The keen-eyed amongst you must have noticed the significance of the year. 1990 was the last time Liverpool won the league title. Since the record signing of Alisson, I had the novel idea of looking at our keepers since our title drought began. For obvious reasons, I won’t be looking at our current keepers(both deserve to be left alone now).
Our most prominent goalkeeper during the 90s was David James. James is fourth on the list of all-time Premier League appearances, having played in 572 top-level matches, and held the Premier League record for most clean sheets with 170 until Petr Cech surpassed this record. On a first glance, it would seem that we had the best possible goalkeeper during the 90s. But as the saying goes, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. He was signed in 1992 to replace the veteran Bruce Grobbelaar. He took part in many memorable matches, including the two 4-3 victories against Kevin Keegan’s gung-ho Newcastle side. And therein lies your clue. A goalkeeper who concedes 3 in a match, through genuine goalkeeping errors, cannot be the sign of a title-winning side. Something always held an exciting team from genuine glory during this period. Liverpool side of the ’90s are generally remembered for their Armani white suits in the FA cup final against arch-nemesis Manchester United.
Around this time, we had started to witness genuine glory. Winning three trophies in the 2000-2001 season provided a great start to
the new century. Our goalkeeper during that season was Sander Westerveld. He became the most expensive goalkeeper in British football when he joined the Reds for a reported fee of £4 million during the summer of 1999. But he was very error prone. The Kop used to hold its collective breath whenever he was called into action. Just have a look at the frankly ridiculous 2001 UEFA cup final that we won 5-4 against Alaves, which brings us to the double act of Chris Kirkland and Jerzy Dudek.
Most of us remember Dudek for his Istanbul heroics. And rightly so. But let that not distract us from the fact that he was a very error-prone goalkeeper. A fact acknowledged by Houllier when he signed Kirkland to be his competitor. During the 2002-2003 season, costly errors in a league fixture against Manchester United (them again) led to the benching of Dudek in favour of Kirkland. But Kirkland was an extremely unlucky player, kind of like Danny Ings right now. He played 14 consecutive matches, during which he kept six clean sheets, but sustained an ankle injury in January 2003, which ruled him out for the rest of the entire season. Infact, injuries blighted his entire Liverpool career. He once again ousted Dudek as the first choice keeper during the 2004-05 season only to succumb to a long-standing back injury. Injury prevented him from being named in the match day squad for the “Miracle of Istanbul”.
Dudek is a keeper who looks like a world beater in his highlights reel, great at making match winning saves but not that reliable in the everyday grind of the league. He was a player who played best in cup matches. Infact, his best performances for us came in the final of cup tournaments while his worst came during the league matches, certainly not an ingredient for league title success. He was eventually replaced by Pepe Reina.
Reina was signed by Liverpool from Villarreal in July 2005, with manager Benitez hailing him as “the best goalkeeper in Spain”. Reina, in my opinion, was the best goalkeeper we have had since we last won the title. Excellent at saving penalties, he was equally good at the everyday grind of the league. If you don’t believe me, look at his penalty saves in 2006 FA cup final against West Ham. As a goalkeeper, Reina had everything going for him. He was commanding, strong in air and had a very stingy defence in front of him. Only thing missing was luck. With him, we reached the UCL final in 2007 and challenged for the title in 2008-09. In both cases, we came out second best. All champion teams need a little bit of luck to get over the line. Reina never got luck factor going for him. Towards the end of his career, even he became error-prone, which led to Rodgers replacing him with Mignolet, starting our present cycle of woe.
Hopefully Alisson can solve all our goalkeeping woes now and also bring in a bit of good fortune when it matters. Lord knows we have suffered for far too long and deserve a break.