Liverpool: The Great Goalie Debate - It's Not So Simple With Simon Mignolet | The Anfield Wrap

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 23, 2017: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet celebrates after the 3-2 victory, in which he saved a penalty, during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“THEY’RE not mutually exclusive.”

I’ve found myself saying that phrase over and over again recently. I’ve noticed it tends to happen. I’ll say something once then it becomes my flavour of the month only, this time, I’ve been saying it for so long it’s become one of my catchphrases and has been elevated to the lofty status of “put that on my headstone when I die” (the ultimate accolade any of my favourite quotes can hope to achieve).

The problem is, I’ve also found myself looking at people’s faces when I say it and wondering whether they have a clue what I’m talking about. I know that most of you reading my articles will already know this because you’re an intelligent bunch but, for those who don’t know or who aren’t sure, the Cambridge dictionary says that two things are mutually exclusive if they are not possible at the same time. Wikipedia’s definition is more helpful, saying that two events are mutually exclusive if they cannot both be true. A clear example is the set of outcomes of a single coin toss, which can result in either heads or tails, but not both.

So, when my wife is going away on holiday and says to me “will you miss me or will you be happy to have the house to yourself”, my immediate response is that those two things are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for me to both miss her and to be glad to have the house to myself at the same time. (I was tempted to crack a joke here but she might read this so I’ve decided against it.)

Now, to get to the crux of the article.

I have to admit that I am sick to death of the Simon Mignolet conversation. I listened to good friends of mine arguing the point on the post-match show on TAW Player after the Leicester City league game, and feel like I’ve been having the same debate with friends in person and via WhatsApp for an eternity.

So, let me begin by making two statements which are not mutually exclusive and which are both true:

  1. Mignolet is not an absolutely shite goalkeeper.
  2. The vast majority of Liverpool supporters, including me, think that Liverpool FC should have a better goalkeeper than Mignolet.

What do you think? Are you fuming with the first one? I’d say about 50 per cent of my Liverpool supporting mates now say that Mignolet is absolutely shite. That’s the phrase they use. Absolutely shite.

It’s simply not true.

Mignolet is a good goalkeeper. Possibly even a really good goalkeeper. He is the second best goalie in the whole of Belgium, in second place only because of one of the top five ‘keepers in the world being ahead of him, and he is comfortably one of the better goalies in the Premier League (we’ll come back to this later as I can see the steam coming from some of your ears from here).

But here lies the problem. Mignolet burned out the heads of so many supporters during his early years at the club that even when he has a good run of form, in the minds of those supporters, he is still absolutely shite and it’s only a matter of time before he reveals his true self.

We’re all guilty of this one way or another. We all judge the players in front of us through the prism of our own subjectivity. I will defend a poor Jordan Henderson performance because I like Henderson and think he’s a good player, so when I’m watching him I’m subconsciously (possibly even consciously) happy to focus on the good things he does, while someone who can’t stand him will focus on every misplaced pass instead.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - Tuesday, September 26, 2017: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Spartak Moscow and Liverpool at the Otkrytie Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I remember having the same arguments with a mate about Lucas Leiva before he became flavour of the month, and I still think it would be an interesting exercise for two supporters with vastly opposing views of a player to sit down and watch a couple of matches together just focusing on that one individual and challenging each other’s biases.

Mignolet is no different. I had mates blaming him for goals conceded against Manchester City when the whole team in front of him had capitulated. He was probably my man of the match that day (faint praise, I know), having made a number of quality saves that kept Liverpool in the game early on, before City ripped them apart when The Reds went down to 10 men.

Likewise, when he made a good instinctive save against Leicester to tip the ball over the bar, the anti-Mignolet brigade gave him no credit, whereas should Danny Ward make the same save they would all laud his reflexes.

There’s also a second problem that compounds the argument between those of us who don’t think Mignolet is “absolutely shite” and those who do. There seems to be a common perception among the supporters who hate him most that other teams out there have goalkeepers who are far superior to Liverpool’s Belgian stopper.

I consistently hear names like Hugo Lloris, Jack Butland, Kasper Schmeichel and Liverpool’s very own Danny Ward, as if those players are all secretly as good as David De Gea and would be far better than Mignolet.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. Liverpool supporters, more than any others I see, appear to think that everybody else’s players are far better than The Reds’ players, based on snippets of footage they see each week.

I’ve made a point of watching closely players like Lloris over recent months and the thought of him playing at Anfield actually tickles me. A player who is looked at with admiring glances via Match of the Day and the odd live game would have the Main Stand tearing its collectively receding hair out.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 5, 2017: Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, making his 200th appearance for the club, during the FA Premier League match against Everton at White Hart Lane. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Just last night he came rushing out of his goal only to kick a ball against his centre back and give a clear chance to the opposition. It went wide, though, so you won’t see that highlighted anywhere.

