Jurgen Klopp has a long list of issues to deal with as he heads onto the field of play, again, with his battle-weary Liverpool side in the FA Cup on Tuesday night.
His own future, the club’s ownership, a barren midfield, misfiring strikers, it’s a busy in-tray.
His goalkeeper is not one of his worries, though a slip by Alisson in the drawn cup game against Wolves is one of the reasons why this replay is happening, and the Brazilian’s confidence, already brittle post-Qatar, was dented again by the sight of Brighton getting the better of him three times last weekend.
He’s still No 1 for Liverpool and Brazil but Alisson in early 2023 is not the imperious colossus he was in 2019.
Small chinks are starting to show, though not to the level where there’s a clamour for him to be left out.
Klopp is likely to stick with Alisson for the Wolves tie, as he tends to do in FA Cup games, but another night of inactivity for Kelleher would be another worrying sign as the team’s exit from the Carabao Cup closed off Kelleher’s main access route to games.
Kelleher said in a recent interview that he was “relaxed” about his position but also hinted that his patience was finite.
“We’ll just see what the season brings, we’ll see what happens after that,” he said.
That timeline would suggest that next summer could be decision time for a young man who wants to get to the very top but who knows he may struggle to get there in his current place of employment. Klopp doesn’t need a headache like an unhappy Kelleher but he may find one.
The Corkman looks relatively happy now. But for how long? Late last year, Kelleher celebrated his 24th birthday, he will be 27 when his current Liverpool contract runs out. Will he still be a Red, still in Alisson’s shadow, long past the apprentice stage but still waiting for his opportunity?
Klopp is on record, repeatedly, as to how much he rates Kelleher. However, the gap between what Kelleher wants – first-team football, now – and when Klopp can offer it to him is the worry, as Alisson is just 30 years old.
Hence, the prospect of Kelleher leaving in the summer. Two elements have to come into play: Kelleher will have to find his voice and ask to move, and Liverpool have to be willing to let that happen. Knowing that Kelleher had itchy feet would alert a number of top clubs in England.
Of the top six clubs in the Premier League, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale and Manchester City’s Ederson are in their 20s, while older ’keepers like Newcastle’s Nick Pope (30), Manchester United’s David de Gea and Fulham’s Bernd Leno (both 32) still have years left in them.
But at Tottenham, the glare is turning on Hugo Lloris, a 36-year-old showing his age of late in successive 2-0 home losses in the Premier League. Spurs have big problems and the ’keeper is one of them. Next in line there is Fraser Forster, who turns 35 before the end of the season, hardly a player to build a team around.
A decade ago, it would be the Spurs way to turn to a fading star like Joe Hart or Rob Green but a clever Tottenham manager would identify a player of Kelleher’s calibre and profile and build, not just plug holes in desperation.
Liverpool have done well financially from selling academy players who hit the glass ceiling at Anfield, taking in £20 million last summer alone by offloading Neco Williams and Ben Davies, following earlier windfalls for Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster.
Klopp’s nose for talent means Liverpool have yet to really regret a sale of a home-grown player – the likes of Wilson and Brewster have yet to come back and bite them (though Wilson and Fulham are above Liverpool in the table).
Would Kelleher be different? Pep Guardiola had that insurance policy in mind when Manchester City allowed Gavin Bazunu move to a Premier League rival (Southampton) as they included a buy-back clause should the case arise in two years’ time that the Dubliner is a better option as a ’keeper than the ones on City’s books.
Liverpool were content to sell on players to clubs like Nottingham Forest (Williams), Fulham (Wilson) or Sheffield United (Brewster) and also bank the big fee when it’s offered for the likes of Sadio Mane. Selling Kelleher to Tottenham could turn into a good deal for the Kelleher camp (with hopefully a nice bonus for Ringmahon Rangers) but would the fee of around £20m look like a bad deal if he thrived in London after being suffocated on Merseyside?
It could come down to Kelleher’s determination to leave. He may stress the point that his international career will also be hindered – or non-existent – by his No 2 status.
Shay Given gave his 20s to Newcastle United and only asked to leave after the Magpies had gone stale. His moves to Manchester City and Aston Villa made him financially secure for life, but, crucially, Given was at an advanced stage in his career when he began making moves (he was 33 when he left St James’ Park).
Given touched on this topic when asked by this newspaper two years ago to lay out a career path for Kelleher.
The former Ireland No 1 felt then that Kelleher would be best served by staying on at Liverpool, while looking for as much game-time on loan as possible, but with a time limit.
“You don’t want to be there for three or four years and not play, find yourself not playing games at the age of 25,” Given said of Kelleher.
Kelleher will be 25 at his next birthday and, today, is no closer to game-time at Anfield.
Finding a buyer will be easy if he does decide he needs to leave as the likes of Spurs would be crazy to not consider him. Convincing Liverpool to allow him to leave could be the hard bit.