Andy Lonergan might not have made an appearance since answering Liverpool’s goalkeeping crisis call last summer, but the veteran leaves Anfield with something which means a whole lot more to him.
It’s not a Premier League winner’s medal. Though Jurgen Klopp did ensure he got one of those in the end.
No, what the 36-year-old leaves Liverpool with, having waited an entire career for a shot at the top-flight, is a rediscovered love of the game.
“It’s been brilliant, the best season of my life by far,” Lonergan says in an exclusive interview with the ECHO. “I’ve played a lot of games and a lot of seasons, but this experience, being around the quality.
“The fans at Anfield, I loved it at Anfield, listening to them singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before games. Every time it gave me a buzz. It’s been unreal, I can’t really put it into words. I’m trying! It’s crazy, I’m sure I’ll look back when I’m retired and realise how special it was.
“That (passion) is something I have felt slipping away from me in recent years but I got it back this year. I got it back so much.
“I’m back in love with the game after three or four years of thinking I could throw this in at the end of the season.”
It’s easy to understand the shot-stopper’s previous frustration. An established Championship goalkeeper throughout his playing days, Lonergan hasn’t been first-choice at a club since leaving Fulham in 2016.
Reserve stints with Wolves, Leeds United and Middlesbrough followed, with his last professional appearance coming on loan at League One Rochdale.
And while he has no qualms serving as an understudy, a year with the Premier League champions has given him a fresh passion for the game, even if he is a little sheepish about his new title-winning status.
Listen to the full interview in the latest Blood Red podcast HERE
“The role I’ve got, Milly said to me when lifting the trophy, ‘People don’t understand the role a reserve goalkeeper plays’,” he recalled. “If you’re a bad egg, you can really ruin the dressing room if you think should be playing in the first team and toss training off.
“But that was never my intention, I would never do that anywhere regardless of where I was. I’d train 100% everyday and try and make a good impression on the staff and the lads. To hear them saying nice things about me is great.
“Winning the league is something I’ve got to my name now, regardless of not kicking a ball. It sounds nice. It’s a great experience and something I’m pretty proud of.
“He (Jurgen Klopp) gave me one (a winner’s medal). He gave me one in the dressing room. I’m happy to get one and I’m happy how he did it because getting one on the stage would have been embarrassing, it really would!
“I wasn’t expecting it at all, even after his comments. I wasn’t expecting to get one. He just came up to me and said, ‘There you go, you deserve it.’ It’s a great moment really.”
The Premier League is not the only winner’s medal Lonergan has to his name after his season with Liverpool, having signed a short-term contract with the club as cover last summer.
He was a member of the Reds squad that won the European Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, even if he didn’t initially feel a deserving winner as he adjusted to making the step up to Klopp’s side.
“I managed to sneak on the bench as third-choice goalkeeper for those games. I enjoyed the World Cup more than the Super Cup because I really felt part of the squad,” he said. “The Super Cup, I felt a bit awkward even though I was sub and part of the team.
“The lads had done all the hard work but in Qatar, I felt a real part of it.
“I think you get people who say there isn’t much difference stepping up a level but I’ve stepped up right to the top and there is a difference.
“There are a lot of talented players in the lower-leagues, but these boys have something else. They are a lot sharper and faster.
“Technically they’re obviously better but mentally, the mentality was something I noticed. The mentality and professionalism of everyone in the squad was the big difference for me. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
So what does Lonergan think of the man who brought him to Anfield and made him a Premier League champion?
Needless to say he’s a big fan of Jurgen Klopp.
“The gaffer’s brilliant. I’ve been at clubs where you get one or two who will try and upset people or slag the manager off if not in the team,” he said. “But here everyone looks up to him and holds him up on a pedestal.
“He’s brilliant, everything he says, every game and every game plan – it works. Everyone puts in 100% for him.
“What you see is what you get. How he comes across on TV and in interviews, that is how he is in the dressing room. He’s a top guy.”
