Simon Mignolet excels in everything he does. The proud holder of a degree in Political Science, the Belgium and Liverpool keeper is one of life’s achievers, and there is no place where he has been achieving more lately than between the posts for club and country.
“I think he's an outstanding goalkeeper who is only going to get better and better,” enthused Brendan Rodgers, his manager at Liverpool, who were indebted in no small part to the Belgian for their second place in the English Premier League.
“He has come into a huge club and replaced a legendary figure at the club in Pepe Reina. That was always going to take a bit of time,” continued Rodgers. “But over the course of the season he has made a big contribution. Simon hasn't ever cost us a game but he has certainly gained us points.”
Speaking to FIFA.com, the Belgian, who kept ten clean sheets for the Anfield club during the campaign, reflected on his domestic season: “It was my first year at Liverpool and the first time in my career that I’ve played for such a big club. I’m satisfied with my first season, though I’m well aware that I can still improve a lot.
“I’m only 26 and that’s still young for a goalkeeper. I don’t really have any personal goals. I just think about team goals, and we’ve achieved one by making it to the Champions League.”
Though Mignolet has just one trophy on his CV – a Belgian second division championship won with Sint Truiden in 2009 – his has been a rapid ascent, from his country’s second tier to the upper reaches of the English top flight in less than five years.
“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished,” he said, taking stock of his rising fortunes. “Yes, it has come quickly, but I’ve still got a long way to go. The only thing I can do to improve is keep on working. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last five years and it’s what I’m going to carry on doing for the next five.”
Red is the colour
Dedication has long been a watchword for a player who has continued to further his education at the same time as pursuing his keeping career. In negotiating his transfer from Sint Truiden to Sunderland, the Belgian was not so much worried about his salary or getting his hands on a good car as finding out how he could carry on with his studies.
Explaining why, he said: “It’s thanks to my studies that I’ve been able to perfect my knowledge of languages. I speak five of them fluently and it helps when you need to communicate with your team-mates. It’s also helped me lead a live that doesn’t revolve so much around football, though I love what I do. I love playing football and I love that feeling you get when you win.”
Our next goal is to make the second round. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Discussing his job on the pitch, he added: “My position is the same as any other. The goalkeeper is just a link in a team that has one objective, and that’s to win. The only worry you have are injuries. Luckily for me, I’ve avoided them up to now and I’ve been able to do what I do without a break.”
Playing at Liverpool provides Mignolet with another reason for enjoying his work. As well as the mystique of the famous red shirt, the Belgian custodian has also been taken aback by the fervour that surrounds the club, even far away from its Anfield home.
“A few days after I arrived we played in a summer tournament in Asia, and that’s when it dawned on me just how big the club was,” he explained. “We went to Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, and there was huge excitement wherever we went. The fame of Liverpool stretches far beyond Europe.”
The world stage
Belgium’s stature is also rising, with many people tipping them as dark horses at Brazil 2014, their first world finals appearance in 12 years. Mignolet, who has 15 caps to his name, is cautious about their chances.
“The first objective was to qualify," he said. "It’s been a long time since that happened and we’re delighted to be making the trip to Brazil. Our next goal is to make the second round. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see. On a personal note, it’s a childhood dream come true to be taking part in an event like this.”
“Make the most of it, Simon!” wrote his national team coach Marc Wilmots on the occasion of Mignolet’s 26th birthday back in March. “You should know that you are an excellent goalkeeper who always accepts my decisions as a true professional and who shows a great deal of respect to the team and the coaches.”
The perfect professional, colleague and scholar: the studious Mignolet has a lot going for him.