Today’s Premier League outings for ’keeper and Nathan Collins are a boost for Ireland manager Stephen Kenny
In his less-than-stellar playing career, he lined out as a defender, so Jurgen Klopp was well able to dish out a few tackles, of the verbal kind, when the contentious international window closed and his Liverpool side regrouped for the Premier League resumption.
The international week leaves Klopp unable to call on Curtis Jones (injured on England U-21 duty), Fabinho and Alisson (missing due to quarantine and travel regulations) for today’s early kick-off against a Watford side getting used to the arrival of yet another manager in Claudio Ranieri.
“When the federations don’t start helping us, they have to think about the game again and not only about their own interests,” he said, accepting of the fact his Brazil pair cannot return to the UK yet but will spend time in Spain, ahead of next week’s Champions League tie, and serve out their quarantine there.
While Klopp bemoans the impact that international football has had on his club, the midweek internationals did offer him some assistance. Caoimhín Kelleher managed a solid 90 minutes in an Ireland shirt, steeling him for Premier League duty today. The Corkman fills in for Alisson, who is in Madrid, not Hertfordshire, due to his activity for Brazil on Thursday night.
If Klopp tuned in to Tuesday’s facile win for Ireland at home to Qatar, looking for pointers on Kelleher’s ability to play at the elite level, he’d have been disappointed as the away side were so tame in attack; Kelleher had nothing to do. Klopp looks for signs of Kelleher’s ability on the training ground, in the Corkman’s occasional outings for Liverpool and his attitude.
The club’s decision to award Kelleher a long-term contract, and the player’s decision to sign it, suggest their mutual trust, but Kelleher must also deliver in games. So, with the door to the Liverpool first team now open thanks to Alisson’s World Cup-related travel issues, a bigger question will be posed to Kelleher today – whether he can make the most of the chance he’s been given.
It’s a fact of life that, no matter how well Kelleher plays today against Ranieri’s side, Alisson will be back in the team for the European tie in Spain and next weekend’s clash with Manchester United. Keeping Watford scoreless won’t keep Alisson out of the side.
Kelleher’s outings in the Premier League so far have been mixed. He had a comfortable league debut, a handy 4-0 win over Wolves, but found his second time on the Premier League stage more testing as Brighton won 1-0 at Anfield last February. The reality of life as second violin to a maestro like Alisson is his deputy drops into the shadows as soon as the No 1 is available.
Kelleher said earlier this week he was determined to establish himself as first-choice goalkeeper with club and country, and by club, he means Liverpool. Gavin Bazunu has the same approach. The problem for the Irish boys is the age of the men ahead of them. Alisson (29) and Ederson (28) are not going anywhere for the next half-decade, at least.
Kelleher has proved himself more reliable than his predecessor, Spanish ’keeper Adrian, as back-up to Alisson. His fate, and place in the pecking order, was sealed when he leaked nine goals in two games this time last year.
Cork lad Kelleher has shown he’s better than Adrian, not as good as Alisson, but the next phase of his career is vital. At 22, Kelleher is in no rush to leave Anfield, where, as he said in Dublin last week, he gets tested by the best players in the world in training daily.
If Kelleher is 25 and still a back-up, his career will be heading into the stagnation phase. He must look at the example of compatriot Darren Randolph, whose move from Middlesbrough (where he was established) to West Ham (as cover) was financially lucrative but, Ireland-wise, disastrous.
If Manchester City decide Ederson can’t be dropped but feel Bazunu is too expensive an option to keep, they will sell him, probably for a record fee for an Ireland player.
Games like Watford away today won’t convince Klopp that Kelleher’s better than Alisson, but they are an opportunity to impress clubs who may be looking for a ’keeper in the next 18-24 months. So Kelleher cannot falter in the Watford Gap today.
His mere presence in the starting XI in a Premier League game in a season when most weekends see just one Irishman start in that league is a comfort for his international manager.
After feeding off gruel, Kenny is slowly getting sustenance. Now he has Nathan Collins in the mix as a defensive option, a player who should start for the Clarets away to champions Manchester City today.
“To play against the big boys, that is why I play football. I want to play against the best, compete against the best and be the best. These are the stages I want to play on,” said Collins.