And for Lonergan, there’s one conversation in particular with his manager that sums up the sort of man Klopp is and why his players hold him in such high-esteem.
“I’ve had the chance to play in the Premier League in the past and it’s not happened because of transfer fees or whatever,” he said. “I had a really bad injury when I was 21, I missed nearly two years of football.
“I was speaking to the gaffer the other day and he said, ‘If you hadn’t had that injury then you’d have had a completely different career.'”
In the same season which saw Klopp enjoy his first taste of life as a Bundesliga manager after winning promotion with Mainz, Lonergan ruptured his cruciate ligaments before a Championship game against Ipswich Town in February 2005 and wouldn’t play again for boyhood club Preston North End until January 2007.
“That was a nice thing for him to say,” he added. “It’s scary really because he’d never mentioned it ever before. I’ve not missed a day’s training. My knee injury never stopped me but at the time I was about to leave Preston to make a big-money move to a top Premier League club.
“I got injured and two years later I had to come back and pretty much start from the bottom. For him to just even bring that up, it shows what a guy he is.
“He treats everyone the same, regardless of if you’re 36 and never playing football or if you’re Mohamed Salah. He treats everyone the same, it’s brilliant.”
So was Lonergan ever tempted to ask Klopp to hand him an appearance after the title was won?
“People kept saying to me, ‘Will you get a game?’,” he said. “I was thinking ‘Blooming heck, there’s three goalkeepers ahead of me!’ It’s not a charity, the gaffer plays his best players. It was never in my mind at all, you can’t just dish out appearances.”
But if Lonergan does have one regret from the season, it’s that Liverpool weren’t able to celebrate winning the Premier League with Reds fans, having had to belatedly wait to get their hands on the trophy thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is the pinnacle. I’ve got there in the end!” he said. “I might be 36, but to come to win these medals at 36… Most people have got their feet up or are doing other things at 36 in football. It’s been the highlight, I’ve waited a long time for it.
“We wanted to win it outright, we didn’t want it ended and done on points-per-game. I don’t think we had any doubt that it wouldn’t be finished, it was just when it would be finished.
“It was difficult without the fans. Imagine all the fans inside the stadium when we got the trophy. They’ve waited so long to be in the stadium for it. That would have been the best night in the world. It would have been the best night ever but it wasn’t to be.
“Everyone would have liked to have won it then lifted it on the pitch after winning a game, like I imagine that Champions League was after the 90 minutes where it’s just there for you. Having to wait that long, it’s hard to explain.
“It was brilliant though. The club followed the social-distancing, the one-way systems and all that. Our families managed to come in but it wasn’t a simple operation.
“We’ve done the best we can in the circumstances. You’ve won the league, getting a trophy under whatever circumstances is a great achievement.”
With his Liverpool contract now expired, Lonergan admits his time at Anfield is highly likely to have come to an end.
And while he’d never say no to answering another call if the Reds were short on numbers between the sticks, he’s now got his eyes on a potential move abroad with no intention of hanging up his gloves anytime soon.
“At the moment I’m unemployed. At the moment, my time at Liverpool is up,” he confirms.
“It’s no secret they’ll probably try and loan Caoimhin Kelleher out to get games, but you’ve still got Kamil Grabara coming back, you’ve got Karius coming back, and then the two first team goalkeepers.
“You don’t collect goalkeepers, you don’t have six or seven goalkeepers. Some of the young boys, Vitezslav Jaros and Jakub Ojrzynski, they’re good keepers. They’re really good keepers coming through. I’m just waiting to see what’s next.”
He continued: “For me, it’s not my body that will stop me, it’s if I want to and if I still feel the motivation.
“If I got the call (to re-sign for Liverpool), of course I’d answer it but obviously there are things I want to do in my career and I can’t afford to not take an option if it’s there.
“I want to try and spend some time abroad playing football and if that’s not the case, I want to be based in the north-west.
“You’ve got priorities as you get older but going abroad is something we’re quite keen on.”
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