By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
Simon Mignolet’s career at Liverpool promised so much to begin with.
A revelation at Sunderland, he came to Merseyside in 2013 with a burgeoning reputation as one of the finest goalkeeping prospects around, and started life at Anfield in the same vein.
He famously saved a Jon Walters penalty on his first start to preserve a 1-0 win over Stoke, and kept clean sheets in identical wins against Aston Villa and rivals Manchester United in the following weeks.
It gave early indication that the Reds had stumbled-upon a gem of a player, but sadly that’s not how it would work-out for the former-Sint Truiden man.
The Belgian international has never quite convinced us that he is capable of being a settled at first-choice at Anfield, but he managed it for most of his first four years at the club, holding-off
competition from Brad Jones and Loris Karius before finally being ousted by the German in January of this year.
Having faced challenges from rivals before and coming out of the other side relatively unscathed, it seemed only a matter of time until Mignolet reclaimed his spot as first-choice, but not this time.
For me, the first time that I knew for sure that he would never recover was after Liverpool’s 0-0 bore draw with Porto in the second-leg of the Champions League Round of 16 on March 6.
Mignolet didn’t play that night – Karius was the man between the sticks while the Belgian had to settle for a place on the bench on his 30th birthday.
I was at Anfield that night reporting live on the game, and was stood in the mixed zone after the game waiting for the players to come walking through in the hope of grabbing an exclusive interview.
Mignolet was one of the first to walk past the gathered journalists – I was toward the end of the line and had to watch painfully as he walked past everyone while looking at them expecting a call of his name for an interview request.
Not one person registered even a note of interest in speaking to the poor man – not even a “happy birthday”, and he just had to amble-on solo without a friend in the world.
I purposefully made eye contact with him and tried to give him a warm smile, he grinned back hopefully and even began to make the motion to stop for some questions, but I had nothing for him.
He was a pointless interview that night. On the bench, out of favour – there were no pertinent questions for a man in his position that night.
Instead, I collared Karius a little later on, asking questions about the importance of clean sheets and their ambitions for the rest of the competition.
“That’s our aim (winning the Champions League) otherwise we wouldn’t compete”, he told me with a hint of a grin in the corner of his mouth.
Video – Daniel Moxon/YouTube
This was a Loris Karius full of confidence who had not yet suffered the ignominy of costing the Reds a sixth European Cup with two howlers in the final – worlds away from the quiet, shifty demeanour of the Mignolet who had walked through the mixed zone minutes earlier silently begging journalists to see him as someone relevant to interview.
Of course, the much-celebrated arrival of Alisson Becker from AS Roma has effectively ended both goalkeepers’ chances of reclaiming the No. 1 spot, and both are reportedly set to leave the club before the transfer window closes at the end of August.
Karius may have had a chance – had he mentally recovered from Kiev more-quickly and showed class and confidence in pre-season, then Jurgen Klopp may have passed on Alisson and given the German stopper another chance.
Another awful moment in the friendly against Tranmere launched him firmly back into the spotlight, and other uncomfortable moments against Bury and Dortmund have added the cherry-shaped seal on top of the cake that is his fate.
For Mignolet, the writing has been on the wall for some time now, and will likely leave this summer in the hope of revitalising his career elsewhere.
You may have known it for years, or it may have only dawned recently, but for me, the events that immediately followed that seemingly-insignificant night at Anfield in March proved to me once-and-for-all that Simon Mignolet was finished at Liverpool Football Club.