When referring to the Golden Generation of a nation, it’s fair in that respect to dub England spectacular failures. Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup were two tournaments where the Three Lions were tipped to make a lasting impact, only to be knocked out at the quarter final stage on both occasions at the hands of Portugal via a penalty shoot out.
Following football’s elite international cup competition in Germany, England have since failed to produce the quality of personnel that would rightfully be labelled favourites to end their baron trophy spell, stretching back to 1966. Yet, while Spain and Germany currently dominate on the club and national stage, there is one nation prepared to emerge from the shadows in the foreseeable future, perhaps not for Brazil 2014, but instead Euro 2016.
Belgium have recently begun to take the footballing world by storm, one Premier League import at a time. Last summer, the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Christian Benteke and Eden Hazard all took the plunge into the deep and unforgiving waters in English football, only to swim rather than sink.
Having made an immediate impact, many a supporter has been left scratching their head as to why this European nation with a population of just 11 million can produce a number of superstars that would leave even the likes of Brazil and Argentina looking on with envy. Yet, it isn’t just the summer of 2012 that saw a number of Premier League teams take an interest in Belgium's finest - these shores have been graced with a number of experienced and talented stars from the central European nation for some time now.
The likes of Mousa Dembélé, Vincent Kompany and Simon Mignolet have been Premier League regulars since way before the most recent influx of Belgium’s finest, stretching back to 2010, 2008 and 2010, respectively. And it’s the latter who looks set to secure a big money move to one of football’s most recognisable teams as Liverpool aim to wrap up a deal for the former Sint-Truiden goalkeeper.
As doubts continuously surround the long-term future of current Liverpool goalkeeping custodian Pepe Reina - the Spaniard himself committing eight individual errors that have led to goals over the past two years, seeing the Merseyside outfit drop six important points as a result - many a Reds supporter believes a move for Mignolet - himself committing just two errors that have led to goals in the same period, costing Sunderland two points - is a step in the right direction.
While he may not be Belgium’s first choice goalkeeper at present - the honour bestowed upon current Atletico Madrid loanee Thibaut Courtois - his consistently excellent performances have seen the 25-year-old regularly lauded by peers and pundits alike.
Starting and completing every game over the 2012/13 Premier League season - one of only five players to have done so - Mignolet’s average WhoScored.com rating of 7.00 is the highest of every goalkeeper with 15 or more starts over the past campaign, further reinforcing the belief that he would make an astute acquisition for Liverpool, especially as Reina ended the year with a 6.66. Only six goalkeepers garnered a lower score than the Spaniard.
Part of the reason for his impressive rating was his shot stopping ability, with Mignolet saving 72% of the shots he faced last season, while making an average of 3.92 saves per game. Only Jussi Jääskeläinen (166) made more saves than him (149) in the Premier League over the 2012/13 campaign. In contrast, Reina saved 67% of the shots he faced; averaging only 2.35 saves per game.
What is more, only Jääskeläinen (94) made more saves from shots from inside the penalty area than Mignolet (93), with the West Ham United number one also saving the most long shots (70), compared to the Sunderland goalkeeper's 56. This is particularly pertinent considering of the 43 goals Liverpool conceded last season, seven were from long shots, pointing towards the need to bring in a goalkeeper that is comfortable with not only making saves in the penalty area, but around it also.
Reina may have kept more clean sheets (14) than Mignolet (11) in fewer appearances, averaging one every 2.21 games while Mignolet kept a clean sheet every 3.45 games, but these figures will likely come as a result of the vastly improved protection provided to the goalkeeper by the Liverpool midfield and defence in comparison to that of Mignolet with Sunderland.
Also in Mignolet's favour is his superior consistency when it comes to defending crosses, with Reina coming out but failing to claim a ball into the box on 10 occasions this season; the most in the Premier League despite missing 7 games. In comparison, Mignolet only failed to claim a cross on three separate occasions in his 38 appearances. Meanwhile, the Belgian caught 47 crosses over the campaign, a markedly better figure than that of Reina’s 31. The club will also have been buoyed by his tendancy to punch the ball clear from danger, having done so 39 times - the most in the Premier League last season - and that may even further bolster their counter attacking capability, with only Arsenal, Tottenham (both 36) and Manchester City (33) having fired more attempts from counter attacks than Liverpool (27).
The solidity and longing for a calming presence in the defence is exactly what Liverpool need for the upcoming campaign. With the retirement of Jamie Carragher, the often-irregular uncertainty that has associated itself with Reina of late will likely hinder the natural progression of the club under manager Brendan Rodgers. The yearning for a composing figure to operate behind the back four is understandably a necessity for them and, it can be argued, Reina no longer provides that.