IT will be a big summer for Cork’s cross-channel soccer players, and no one knows this more than Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher.
The 23-year-old, who recently made his competitive debut for the Republic of Ireland, will be weighing up options on what to do next.
The sense of urgency around Kelleher’s future follows Gavin Bazunu’s move to Southampton from Manchester City.
The Dubliner, who was once on loan at Portsmouth, is expected to start regularly for the Saints in the Premier League next season.
With Kelleher the designated backup goalkeeper at Liverpool, his international future looks very uncertain.
The goalkeeper fuelled the questions last June when he said that he is ‘not sure’ about his future at Anfield. Kelleher was asked about next season at the Premier League club when he gave a stark response. He ended up telling reporters that he will have “conversations” with Liverpool this summer.
This follows a whirlwind 12 months for the 23-year-old who signed a long-term deal with Jürgen Klopp’s side in June 2021. This established the goalkeeper as Liverpool’s number two, and he rewarded the club with his displays in the Carabao Cup. Kelleher kickstarted the club’s campaign by saving a penalty against Norwich City in the third round. When Leicester City went to Anfield for the quarter-finals, he stopped two spot-kicks. Kelleher also put in a stunning performance against Arsenal in the semi-finals.
Liverpool met Chelsea in the final and they could not be separated in regulation time. In the penalty shoot-out, Kelleher scored and Chelsea missed, and this won Klopp his first domestic cup.
Klopp heaped praise on the goalkeeper after their cup final success: “Alisson Becker is the best goalie in the world for me. There are other good goalies out there but this one is insane. But, for me, Caoimh is the best number two in the world.” Kelleher also played twice for Liverpool in the Premier League and FA Cup last season.
At the end of the season, Kelleher picked up a Champions League runners-up medal after the Reds were beaten by Real Madrid in the final. The goalkeeper then joined up with the Republic of Ireland senior team and he played in four successive Nations League games.
What happens next, is up to the 23-year-old and his club. What is clear is that he has three options going forward.
The most likely scenario is that Kelleher will stay at Liverpool and he will continue to act as Allison’s understudy. This would be more in line with what the other top clubs in Europe are doing to cope with the increasing demands of the modern game.
With more teams now chasing doubles and trebles, clubs have started rotating between two world-class goalkeepers. Liverpool epitomised this situation during their 2021-22 season, as they used both Allison and Kelleher in their hunt for the quadruple.
Last year, the club played 63 games stretched across four different competitions. This is a continuation of Klopp’s relentless drive to win everything with Liverpool. Over the last four seasons, the team has played on average 56.5 games stretched across seven competitions.
The need for squad depth was on show during 2019-20 season, which saw Liverpool compete in all seven club competitions. That December, their Caraboa Cup commitments collided with their Club World Cup campaign and they had to two games in two days on two separate continents.
Other clubs are starting to use two top-class goalkeepers to cope with the increasing demands of the modern game. In Europe, PSG have Gianluigi Donnarumma and Keylor Navas. Chelsea rotate between Kepa Arrizabalaga and Édouard Mendy. Manchester United utilise both David de Gea and Dean Henderson.
Should Kelleher want to leave Anfield, he could join another Premier League club or move to the continent.
The most high-profile club looking for a goalkeeper is newly-promoted Nottingham Forrest. They are currently battling with Brice Samba over a contract extension while keeping an eye out for a replacement.
Newcastle United are also on the lookout for a new goalkeeper, but Eddie Howe is reported to want a senior figure for his squad.
Other than those teams, if Kelleher wants to stay in England he would have to drop down to the Championship.
After working with Klopp and Liverpool for four seasons, that looks incredibly unlikely. Should Kelleher move to the continent, he will follow an emerging trend of young Irish players joining clubs in mainland Europe.
Josh Cullen was the first to follow this path and he has had considerable success with Anderlecht in Belgium. This season he reached the Belgian Cup final and his side qualified for the third round of the Europa Conference League.
He paved way for Serie A side Udinese to capture the signature of James Abankwah and Festy Ebosele. Inter Milan have also added Kevin Zefi to their Under-17s and AC Milan recruited Cathal Heffernan for their U18s.
Moving to the continent is not an alien idea to Kelleher as he was supposed to be sent on loan to the Dutch league in 2020. A shoulder injury meant he stayed at Anfield, and he ended up playing both in the league and Champions League for Liverpool that season.
Whatever Kelleher decides to do, he has time on his side. Goalkeepers have long careers and he is just 23-years-old. What matters is that he makes a move that will match his own personal ambition.