Maintaining relevance as football’s most efficient No.2

Adam Brown

When your No.1 goalkeeper is out, there is always a slight feeling of anxiety amongst supporters as the replacement steps in. Some fans will remain hopeful, whilst others dread every shot that lands on target.

Alex Manninger is a goalkeeper who has always managed to do enough. He hasn’t always set the league alight with Peter Schmeichel-esque performances, but he has never been a complete liability either. A player that fans could feel comfortable with when he was called upon.

Starting his career from the youth teams in the 1980s at Salzburg, Manninger has been close to the professional game for over 30 years. Remarkably, whilst carrying a wealth of experience, aside from a spell at Siena in 2006 where the Austrian made over 60 appearances in two seasons, the current Liverpool goalkeeper has largely been looked to as a back-up.

As a league winner in both the Premier League and Serie A, Manninger has had his fair share of success. When competing for the same spots as the likes of David Seaman and Gianluigi Buffon, the former Arsenal and Juventus player was never going to be the main man.

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When covering for future Invincible, David Seaman, the young goalkeeper from the Austrian leagues was exceptional. Not many back-ups will step in and secure six Premier League cleansheets in a row. If Twitter had been running back then, Manninger would have been given the usual hyperbole treatment, and tipped to become the next Oliver Kahn. But whilst the benefits of faster internet and amazing save compilations may have helped, he didn’t need it. Manninger’s impact was greater than your usual No.2, with the now-Reds ‘keeper contributing to Arsenal’s Double success.

Manninger, though, had not played enough games, therefore, he didn’t qualify for a league medal automatically – the Premier League had to decide whether his contributions were enough. Six cleansheets in a row, including a solid performance against title rivals at Old Trafford, it’s clear that the Austrian was deserving of one.

Following a period of stints at other respectable European clubs like Fiorentina, Espanyol, Torino and Udinese, the Austrian found himself at one of European’s elite again, signing for Juventus.

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Not many players can say they’ve won both the Premier League and Serie A, but the Austrian’s efficiency meant he was respected as an almost perfect back-up, ideal for big clubs who were home to football’s elite goalkeepers. He didn’t need the spotlight or the glamour that Gianluigi Buffon received.

Alex Manninger has created his own category in football. If a club is ever in the position where they need to sign a back-up to their No.1 between the sticks, they simply need to find a ‘Manninger’. Someone who isn’t going to let you down, someone reliable and assured.

I haven’t given up, I haven’t said that’s it. I waited still for the phone-call. This is probably the right moment I was waiting for.

Alex Manninger on signing for Liverpool

At 39, Manninger may not to be able to deliver the type of performances on that he did during his Arsenal days, but it’s in training where he can make a huge difference in the Liverpool goalkeeping department. Both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have come under criticism, and similarly it has been issues with confidence – neither has looked like the dominant keeper that fans want to see. So whilst Manninger may not be the best technical goalkeeper at Melwood, his teammates can learn a lot from him – especially in regards to mentality; confidence, boldness, tenacity, a winning mentality.

It’s easy to argue that the Liverpool man should have spent more time at smaller clubs as a starter, but why? Granted, if a goalkeeper is genuinely useless, he shouldn’t be sitting on his wage from the bench. However, Manninger had already proven he could more than contribute. This isn’t a case of deadwood, it’s a case of a player recognising his role. It’s a case of a professional mentality with a hunger of winning the most significant trophies.

Manninger has been around for almost three decades, so surely he makes our list of players you’d be surprised to hear have over 100 international caps, right?!

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