Liverpool's Caoimhín Kelleher has made nine Premier League appearances this season. Alamy Stock Photo
talking point

What next for Caoimhín Kelleher?

The Liverpool and Ireland goalkeeper is enjoying his best season yet.

ASSUMING HE plays against Man United tomorrow, it will be Caoimhín Kelleher’s 27th appearance in all competitions since the beginning of the campaign.

It will mean he goes one ahead of Liverpool’s regular number one, Alisson, who has played 26 times though has not featured since the Reds’ 3-1 loss to Arsenal on 4 February.

Those stats are admittedly somewhat skewed by cup and Europa League appearances.

The Brazilian has still played in 21 of Liverpool’s 30 top-flight matches.

Nonetheless, it has still been a considerable step up for the Irishman.

Sunday will be his 10th Premier League appearance. Before this season, he had played just five top-flight games in his entire career.

Klopp paid tribute to the goalkeeper during the week after a series of solid displays in the absence of the injured Alisson.

The manager highlighted the 25-year-old and others as examples of the Reds’ strength in depth.

“If you would have asked me before the season, I think I was never shy of praising Caoimh,” the German boss told reporters.

“You can take Ali out for a long spell, it would have been a problem not because of Caoimh but because he never had to play that many games, so you never know how that will look.

“What happens if Trent is out for a long time? Joe and Conor obviously, then Conor was injured and picked up from there.

“Had both left-backs out — first Robbo out, Kostas steps in, then Kostas out and Joe steps in.

“All these kinds of things, how these boys deal with the situation and the new opportunities is just exceptional.

“So many players out for a long time, and we are still where we are, that’s pretty special. You cannot expect that.

“I’m absolutely over the moon for the boys that they can prove their point. I was never in doubt about them but they still have to prove it themselves so that’s wonderful.

“Absolutely outstanding season; without Caoimhin Kelleher, no chance to be in the position we are.”

Given that he was also key to their League Cup final defeat of Chelsea, it has undoubtedly been the best season of the Cork native’s career.

Moreover, probably for the first time since he established himself in the team, Gavin Bazunu’s position as Ireland’s number one appears to be under threat.

Kelleher was given the nod for the recent Belgium friendly, though Bazunu was back in the starting XI for the Switzerland match days later.

Yet the Liverpool number two was under significant pressure to leave the club this time last year.

Then-Ireland boss Stephen Kenny suggested he needed to move on, contradicting Jurgen Klopp‘s view.

In the end, Kelleher stayed put and it has worked out for player and club alike, at least in the short term.

When is the last time an Irish player has been such a key figure in a Premier League title race?

You would have to return to the era of Roy Keane, Damien Duff and John O’Shea to find the last genuine example.

That said, has much changed in the long run for Kelleher?

Once Alisson returns from injury, he will likely be set for another lengthy spell on the bench.

Bazunu could be playing regular Premier League football next season while his goalkeeping rival is on the sidelines, and the case for the new Ireland boss selecting the Reds stopper will be less compelling again.

One of the reasons for Kelleher not moving last summer was Liverpool’s high reported asking price.

According to The Athletic, the Reds were looking for a fee over £25million (€29 million), with Tottenham, Brighton and Brentford all linked with the goalkeeper.

Celtic were also keen on signing Kelleher as a long-term replacement for Joe Hart in the summer according to The Sun, but could not agree on a deal with the Anfield outfit.

With the transfer deadline approaching in January, per The Daily Mail, Nottingham Forest had a £15 million (€17 million) late bid turned down, as it fell below the player’s asking price.

The Irishman has had the odd shaky performance — he seemed unconvincing last season in his sole Premier League appearance, the 4-4 draw with Southampton.

But the goalkeeper has looked better and increasingly confident in this campaign with more football under his belt.

So now that Kelleher has proven capable of performing in the Premier League regularly, it will surely only create more interest in the goalkeeper.

Yet despite this enhanced status, the goalkeeper’s valuation is unlikely to increase, with his current contract expiring in the summer of 2026.

Liverpool will come under more pressure to sell or risk losing the player on a free transfer two years from now.

It means he faces another big decision this summer. 

Especially if Liverpool end up finishing the season on a high by winning the Premier League and Europa League, on the one hand, it will be tough for the Irish international to move elsewhere, as wherever he goes next will almost certainly be a step down.

On the other hand, Kelleher’s displays this season suggest he is good enough to be number one permanently — Virgil van Dijk went so far as to label him “world-class”.

He will be 26 in November and coming towards the peak of his footballing career. Does he want to risk spending that time on the bench or should he go somewhere he is guaranteed to play?

With Joe Hart retiring at the end of the season, Celtic will again be in the market for a goalkeeper.

Kelleher’s performances this season will likely only make the Scottish club more determined to land the Ireland goalkeeper.

It might be a good fit as the move would mean Kelleher would still be competing for major trophies with the added benefit of being effectively guaranteed regular game time.

That said, if Kelleher opts to leave Anfield, he is unlikely to be short of interest from Premier League clubs either and may want to stay in what is now widely accepted as the best domestic competition in the world.

An interesting summer awaits.

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