Liverpool seem to be making many of their major summer transfer moves early on this year, with Brendan Rodgers reported to be close to completing a third deal, and it's only the middle of June.
Iago Aspas and Kolo Toure have already been confirmed as done-deals, barring paperwork and registrations, and now the BBC website is reporting that Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is close to signing for around £8 to £10 million.
With Pepe Reina the current undisputed No. 1 at the club, and having been so since his arrival in 2005, such a significant outlay on a goalkeeper must put his position at the club in jeopardy. It would also be a huge decision from a manager who has been at the club for only a year, changing one of the most important positions on the pitch.
Certain members of the support have felt that the time is right to replace Reina, but is Mignolet the right man to do so?
Reina at Liverpool and What's Gone Wrong
Reina has played very close to 400 competitive games for Liverpool, just five short in fact. After an uncertain start he has gone on to prove himself as one of the very best in the world, a real record-breaker at Liverpool with his clean sheets, and he was linked with a £20 million move to Arsenal not too long ago.
Unfortunately he has been below his best for the past three seasons, though he did return to some more impressive form toward the back-end of the most recent campaign.
A series of managerial—and thus, defensive and tactical changes—would not have helped Reina in the slightest. Going from the known and the safe under Rafael Benitez; to the extremely deep defensive line under Roy Hodgson; to somewhere in the middle under Kenny Dalglish; and now a higher line—which got gradually deeper over the season—under Brendan Rodgers.
Once an undisputed first pick and arguably the best goalkeeper in the league, Reina has had his critics over the past 24 months in particular. A series of errors leading to goals have meant his place is now no longer so secure.
In addition, this past season saw him suffer more injuries than he had previously, and that, coupled with his advancing age and high wages, make him more of a saleable asset than might have been thought possible four years ago.
Mignolet at Sunderland
The Belgian goalkeeper has been at the Stadium of Light for the past three seasons since joining from St. Truiden.
Having originally faced a battle for the No.1 jersey with Craig Gordon, Mignolet has cemented his place in the team since his second term at the club, only missing 10 league games since then with injury.
He kept 11 clean sheets last season, playing in all 38 matches and conceding 54 goals.
Mignolet still has two more years left on his present deal and has become a regular in the Belgian national side, where he has amassed 12 caps so far.
What would the Reds Lose and Gain?
Reina is an established presence in the first team, commanding respect for his achievements in the game as well as his longevity at the club. But is that longevity still a positive if he is unable to reach his highest level on a regular basis?
A change in goalkeeper of course brings issues with regards to an understanding and continuity at the back. But Mignolet has proven himself as a Premier League-standard goalkeeper who is adept at shot stopping and has good reflexes.
Reina is certainly excellent in dominating his area, sweeping up through-balls and, by-and-large, in his distribution of the ball. But he is not always the most agile or instinctive stopper.
Brendan Rodgers is taking a big risk in deciding that the Belgian's attributes are more suited to the way he wants his team to play, but after a season in the job he will have made up his own mind on whether the biggest names in the squad are really all that beneficial.
In the case of the goalkeeper, it would seem that Rodgers believes he'd be better off with his own man, than with keeping with the status quo.
Alternatives and Possible Impact of Mignolet as the No. 1
While all three have Premier League experience, Mignolet is the youngest of the three and at age 25 could easily be seen as the man to be the Reds' goalkeeper for the next half a dozen years or so.
With Jamie Carragher also outgoing, it will certainly be all-change at the back this summer for the defensive outlook of the team, with regards to senior, central figures on the pitch.
There is very little chance that Mignolet would be agreeing to come to Liverpool as a challenger to Reina rather than his successor. For starters, the club would be questioned for spending £8 million or more on a squad member in a position which would see little game-time. While for the goalkeeper himself, Mignolet will not risk losing his national team place in a World Cup year.
While there is still a long summer ahead, Liverpool look very much like they're doing their major transfer business early this time around. And while other deals might be more expensive, changing an established first-choice goalkeeper might turn out to be the most significant transfer the Reds are involved in.
It could also be one that Rodgers' Liverpool reign lives or dies on.
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