Liverpool can reap benefits of Simon Mignolet-Pepe Reina rivalry
Simon Mignolet's move to Liverpool appears to signal Pepe Reina's exit but keeping the Spaniard would prove beneficial for the Reds
Simon Mignolet’s move to Liverpool would appear to signal the end of Pepe Reina’s spell between the Anfield sticks, but Brendan Rodgers should do everything in his power to keep the Spaniard.
The Reds have established a blueprint for buying players who are nearing their prime – Kolo Toure aside – as the 18-time English champions attempt to lay the foundations for a successful future.
Mignolet, 25, very much fits the bill and the Belgian is set to continue his rapid rise in England after penning a long-term deal with Liverpool following a reported £9m move from Sunderland on Tuesday.
The former Black Cats shot-stopper’s arrivals has inevitably led many to assume that Reina is set to leave Merseyside after 18 months of rumours linking him to Arsenal, Barcelona and Manchester United.
The Catalan side would be the most realistic destination for the 30-year-old. He started his career at La Masia in the 1990s and long-term servant Víctor Valdes has hinted that he will leave Camp Nou at the end of his contract in 2014.
While everything points to Reina calling time on an eight-year career at the five-time European champions, Rodgers may yet keep the World Cup winner for another season as he looks to build a side capable of challenging for a top-four finish.
For most Premier League managers – or any head coach in world football – having quality back-up is vital when it comes to moulding a squad that is capable of leaving its mark on a season.
If Robin van Persie were to pick up an injury next term, Javier Hernández would be primed to replace the Dutch star at Manchester United.
Should David Silva suffer another hamstring problem, Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini can call on Fernandinho, James Milner or Samir Nasri to fill the Spaniard’s void.
Why should it be any different in the goalkeeping department?
It was painfully clear that Liverpool lacked depth in their squad last season as Rodgers was forced to rely on inexperienced products of the club’s famed academy. Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom were all first-team regulars at the start of the season.
It was, of course, refreshing to see fresh talent coming through at the 18-time English champions, but it hindered the club’s bid to secure Champions League football and Rodgers has moved swiftly to amend this weakness.
He’s snapped up Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas to provide more competition in the attacking department, while Toure’s presence will keep Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel on their toes.
However, Reina has been unchallenged for too long.
The Spaniard was rightly lauded as one of the Premier League’s best goalkeepers in his initial few seasons in England, scooping three straight Golden Glove awards between 2006 and 2008.
But the Spain international’s performance have started to become littered with errors, and in the 2012/13 campaign, there were an alarming number of mistakes that were costing Liverpool crucial points.
For this reason alone – casting aside the Barcelona speculation – Rodgers decision to recruit Mignolet makes perfect sense as he sercues further competition for his current first-choice.
Can having two quality goalkeepers (or three if you count Brad Jones) work at a club?
It’s an issue which has raised its head since the Premier League’s inception.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples is the rivalry between Shay Given and Steve Harper at Newcastle United. The Republic of Ireland international was initially number one before being usurped by his understudy with Ruud Gullit in charge at St James’ Park.
The Irishman would go on to win back his position and was ever-present between Newcastle’s sticks – and Given undoubtedly was a better goalkeeper as a result of Harper pushing him for a starting spot.
The former Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper went on to join Manchester City in 2009, where ironically, he spent a large spell as Joe Hart’s number two after the Englishman capitalised on the veteran’s shoulder injury.
A more recent example is the competition between Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris at Tottenham Hotspur. The veteran American kept his starting spot for the best part of two months following Lloris’ £12.3m move from Lyon.
The France international eventually forced his way into the side and produced a stellar debut campaign in England, with Friedel’s lingering presence in the White Hart Lane shadows ensuring Lloris maintained his high level.
Other examples include David De Gea and Sergio Asenjo at Atletico Madrid, former Chelsea rivals Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini, and current Manchester United duo De Gea and Anders Lindegaard.
It won’t be a matter of Rodgers rotating between his two goalkeepers. As pointed out by former Reds defender Rob Jones in an interview with The Sport Review earlier this week, the best defences are bred on consistency.
So if Reina remains at Anfield beyond the summer, expect the Spaniard to remain first-choice. Should he make a mistake – like he did against Arsenal, Hearts and City last season – expect Mignolet to seize his chance.
After all, as the Belgian’s agent pointed out, the ambitious shot-stopper dislodged Craig Gordon at Sunderland – albeit aided by the Scot’s injury woes – and kept Ireland’s Keiran Westwood at bay.
Liverpool struggled to find a consistent goalkeeper before Reina arrived since Bruce Grobbelaar’s departure.
Sander Westerveld was mistake-prone and even Chris Kirkland’s arrival failed to trigger an improvement in the Dutch goalkeeper’s performances. Jerzy Dudek had Scott Carson as his rival, but both were calamitous at times.
If Rodgers can keep Reina, there will finally be two quality goalkeepers vying for a starting spot at Anfield, which should bring the best out of whoever Rodgers opts to start against Stoke City on 17 August.