'I had to leave' - Former Liverpool goalkeeper Mignolet opens up on Alisson and Anfield exit

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Simon Mignolet Alisson Brugge Liverpool
Getty/Goal
In an exclusive interview with Goal, the Belgian insists that he has no issue with the Brazilian and says he has no regrets over his departure

Simon Mignolet doesn’t do jealousy.

So, when people ask him if he regrets leaving Liverpool in the summer, and if it is hard to watch from afar as Jurgen Klopp’s team works its way towards that elusive Premier League title, his answer is simple.

“No, I’m really pleased for them!” he smiles. “I hope to God they win it!”

Mignolet suspected he might find himself in this position when he chose to end his six-year stay on Merseyside back in August. He knew that Liverpool were good enough to build on last season’s Champions League victory, strong enough to take on Manchester City once more. 

He suspects, in fact, that the Reds are the best club side in the world.

“I never doubted them,” he tells Goal. “They are such a good team, so well coached and with such good players. They deserve their success.”

Mignolet, meanwhile, is targeting success of his own. Like his former team-mates, he is sat at the top of the league.

On Friday, he kept his 13th clean sheet of the season as his new club, Brugge, beat Oostende to move six points clear of second-placed Standard Liege with a game in hand.

“I knew what I was walking away from,” Mignolet says. “But I was comfortable with that.

“At Liverpool, we won the Champions League last season, and I know I played a part in that success even if I didn’t play the games. It will always be a very proud moment for me.

“But if you ask me honestly, I will say I prefer to win the Belgian League by playing every game. 

“People have said I was an important figure in the dressing room at Liverpool, which is nice and is a compliment for sure. But I want to be important on the field as well, and hopefully at Brugge now I am both.”

Simon Mignolet Liverpool PS

Mignolet had considered leaving Liverpool in the summer of 2018, when the likes of Napoli, Fulham and Galatasaray had expressed interest. But with Loris Karius – haunted by his errors in the Champions League final in Kiev – sent to Besiktas on loan, the decision was taken to stay as understudy to Alisson Becker.

Mignolet played twice, once in the League Cup and once in the FA Cup. The last of his 204 Reds appearances was at Wolves in January.

“I think it got to the stage where I had to leave,” he says, without a hint of bitterness. “I had been sitting on the bench for a year and a half, and with Euro 2020 coming up I knew that I needed to be playing regularly if I wanted to be part of the Belgian squad.

“The more time you spend on the bench, as a No.2 goalkeeper, the harder it is to come back and play at a high level. I believe that.

"Some people are able to accept being a backup, and that can work for them. But for me, I am not a character who wants to sit on the bench. I want to play, and this summer the opportunity came up to come back to Belgium and it was the right one.”

James Milner once said that Mignolet had “the best attitude I’ve ever seen in my life” – some compliment from Liverpool’s Mr Professional – while Alisson too has spoken glowingly of his former colleague. 

Mignolet is happy to return the compliment. Despite recent stories which appeared in the UK media, much to his annoyance, he has nothing but respect and admiration for the man who took his place at Anfield.

“He’s such a talent,” he says of Alisson. “There’s nothing he needs to be taught. You know when you get those people who are just natural at what they do? That’s him.

"What do they say, 'You never forget how to ride a bike'? With him, it’s goalkeeping. He picked it up naturally and he never forgot it. 

“That’s what makes him special. His footwork and his temperament are first-class, and I have to say I picked up quite a lot from him when I worked with him. He’s a good guy and a great goalkeeper.”

Mignolet’s departure was an understated one, coming immediately after the Community Shield against Manchester City at Wembley.

“I’m not someone for big speeches,” he admits. “In the dressing room afterwards, I just shook the boys’ hands and said goodbye.”

Simon Mignolet Alisson Liverpool PS

That was on Sunday afternoon and by Tuesday evening he was starting for Brugge in a Champions League qualifier against Dynamo Kiev – “a clean sheet too!” he reminds us.

He remains in touch, naturally. When his son, Lex, was born in October, one of the first messages he received was from Klopp. John Achterberg, Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach, is in contact regularly.

Now, though, the focus is on the future. Euro 2020 is looming. Roberto Martinez’s side will be one of the favourites next summer, having won all 10 of their qualifying matches.

Club-wise, Brugge look well set to regain the Belgian league crown and Mignolet can enjoy the routine of regular football once more.

“I think a lot of people in Belgium maybe thought I was happy to sit on the bench, that I wasn’t prepared to challenge myself and compete,” he says. “That wasn’t true, and never will be. I still have the hunger to play, and I want to show that.

“I think the benefits of my move were shown in the latest international break when I started the qualifying match against Cyprus. That was because I’m playing, I’m playing well and people can see that.”

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And with that, he is gone. Brugge had a Champions League tie at Galatasaray on Tuesday, which they drew 1-1 in Turkey. Another big game in a big season for Mignolet.

After 18 months in the shadows, he’s clearly enjoying being back in the limelight and he’s got his eyes on success.

Nobody at Liverpool could begrudge him that.

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