“Get up, Simon. Training time.”
The unrelenting dark hides a cowering Simon Mignolet. In the air hangs a damp, musty stench, assaulting the senses with all the strength of a raging bull. Unseen cobwebs join unpapered walls and provide a home for the only other living creatures keeping Liverpool’s ‘keeper company.
They scuttle. Mignolet stumbles to his feet. He shivers and staggers, fumbling his way to a bolted door. From the outside, a firm hand forces it inwards and a dagger of light cracks across the pale, unshaven face of a terrified footballer.
He pleads with the man whose hand allowed his temporary freedom, “I need food, my family, sock-tape. I can’t train like this, please, you don’t understand.”
“Silence, Simon. I’ll talk with the boss and see what I can do, but you know we can’t trust you away from these confines. It’s your own fault. One day you’ll see that and worship us for the mercy you’ve been shown.”
“You monster! What could I possibly have done to deserve this?”
“You know, Simon. You’ve been sh*t for years. Now out you come, train with the others like normal and don’t speak a word about where you’re staying. We’re listening, Simon, we’re always listening. Don’t try anything clever.”
On his way up a flight of cold, dust-carpeted concrete stairs, Simon Mignolet holds back a tear. He hasn’t set foot outside of Melwood’s training facilities for 38 days. The tally he kept on the wall, however, hasn’t worked: it’s too dark for the Belgian to see. Behind him, the 30-year-old’s guard takes a look inside the cell that he’s just left. A series of individual lines scatter themselves across one wall with a haphazard randomness. Mignolet gave up after a dozen scratches, apparently realising the futility of his disconnected chart. He now instead keeps a mental note.
Alisson receives the ball under pressure.
Chips it over the attacker closing him down.
Simon Mignolet had a heart attack just seeing it happen.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) August 25, 2018
Forcing on a pair of worn-out gloves, the shot-stopper trains with the usual clumsy inability he displays on a football pitch. “For fu*k’s sake, Simon,” bemoans Mo Salah. “Stop digging that tunnel with your plastic spoon and get back between the posts. Pillock.”
After a while, the Liverpool forwards stick a single training pole there instead and marvel at its superior goalkeeping abilities.
Once the Reds’ squad have finished their morning’s work, Mignolet is escorted away from the other players and back into his dingy pit. “It’s the only place you can’t escape, Simon, stop complaining.”
Just why the league’s current leaders are choosing the keep the fella captive remains a mystery. Lying in the maddening loneliness of darkness, Mignolet ponders this himself. As if responding to his silent confusion, a sharp bolt of light strikes its way across the cell’s soggy floor. “Our master will see you now.”
Wide-eyed and nervous, Mignolet once again staggers to his feet, ascends the dusty stairs and holds back a tearful choke as his eyes fall upon Jürgen Klopp’s office door.
Responding to the guard’s firm, singular knock, Klopp croaks, “enter.”
Swivelling his body round on a black leather throne, the gaffer tilts his head down and assesses Mignolet with his steely, scheming eyes. “Sit, Simon.” He strokes a white cat.
“I’m only sane in assuming that you must be wondering why I’ve brought you here, to my office, and am keeping you there, in my dungeon, Simon. In all the hours of inactivity and confusion that you’ve spent guarding my net, I’m sure you wonder why you are exactly where you are quite often, actually.”
Mignolet manages a baffled nod.
“Allow me to enlighten you. We have a world class goalkeeper here at Liverpool Football Club and have recently shipped another fella out on loan. Should my precious dear Alisson – God forbid – sustain some kind of injury, you’ll understand that we’d need somebody else to fill in until his return.”
Mignolet manages a baffled nod.
“With Loris away at Beşiktaş, most people naturally assume that you, Simon, would be first choice for taking over. I simply cannot have that. So – and here’s the evil master-plan – should Ali, for whatever reason, need to sit out for a little time, we’ll be shipping Mr Karius back as cover. Comprende?”
Mignolet keeps his head still, the sudden change in language throwing him completely. Klopp doesn’t seem to care and carries on regardless.
“The problem is, Loris is almost as God awful as you, Simon, and so this is where I need your service. If he returns, he’ll need a little confidence-boost: someone to make him feel better than he is. I figured, rather ingeniously, that if he watches you train and play, he’ll end up feeling like the next Lev Yashin and so my team will continue to take over this league before, yes, taking over the world.”
“But you’re a cheeky little chappy, Si, and we know all about your naughty acts of escapism. This is your fault: breaking out from the away changing room like that was just so rash and unappreciative of you. It’s the dungeons or Sunderland, I’m afraid. It’s time to pick.”
The tears return, by now running their way furiously down Simon Mignolet’s face. “You pig!”, he bawls. “I’m never going back to that hell hole again in my life.”
Wailing, he walks himself back to the cell and howls at his own misfortune. The thought of Sunderland makes him quiver.