Caoimhin Kelleher is facing up to six weeks on the sidelines after undergoing wrist surgery, coming at the worst possible time for Liverpool’s backup ‘keeper.
The Irishman’s setback was confirmed on the first day of pre-season, with Kelleher having been expected to report back for training before the warmup friendly at Tranmere.
Instead, he is set to spend the rest of the summer on the treatment table, depriving him of a big opportunity to catch Jurgen Klopp‘s eye at a pivotal stage for the Reds between the sticks.
There is undoubtedly no moving Alisson from his position as No. 1, but the circumstance in his absence at Copa America this summer allows the manager to assess his deputies.
Simon Mignolet, whose own return is imminent, is attracting interest from both England and abroad but, so far, is being tipped to stay at Liverpool for another campaign.
But beyond the Belgian—who could still leave if he agitates for a move after making just two appearances last term—Klopp is left to call upon younger options.
Adam Bogdan has left and Loris Karius is still on loan at Besiktas, leaving Kelleher and Kamil Grabara as Liverpool’s next in line, with 17-year-old Vitezslav Jaros a hugely promising talent waiting in the wings.
Grabara, however, is still on his summer break following the Under-21 Euros, which would have given Kelleher a clear opening in the early weeks of pre-season.
Now his focus will be on recovery, with a six-week layoff keeping him out until after the Premier League season has begun.
It is the most untimely of setbacks for a young player, particular given it is a wrist injury and, unlike outfielders, these cannot be managed while a goalkeeper still plays.
Karius was dogged by a similar problem as he settled on Merseyside following his move from Mainz in 2016, breaking a bone in his wrist in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea.
The German missed the first month of the season and, after taking over from Mignolet as first choice, suffered increasing scrutiny which culminated in a calamitous showing in the 4-3 loss to Bournemouth.
Though the demise of his Liverpool career did not stem from that injury, it certainly set the backdrop for a maiden campaign marred by criticism.
There is certainly less pressure on Kelleher once he returns to fitness, but this serves to highlight the mental and physical barriers he will be required to overcome.
On broader terms, the No. 62’s injury both hinders his chances of game time and, if that was to be the plan, a possible loan switch this summer.
Grabara benefited immensely from his time with AGF Aarhus in the second half of last term, keeping six clean sheets in 16 appearances in the Danish Superliga in his first half-season as a senior pro, and is expected to head out again for 2019/20.
There has been no suggestion of interest in Kelleher—who joined the Liverpool squad home and away while Grabara was with AGF—at this stage, but a temporary move could have beckoned for the Champions League winner.
Now the prospect of a club in, say, League One, signing the youngster with a view to fielding him as No. 1, is slim.
Given the sink-or-swim nature of the Football League, doing so with an inexperienced goalkeeper working his way back from injury would be a considerable risk.
More feasible is that Kelleher will remain on Merseyside for the first half of the season, in the same role he filled throughout 2018/19.
This is not an entirely negative situation, as the player himself acknowledged in an interview with the Irish Independent after the Toulon Tournament in June.
“I could go out on loan to get matches or stay around but I’m only 20 and goalkeepers don’t need games so young to develop,” he reasons.
“I’ve got to work with two top goalkeepers, Alisson and Simon, every day in training and there’s been a lot learnt from that too.”
Kelleher is impressively composed regarding his development, and working with Alisson and, if he stays, Mignolet at Melwood under the guidance of John Achterberg and Jack Robinson will still aid his progress.
There will also be opportunities with the under-23s, particularly as Shamal George is due to join Swindon Town, which will allow him to further hone his skills.
He has already improved significantly since his arrival from Ringmahon Rangers in 2015, as he moulds his natural game as a shot-stopper to suit the progressive demands of a Liverpool goalkeeper.
Last summer, at the end of a pre-season that saw Kelleher make three appearances, Klopp described him as an “outstanding talent” who “if nothing serious happens has a really interesting future.”
This was shortly followed by a new long-term contract for the Corkman, which is testament to the club’s faith in his ability.
The onus will now be on how Kelleher approaches this injury, as its awful timing will only stall his route to a bigger role under Klopp at a time when he could have otherwise proved he is ready to grasp one.