Liverpool boss Klopp has horrible transfer dilemma with Kelleher
Jurgen Klopp calls cup hero Caoimhin Kelleher world’s best back-up goalkeeper
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In Alisson Becker and Caoimhin Kelleher, Liverpool have a pair of goalkeepers as strong as any in world football. Perhaps only Paris Saint-Germain’s duo of No 1 Gianluigi Donnarumma and No 2 Keylor Navas is superior. Jurgen Klopp disagrees with that verdict, however.
Back in February, after Kelleher scored the winning penalty in a Carabao Cup final shootout win over Chelsea, Klopp said at Wembley: “For me Caoimhin Kelleher is the best No 2 goalie in the world.” Kelleher loves a shootout, and saved three spot-kicks against Derby County in the same competition earlier this month.
That was the fourth time where a game has gone to penalties and he’s been on the winning side, and he moved to a club-record six shootout saves overall. Klopp said: “He’s exceptional, absolutely exceptional.” The German crucially added: “There are still a lot of goalkeeping years to come for him.”
But that is perhaps Liverpool’s problem. Kelleher turns 24 years old on Thursday. There are five keepers in the Premier League at a similar age who are No 1s for their club.
Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale has 123 appearances in England’s top flight at 24 while Illan Meslier of Leeds is on 87 Premier League outings aged 22. Dean Henderson, 25, on loan at Nottingham Forest from Manchester United has 64 while Brighton’s Robert Sanchez has amassed 78 at the same age.
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Perhaps the best comparison is Gavin Bazunu has 15 league appearances for Southampton this season and has racked up 13 Ireland appearances. Bazunu is Kelleher’s direct rival for the Ireland national team and is a mere 20 years old, but has four more international outings than him.
Since joining the Saints from Manchester City for an initial £12million in the summer, he has racked up 1,350 minutes. Kelleher is on 1,650 for Liverpool – since September 2019. That is just 18 appearances, and only four in the Premier League. Kelleher is not getting the minutes his talents warrant.
That is simply because in Alisson, Liverpool have a keeper as good as any on the planet. While that has its benefits for Kelleher’s development – there’s no better keeper to learn from – it has its negatives too. Alisson is only 30 and has plenty of years left at Anfield.
And that means Liverpool may face a tricky decision with Kelleher this coming summer, or that the player faces a tricky decision himself. Stay on Merseyside or pursue consistent starts elsewhere? The Irishman, selfishly, needs more minutes, even if he is loved at Liverpool and contributed massively to their cup successes last season.
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Yet replacing Alisson as the No 1 under Klopp is not on the horizon, for as good as a No 2 he is, and he cannot continue to settle for cup outings. But with Alisson going nowhere fast, the natural next move is away from Liverpool. Klopp would hate to let Kelleher go but would undoubtedly do so if it is in the player’s best interests. And given Kelleher seems an ideal long-term successor to Alisson, perhaps the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City could serve as a blueprint for the Reds.
Chelsea have sold Tammy Abraham, Tino Livramento and Marc Guehi in recent years and included buy-back clauses in the deals, while Man City inserted similar clauses in deals to sell the likes of Bazunu, Samuel Edozie and Romeo Lavia.
Pep Guardiola said: “We have a buy-back on all of them so just in case they explode we have a chance to get them back.” Liverpool would be wise to do the same if Kelleher wishes for more minutes. Given Alisson could well be at the club past 2027, a one-year or two-year loan may only delay the inevitable.
A £20m-£25m fee for the keeper, with a buy-back at around £40m that Liverpool could look to exercise in 2026 or so, could be the handy scenario. The issue with that, is finding the club who are going to be open to losing such a fine player within a few years.
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