THE importance of securing Simon Mignolet to a new contract has been further highlighted after Liverpool were the latest club linked to the Sunderland goalkeeper.
The Belgian had to do a spot of fire-fighting last week when a spokesman from the agency representing him expressed the opinion that Mignolet might have to move to a “bigger” club for the sake of his international career. He was quick to point out to his manager and to the club’s fans that it did not represent his views.
But while Mignolet is clearly in no hurry to leave, minds will rest a lot easier at the Stadium of Light when his name is on a new contract.
The Belgian has not had a pay rise since joining on a five-year contract from hometown club Sint-Truiden in 2010. He joined as back-up to Craig Gordon but having ousted the injury-prone Scot, he has gone on to establish himself not only as Sunderland’s first choice, but one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
The Premier League’s official measure, the EA Performance Index, ranks him as the fourth best in the division. He is second for the number of shots saved (West Ham United’s Jussi Jääskeläinen is first), and fourth when it comes to the percentage of shots saved, a table led by Swansea City’s reserve goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel.
While statistics can be misleading, Mignolet’s performances are attracting recognition from leading clubs.
Arsenal and Manchester United have also been linked to a player who has performed well against both of them this season.
Like Liverpool, they will probably be able to offer European football of some description next term, and the realistic prospect of it every year. Sunderland have not played on the continent since 1973.
The worry is that the calibre of club chasing Mignolet could persuade him to move.
With that in mind, Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill said last week he hopes to agree a new contract as quickly as possible, stressing the perils of leaving a club where he is guaranteed to play every game he is available for.
Disrupted in part by injury, Liverpool’s first choice José Reina has had an uncharacteristically inconsistent season, prompting talk the club may look to replace him.
Reina has been with Liverpool since 2005, and the fondness the club’s supporters have for him is mutual.
He has rubbished rumours he will agitate for a move because of a strained relationship with manager Brendan Rogers.
Nevertheless, with Reina’s first club Barcelona looking for a replacement for the soon-to-be out-of-contract Victor Valdes, Liverpool could be tempted to sell the Madrid-born goalkeeper and bring in Mignolet for a smaller fee and wages. Copenhagen striker Andreas Cornelius has expressed an interest in moving to the Premier League, but not before learning his trade in Denmark.
The 19-year-old has been linked with Sunderland but wants to continue his development in the Superliga, where he scored 14 goals in the first half of the season.
“The Premier League is the best league in the world and I would love to play there,” he told bold.dk.
“It would be like a dream coming true.
“But there is still a long way and I still have plenty to learn.
“I have a contract with Copenhagen for the next four years so that seems like a good timeframe for me, although things change quickly in football so you never know.”
Meanwhile, 20-year-old defender Billy Knott has extended his loan at Woking until the end of the month.
Knott has made 10 appearances for the Conference side since initially joining in October.
Knott, who joined Sunderland in 2010, was voted AFC Wimbledon’s young player of the season after a successful loan spell.
Cheshire referee Mike Jones will take charge of Saturday’s game at Queens Park Rangers.