With the signing of Alisson Becker from AS Roma, Jürgen Klopp appears to have finally addressed one of the biggest problem positions that Liverpool have had in recent times. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius both had a crack at becoming the mainstay between the sticks. Both failed. So, how did previous managers and Liverpool’s transfer committee deem these players to be good enough to play at such a high standard whilst being so catastrophically wrong? After months of thorough scouting and analysing, you’d think that a club of Liverpool’s stature would be able to identify targets capable of performing at a high standard. Well, maybe there is another explanation.
John Achterberg is Liverpool’s current goalkeeping coach. The Dutchman used to play in goal for NAC Breda and FC Eindhoven before making a switch to Tranmere Rovers in 1998. Here, he went on to make 351 appearances before retiring in 2009. Achterberg was offered the role of youth goalkeeping coach at Liverpool during Rafa Benitez’s time in charge. In 2011, the ex-Tranmere Rovers number 1 was promoted by Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool’s first team coaching staff. He is the only coach to remain part of the first team coaching setup since before Brendan Rodgers’ appointment. This is somewhat bizarre, considering that Jürgen Klopp brought the likes of Zeljko Buvac and Peter Krawietz to the club when he became The Reds’ manager in 2015. How did a coach with such little experience at the highest level survive the German’s overhaul?
Jürgen Klopp’s decision to keep Achterberg in his role probably came from the fact that he is one of very few goalkeeping coaches in the Premier League to have obtained a UEFA Pro Licence. Coupled with the fact that Klopp has publicly stated that he admires the Dutchman’s work ethic, there was seemingly no need to replace him.
However, Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar – has publicly criticised Achterberg on more than one occasion, stating that it was not Mignolet’s fault for his inconsistencies after 2 years at the club, but “the person who is coaching him.” Whilst few fans will be convinced that Mignolet was ever good enough to be Liverpool’s long-term number 1, it does raise an interesting point. With better coaching, would the Belgian have suffered such a traumatic time at Anfield, laden with so many mistakes?
Mignolet was signed from Sunderland on the back of some very impressive showings during the 2012/13 Premier League season. During his debut season with the Anfield club, Mignolet averaged 1.97 saves per game and 1.7 saves per goal. Compared to last season, the difference is truly shocking. The Belgian managed only 1.05 saves per game and 0.95 saves per goal. Mignolet’s statistics have never been elite, however, a drastic decline in ability is evident in this comparison. Those statistics in his final year as Liverpool’s first choice keeper are some of the worst in the league.
The ex-Sunderland player also completed far fewer punches and catches per 90 minutes during the 2017/18 campaign, with catches dropping from 2.24 to 1.47 per game and punches from 0.76 to 0.21 per game. Whilst it would be easy to say that Mignolet’s downfall is due to his own inability, you can’t ignore the glaring difference in his ability before and after Achterberg became his coach.
The Decline of Karius
Loris Karius endured one of the worst performances of a goalkeeper I can remember during Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid back in May. The young German made 2 horrific errors that both led to Madrid goals, and then ultimately his exit from the club. A few seasons ago, Loris Karius was one of the Bundesliga’s most exciting prospects. He was voted the 2nd best keeper in the league during his time at Mainz. It’s easy to see why.
During his final season at the German club, Karius made 2.5 saves per game and 2.07 saves per goal conceded. In comparison, last season for Liverpool in the Premier League, he made just 1.47 saves per game and 2 saves per goal conceded. Loris Karius is still young for a goalkeeper and to see a player with so much ability decline so drastically is very concerning. At just 25, the ex-Bundesliga star should have been improving at Liverpool as he grew towards his very high potential, not getting worse.
The Alisson Test
Now, I don’t want to fully place the blame on Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach, however, he has overseen 2 goalkeepers fail to make the grade. Both Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet have looked bereft of confidence during their time on Merseyside. It is also evident that both keepers performed far worse after being coached by John Achterberg. Whilst I trust Jürgen Klopp’s ability to pick quality coaches, I can’t help but think that Achterberg could be upgraded on. If in a year’s time, Liverpool fans find themselves in a situation where they are watching Alisson Becker consistently make errors and play far worse than when he joined, then Achterberg has to go. The Brazilian is currently one of the best goalkeepers in the world. So please, John. Not with Alisson.