By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
When Simon Mignolet told Liverpool of his intention to move on for first-team football, the search began for his replacement.
Alisson Becker is the undisputed No.1 at Anfield. Kamil Grabara and Caoimhin Kelleher are promising young stoppers, but neither are quite ready to be the Brazilian’s permanent understudy.
Even if they were, they can’t be. The Pole will spend the season on loan in the Championship at Huddersfield Town, while the Irishman is still recovering from injury.
So Jurgen Klopp and his staff decided that someone would have to come in to replace Mignolet. There was never any doubt that the club would grant the Belgian his wish to move on, but it did mean that they would lose a goalkeeper of good quality.
The fans’ choice to replace him was undoubtedly Pepe Reina. The former Red holds a special place in the hearts of the Anfield faithful. It’s always nice to see a legend return, but this was never really on the club’s agenda. The 36-year-old wanted the move, but Liverpool decided to look elsewhere.
Southampton’s Alex McCarthy was first-choice, according to The Athletic’s James Pearce. The England international decided, however, that his career would be better served if he stayed to fight Angus Gunn for a starting spot on the south coast.
And that’s when Adrián entered the thinking. Reina’s compatriot boasts a reputation as a good shot-stopper and a good amount of top-flight experience from his time at West Ham United. Importantly, he was also willing to play second-fiddle to Alisson. A perfect candidate.
The 32-year-old was announced just hours after Mignolet’s Anfield exit was confirmed, with the club moving quickly to snap up the free agent. After Alisson played every minute of Liverpool’s 2018/19 Premier League campaign, the expectation was that Adrián’s playing time would be limited to domestic cup competitions.
But the Brazilian’s calf injury, sustained in the opening day victory over Norwich City, saw him make an earlier-than-expected debut. With the No.1 expected to be out of action for around six weeks, the new man will play a major role in the Reds’ early-season exploits.
Now, it’s not likely that Adrián will be able to make that starting spot his own. No amount of clean sheets and spectacular saves will dislodge ‘The Bearded One’ in the bigger picture, but he will know this.
He isn’t playing for a spot in the Liverpool squad. Alisson is one of the world’s best, while the Anfield club have Grabara returning from loan with a year’s experience at a good level in English football. The Pole is highly-rated by goalkeeping coach John Achterberg, and positive development in West Yorkshire could see him installed as No.2 from next season.
Instead, Adrián is playing for his career as a whole. The fact he still without a club so late in the transfer window hints that there was little or no interest from elsewhere in his talents. A good spell between the sticks for the European champions would signal to managers across the top leagues that he is still capable of playing at a top level.
He will be 33 next summer, but that still gives him a few years in his prime. There are examples of goalkeepers, such as Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and Jussi Jaaskelainen, who played in the English top-flight into their late-30s. The Spaniard will look at these examples and feel he can do the same.
But that all starts with good performances over the next few weeks. If Liverpool are to dislodge Manchester City from the Premier League summit this season, then a good start is essential. Without Alisson there is understandable concern, but this will be alleviated once the Brazilian is back on the pitch.
To keep our title dream alive, Adrián needs to perform. To keep his footballing dream alive, Adrián needs to perform. Much is riding on the 32-year-old early in this new season.