I watched Thibaut Courtois miskick a simple back pass out for a corner three weeks ago, give an unnecessary penalty away two weeks ago and De Gea let a shot from long range slip through his hands onto the crossbar. Butland can’t kick, Schmeichel is average and Everton’s vertically-challenged ‘keeper got lobbed on his own goal line against Spurs a couple of weeks ago.

My general point is this; I think everyone overestimates how good goalkeepers at other clubs are these days and how easy it would be to get one better than Mignolet. Real Madrid won the La Liga and Champions League double last season with Keylor Navas in goal. Have you ever watched him play? He’s like 95 per cent of all other goalies, pulling off some great saves while at the same time being an absolute liability.

I’ve been saying for a while that I’m going to write a book entitled “If that was Mignolet…” and now might be the optimum time to do it. Come to think of it, it might work better as one of those DVDs you get for your dad at Christmas with Danny Baker doing the voice over.

Just footage of ‘keepers from across the league and around the world making the kind of mistakes we tend to ignore in everyone other than Liverpool’s shot stopper, with Baker popping up in the corner of the screen every 30 seconds making a quip about how if that was Mignolet Liverpool fans would invade the pitch and rip his head off.

Just to be clear, would I rather that Liverpool had a better goalkeeper than Mignolet? Absolutely, yes, I would. But who are they, really? De Gea plays for Manchester United so Liverpool can’t have him. Manuel Neuer plays for Bayern Munich so Liverpool are extremely unlikely to be able to convince him to join (I would try, by the way). Courtois plays for Chelsea so, again, is extremely unlikely to move to Anfield.

We’ve already bought the second best ‘keeper in Germany and, based on last night’s performance, everything else he’s done in a red shirt and the poll that TAW did on Twitter earlier today, it’s clear that very few of us think he’s better than Mignolet, on the basis that he doesn’t make any saves.

As for Danny Ward, I can see why people want to see him given a go, but let’s not kid ourselves that just because he had a good season for Aberdeen in Scotland followed by a successful one with Huddersfield in the Championship he can solve all Liverpool’s goalkeeping issues overnight.

If Mignolet had spent the last two seasons playing for those clubs in those divisions we’d be getting rave reviews about him as well. Unfortunately for him, he’s been playing his football in front of the most critical supporters in football history, who think that every shot should be saved and every pass should be Xabi Alonso-esque.

I’ve seen mates saying that Mignolet has managed to “Hodge” the life out of some of the supporters and convince us that we don’t need a better ‘keeper, which I don’t think is right at all. I think that those of us who don’t despise him see him for what he is; a good goalkeeper who has improved vastly in the past 12 months, but still has a calamitous mistake in him.

I was with everyone else on Saturday evening when questioning why he didn’t want to use his hands to collect the ball in his box rather than flying out with his feet, missing the ball and taking out Jamie Vardy instead. I still don’t think that he has enough presence about him to play in goal for Liverpool and I’m still baffled by the fact that Brendan Rodgers bought him when he isn’t like Pepe Reina with the ball at his feet.

As with all positions in Liverpool’s team I’d happily upgrade to any player who is better than the ones Klopp has currently. I love Roberto Firmino, but if you can show me someone Liverpool could buy who has the same impact on the team as him and scores 30 goals a season, I’d upgrade in a heartbeat. The problem is that those players often don’t exist and, if they do, everybody else wants them as well.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - Tuesday, September 26, 2017: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino looks dejected after missing a chance during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Spartak Moscow and Liverpool at the Otkrytie Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’ve seen people suggesting that Liverpool should just go down the Alex Ferguson route of buying two ‘keepers every season until one of them turns out to be good. I might be inclined to do that myself if I was the manager, but we should all know by now that that simply isn’t how Klopp operates, and if you want a manager to work that way he is not the man for the job.

It’s also worth remembering that De Gea didn’t look like this version when he first signed, so the chances are that even if we think we’ve spotted someone like him we’d have to put up with another few seasons of him bedding in before ending up with the ‘keeper of our dreams (which, by the way, is what I think he’s doing with Loris Karius now).

The reality in my eyes is that there are a handful of elite goalkeepers in the world, after which everyone else is much of a muchness, and switching from Mignolet to Jack Butland might distract everyone for a while but only until he burns everyone’s heads out in the same way that most ‘keepers have in recent memory.

I think it’s healthy when looking at goalies from lower ranked clubs to remember Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland, Ben Foster and all of the other lads over the years who could perform in mid-table teams but simply couldn’t handle the pressure and unique challenge of playing for one of the biggest teams in the world.

Ultimately, though, it is possible for us to agree that Mignolet and Karius are not what we see as the ideal quality of goalkeeper to play in goal for Liverpool on a weekly basis, while accepting that not being quite good enough for Liverpool’s highly demanding supporters doesn’t mean that they’re absolutely shite.

Not mutually exclusive. A bit like me telling my wife I’ll miss her while she’s on holiday while being absolutely made up to have the house to myself…

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