I think not, unfortunately for Simon – and I wish I felt differently…
Well he’s a good shot stopper, I wouldn’t call him great. He was a poor signing, given the type of football Brendan likes to play . What more is there to say?
Unfortunately Mignolet is not the answer, although I agree he is better than Jones. To play the style Rodgers wants, we need a keeper who is as good with the ball at his feet as Pepe was. Mignolet has never been this kind of keeper so Brendan needs to take some of the blame for buying him in the first place.
We need to give him our support whilst he is our No.1, but need to replace him quickly – he has had 18 months to settle and has failed to do so. Until we invest in a quality keeper who is more than a shot stopper, we will continue to leak goals left, right and centre.
I know we need a striker desperately, but it seems like a top-shelf GK and DM would sort out a great deal and probably be a lot cheaper.
This article completely misses the point. Part of the reason the defence has been poor and concedes goals/has made mistakes (apart from the obvious deficiencies of Steven Gerrard as a DM) is the lack of confidence/trust they have in their goalkeeper. Lets steady on also about this ‘great shot stopper’ also – how many games can people actually point to where Mignolet’s ‘brilliant shot-stopping’ has saved us and won us games…? I remember 2 dreadful attempts at ‘shot-stopping’ in 2 of the biggest games of the season last year (away at Chelsea and City back-to-back) where Mignolets errors in his supposed ‘top-class area’ cost us the game. Has anybody seen him trying to kick a ball – the absolute maximum effort put in to get it just short of the halfway line…. Do people remember how far Westerveld used to kick it, let alone Reina…. His technique at almost every aspect of goal-keeping is apalling. Then there is his character, his size, his leadership – all desperately lacking. Until we get a new goalkeeper I don’t care who plays as long as its not Mingolet – he is an embarssment. Those who think he is better than Jones or even Ward are frankly deluded.
Why do none of the TAW guys ever mention another issue with our keeping, the coach John Achterberg. Under his “coaching” since joining from Tranmere as a player in 2009 we’ve seen Reina decline, Mignolet decline, Jones not developing at all. That cannot be a coincidence. It’s readily apparent that while Migs might not be LFC standard, his sharp fall and failure to develop any additional skills cannot be solely down to his lack of qualities but a lack of proper and progressive instruction.
Exactly, Achtenberg out, as per some of my other posts, where is Valero?
Still harping on…
I’d stick with him as well Liam because if no keeper is signed this month, hoping Mignolet can somehow get his head from out his arse is all we’ve got after last month’s Jones experiment. Questions need to be asked of a few people regarding the goalie situation:
– As you pointed out, it’s one for the manager to look at when you consider Mignolet looks worse and even more shot of confidence now than he did before his break.
– Aaron makes a good point above me on the coaching. You could stretch to argue coincidence in Reina going from one the best keepers in Europe in 2009 to replaceable under Achterberg’s watch but now Mignolet has rapidly declined from the keeper we signed. So far this season even his one strong attribute (the saves) is not what it was in the first half of last season.
– The scouting. When Rodgers first came in he spoke about liking his keepers to actively participate in his passing style. He also fucked off Carroll as quick as he possibly could because having a target man as an out ball wasn’t for him either. The year after this transfer committee spent £9m on a goalie who couldn’t look more like a fish out of water with the ball at his feet or off his line and then the year after that punt £16m on a fairly static target man who doesn’t stretch the play with runs. That’s not joined up thinking to say the least.
Coming on to a larger point it’s throwing money away needlessly and that’s without even coming on to all the attacking signings of the summer ’13 who are currently out on loan – more pointless signings that the manager didn’t want. The structure of the club needs evaluating before the manager regardless of what comes of this season. FSG were ruthless with Comolli (and Dalglish) after one full season. Will these fellas shirk responsibility just because they’re not front and center like Comolli was. They’ve been poor this season but putting form aside, Mignolet and Balotelli aren’t ever going to be the style of player Rodgers’ footy demands in two of the most important positions on the pitch for any team.
Funny thing, Migs has executed a few Cruyf turns in face of onrushing strikers, showing both balls and technique, especially at home, so a lot of it mental whats Dr Peters doing? needs to name that chimp who’s scared of crosses, David James, then exorcise his demons.
Then of course were back to the coaching, If we get in experineced keeper Migs can learn from him.