Belgian stopper Simon Mignolet bolstered Liverpool’s goalkeeping ranks when he completed a switch from Barclays Premier League side Sunderland in June 2013.
Despite dreams of playing in an outfield position, the 25-year-old started his career with hometown club Sint-Truiden between the posts and progressed quickly through the youth levels. In total Mignolet made 104 appearances for Sint-Truiden and contributed as the Belgian team achieved promotion to the top flight during the 2008-09 campaign by winning the second division title. Remarkably, Simon actually scored a goal for the team during that season. In a match at Ronse in April 2009, the ‘keeper stepped up to attempt a penalty kick and converted the rebound after his initial effort was blocked.
Growing in confidence and developing an imposing presence as the last line of defence, Mignolet played 39 league matches the following year to help Sint-Truiden finish fifth and enter the end-of-season play-offs. Some of Europe’s biggest clubs were beginning to circle around the promising stopper and it was Sunderland who were victorious in the race for the Belgian’s signature; a fee of around £2million was agreed. With Craig Gordon established as No.1 for the Black Cats, Mignolet was expected to begin life at the Stadium of Light on the bench. But an injury to the Scot provided his new teammate with an opportunity to impress. Simon never looked back; his reflex shot-stopping, courage in one-on-one scenarios and command of the penalty area were highly appreciated and he rapidly cemented his first-choice spot on Wearside. International recognition deservedly arrived for the Belgian during 2011 and he made his senior debut for the Red Devils in a Euro 2012 qualifying victory at Austria in March of that year.
He has now made 13 appearances for the national team – including a friendly against England in June 2012 – and is battling compatriot Thibaut Courtois for a potential starting berth at the World Cup next year. Although Sunderland veered dangerously close to relegation at times, 2012-13 proved to be Mignolet’s most consistent campaign since arriving on English shores. The stopper was ever-present in the league, playing all 38 league fixtures, and kept an impressive 11 clean sheets – enough to earn joint-fifth in the Premier League shut-out rankings. Mignolet’s ability to prevent goals was evident in the number of saves he produced last season – 149. That number was second only to Jussi Jaaskelainen among all of the goalkeepers in the top flight. Naturally, Simon began to attract interest from numerous clubs throughout England and further afield; Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool were reportedly included in those with a strong interest as summer speculation raged. Rodgers formalised that interest in June 2013 and Mignolet completed his switch to Anfield after signing in at Melwood on June 25.
Mignolet kicked off his first season at Anfield as the Reds’ first-choice stopper and enjoyed a dream debut when his penalty save in the closing minutes preserved a 1-0 home triumph over Stoke.