As he toiled alone all summer on a training pitch in his home city of Seville, Adrian could never have envisaged the rollercoaster start to the season that awaited him. While weighing up offers from several mid-to-lower league clubs across the continent, the European champions Liverpool suddenly came calling, and the goalkeeper who before the summer had been warming the bench at West Ham United was about to be thrust into the limelight.
Of course, Adrian would have been under no illusions as to his expected role at Liverpool – that of backup to star stopper Alisson Becker – but a calf injury sustained by Anfield’s number one just 39 minutes into their opening Premier League game meant the 32-year-old Adrian was called suddenly into action.
Alisson’s injury has ruled him out for a number of weeks, undoubtedly lengthening Liverpool’s odds to win the English Premier League and wrest the title from Man City’s grasp, given the Brazilian’s importance in Liverpool’s defensive improvement last season.
As a result, Adrian has become an unlikely central figure in the Reds’ season so far. His debut against Norwich City was swiftly followed by an unforgettable night in the UEFA Super Cup, giving away and conceding a penalty to allow opponents Chelsea to equalise, before heroically saving Tammy Abraham’s spot-kick in the eventual shoot-out.
Amidst the celebrations of that triumph, Adrian himself picked up an injury after a celebrating fan stood on his ankle. Further drama was to follow as the Spaniard, playing through said injury, gifted Southampton a goal in the very next Premier League game.
The Premier League is tough and unforgiving, as Adrian knows full well from his West Ham days, and would have found out anew after that recent blunder at St. Mary’s, but through the remarkable highs and lows of his first month at Liverpool, his Merseyside odyssey has certainly entertained us so far.
It’s a story that few football mystics could have seen coming. Alisson was an ever-present in the Premier League for Liverpool last season, helping to solidify a defence that before his arrival, and that of Virgil van Dijk, had been notoriously porous.
The Brazilian’s presence in Liverpool’s goal had in the space of just a year become like that of an ancient oak tree – tall, imposing, unmoving – and so his sudden absence would have caused a jolt among the Liverpool players, staff and fans alike who had become used to such solidity after the tumultuous Simon Mignolet/Loris Karius years.
No footballer will ever take pleasure in the injury of a fellow professional, but Adrian has been the beneficiary of Alisson’s misfortune. He is living the dream that all backup goalkeepers at top clubs share, the sudden fame and fortune of keeping goal for one of Europe’s best sides.
The role of backup goalie is a strange one, a player who knows full well they are unlikely to ever play, save the occasional Carabao Cup outing. One has to respect the dedication of a ‘keeper who slaves away in training all week, every week without the thrill of the match day. The cynic will say that the sums these professionals are paid each week must be some consolation.
Indeed, some goalkeepers have forged entire careers dedicated to this supporting role. Stuart Taylor is a player who, in his 21-year professional career has amassed only 75 odd appearances, playing understudy at clubs like Arsenal, Manchester City, and recently Southampton.
Steve Harper is another who spent many years at Newcastle United playing understudy to the likes of Shay Given and Tim Krul. It would be remiss to place Adrian in that category, given that the Spaniard kept goal admirably for West Ham for a number of seasons before Lukasz Fabianski took his place, but that is the role he believed he was signing up for at the Anfield club.
He would have been content to sit on the bench and soak up the joy of simply being a small part of a club like Liverpool under a coach like Jurgen Klopp. One month, one trophy, and many memorable moments later, Adrian must be pinching himself.