Is a Liverpool move for Victor Valdes realistic or even the right one?
One Liverpool supporter on Twitter summed it up best: "so relieved our business is all done, sit back and watch the circus unfold." Well, that was the theory anyway. If anything were to be done it would probably just be loan-deal departures for Lucas Leiva and maybe Fabio Borini, or a move away for Oussama Assaidi if he could settle his pay differences with Stoke City.
Nothing too exciting, in other words; certainly nothing that affected the main 20-25 players for the league and Champions League campaigns. Then came morning reports that Liverpool were trying to secure a deal for Barcelona's legendary keeper Victor Valdes, and the cat fell among the pigeons. You have to be careful on deadline day.
With millions of football fans click-happy for transfer news, it's a field day for the media. It's been turned into quite the circus nowadays, so all manner of nonsense will be circulated. This does look legitimate, though. The word "legendary" does get flung about too much nowadays, but in the case of Valdes it's not inappropriate at all. He's been Barcelona's No. 1 through a succession of fantastic seasons, regularly topping 50 appearances in a season during a period when the Catalan club was regularly touted as having the greatest team ever seen.
Crueller types might wonder whether just about anybody could have played in goal for that incredible side, and why he was often beaten to the Spanish goalkeeper jersey by Iker Casillas. Older Liverpool fans will not even give that a second thought. The club's greatest-ever goalkeeper, Ray Clemence, had to share and then surrender the England No. 1 shirt to Peter Shilton, yet his talents and club service were never once questioned.
Spain were very lucky to be so spoiled for choice, particularly when Pepe Reina was also thrown into the mix. As Valdes is a free agent and was also badly injured in March, plenty of reports are suggesting Liverpool are in "no rush" to secure the deal. In fact, well-connected Times journalist Tony Barrett tweeted that the club was "prepared to wait until the autumn in order for the free agent to prove his fitness."
Some questions arise here: Will a player of Valdes' quality and experience really appreciate a club that tells him to prove his fitness before signing up? Maybe a club prepared to get it done now that would put that delay to one side and show a little faith would get a better response from the player? Given that the original plan for Valdes was to move to Monaco when his Barcelona contract expired, one can only imagine the kind of wages he will be looking for and would probably get. At 32 years of age, he isn't that old for a goalkeeper either, though any club making him first choice would still be looking for another custodian within two or three years.
All of which begs the question: what does this mean for Simon Mignolet? Even if the deal came to nothing, the speculation would still mean something. It's OK saying that competition for places is healthy, but that is less true when it comes to the man between the posts. Liverpool fans can recall times when they had more than one decent goalkeeper. When David James arrived in the early 90s, Bruce Grobbelaar and Mike Hooper were still at the club. Manager Graeme Souness got into the habit of dropping one of them whenever they made a mistake, which resulted in each man becoming a bag of nerves and making more mistakes. It was only when Roy Evans picked James as official No. 1 that some solidity was achieved.
Years later, James got the jitters again when Brad Friedel came to the club. In the end neither could find consistency and Gerard Houllier spent money on Sander Westerveld instead. It's the Dutchman who comes to mind when watching Simon Mignolet. Good shot-stopper, but never really leaving the impression that he will have numerous unbeatable days. Mignolet has had his problems with the ball in the air and it would be that question mark that hangs over him all season. Fortunately, few teams have resorted to just "lumping it" into the box and charging the young Belgian. Whenever the ball was in the air at White Hart Lane on Sunday against Tottenham, Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho seemed to deal with most of the trouble. Early days, of course.
It seems bizarre that Liverpool would move Reina out of the club because they felt he would not be a satisfactory spectator on the bench, but then move for Valdes. Perhaps Brendan Rodgers, with some justification, rates the former Barcelona man more highly, or feels he'll be happier to pick up his large wages and remain on the bench. That seems a little far-fetched, though.
Liverpool fans being rather a cynical sort at times, they might prefer anybody as Mignolet's understudy than Brad Jones. The Australian, who had recently overcome a personal tragedy, became a semifinal hero at Wembley in 2012 when the Reds beat Everton, but it is clear that will never make it at Liverpool.
Mignolet is yet to make the shirt undoubtedly his, the way Jerzy Dudek did in 2002, and -- with greater longevity -- Reina did in 2006. Pepe oversaw an immediate drop of 16 fewer goals conceded from the previous season. With expert training and concentration on any aerial flaws, Mignolet might become that secure and reliable, but any move for Valdes given the amount Liverpool might have to pay him would certainly pile on the pressure. And, as the club has seen over the years, putting pressure on your goalkeeper doesn't always result in improved performance. Quite the opposite, actually.
If Liverpool have any qualms about the fitness of their chosen target, that's understandable. Perhaps they could be circumvented by contract language or insurance? For the chance to acquire the services of one of the game's modern giants it hardly seems a risk at all, except to the man you've already entrusted with the responsibility.