Liverpool signing ‘died’ during Melwood fitness test before recommendation led to £ 65m transfer

Before Caoimhin Kelleher came along, Liverpool had a long-running problem when it came to back-up goalkeepers. Be it error-prone number ones who lost their spots or a lesser reserve unable to really challenge and push the first-choice, the Reds have discarded their fair share of number twos during the Premier League era.

Pegguy Arphexad, Scott Carson, Charles Itandje, Brad Jones, Adam Bogdan and Loris Karius are just some of the names to not quite deliver at Anfield, resulting in replacements quickly being sought as Liverpool manager after manager searched for an upgrade. Yet long before Kelleher broke through under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds thought they had found the answer to their reserve goalkeeping woes.

With Pepe Reina the undisputed number one for the majority of his Liverpool career, a plethora of names joined the club to serve as his number two without having the desired impact and swiftly moving on. But when Kenny Dalglish signed Alexander Doni in July 2011, it felt like the Reds had found a long-term answer.

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Then 31, the shot-stopper was a full Brazil international and had enjoyed four of his six seasons in Italy as first-choice for Roma in Serie A and Champions League. A two-time Coppa Italia winner in 2007 and 2008, he was also first-choice for the Selecao when they won Copa America in 2007.

Brought in on a free transfer, his pedigree exceeded any that had come to fulfill such a role before and his arrival was seen as particularly shrewd as he became the fourth of seven summer signings, along with Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique, Sebastian Coates and Craig Bellamy. And he came with a ringing endorsement from compatriot Lucas Leiva.

“We are delighted to sign Doni,” director of football Damien Comolli said. “It’s a position we felt we had to strengthen because it will allow our young goalkeepers to go on loan and get some experience at some point during the season, which is crucial in their development.

“We are getting a very experienced goalkeeper who is used to handling the pressure of big games and international matches with Brazil. He had a very good end of last season with Roma, so we are very pleased.

“I spoke to Lucas about Doni and he was very complimentary about him as a person and as a goalkeeper, so I think it’s a great deal for us. He is suited to English football. He is big and good in the air and his distribution di lui is quick as well.

“When you play for Roma for years and years, the pressure at that club in that city is tremendous, so the fact he can handle that shows he can take anything.”

Yet despite such a CV, Doni had to wait to make his Liverpool debut and far longer than his predecessors. The Reds might win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup final that season under Dalglish, but the Scot would step away from starting a back-up goalkeeper in domestic cup competitions with Reina first-choice throughout and the Brazilian on the bench for both trips to Wembley.

But when the Spaniard was sent off against Newcastle United in April 2012, the door was belatedly opened to the Brazilian. Though with all three substitutions already made against the Magpies, he had to watch on from the bench as Jose Enrique finished the game out of position in goal.

Handed his debut on this day 10 years ago against Aston Villa, Doni became the first goalkeeper other than Reina to play in a Premier League match for Liverpool since Daniele Padelli in May 2007. And with the promise of a Wembley FA Cup semi-final appearance against Everton on the horizon, Dalglish was full of praise for the Brazilian after losing his first-choice to suspension.

“His attitude has been brilliant. He looks really sharp,” the Scot. “Since he has come he has got better and better, but you need to see it translated into games.

“It’s unfortunate circumstances but I am sure he will be looking forward to the game. He played in Serie A so I’d say he was a confident boy – although I’d better say ‘quietly confident’ otherwise he’ll be accused of being arrogant. He’s very experienced and has worked really hard in training since he got here. He has done as much as he can to try to be ready.

“It is equally as important for a keeper as any other player to get some first-team games, so it won’t be easy for him. You have got to get an understanding with your team-mates and it’s hard to do that without playing in games. But the only way we can get round that now is by him playing and getting that understanding. Pepe wanted to play every game but now he’s got his chance and he will have to be ready to step in. “

Unable to keep out Chris Herd’s early opener, Luis Suarez’s late equalizer ensured Doni’s maiden Liverpool appearance ended in a 1-1 draw. However, his Wembley dream of him was stolen away days later at Ewood Park in a rollercoaster clash with Blackburn Rovers.

The Reds raced into an early 2-0 lead thanks to a Maxi Rodriguez brace, before the goalkeeper was sent off himself after conceding a penalty for a foul on Junior Hoilett following a tame backpass from Jon Flanagan, and left the field in tears. Third-choice Brad Jones, who Doni had usurped in the pecking order came on to save Yakubu’s spot-kick, and although Blackburn would peg the scores back to 2-2, Andy Carroll would score a last-minute winner for Dalglish’s side.

A spectator alongside Reina as Jones started against Everton at Wembley, helping Liverpool clinch a 2-1 win, the Brazilian would return to the bench later that month against West Bromwich Albion. Meanwhile, he returned to the starting XI for a 1-0 Anfield defeat to Fulham on the eve of the FA Cup final as Dalglish rotated his side.

Doni would make his fourth appearance of the season on the final day of the campaign as the Reds lost 1-0 at Swansea City, to future manager Brendan Rodgers. But little did the goalkeeper know it would prove to be his last appearance di lui for the club at the time.

Mysteriously not part of Liverpool’s plans for 2012/13 following Rodgers ‘appointment, Jones leapt back ahead of him in the pecking order after Doni was granted extended leave since missing the pre-season tour of North America with the club saying it was due to’ personal reasons’. His contract di lui would be canceled in January 2013, allowing the goalkeeper to join former club Botofogo in January 2013.

And upon leaving Anfield, he would confirm his first team absence was shockingly due to suffering a heart attack the previous summer, aged just 32, during fitness tests at Melwood.

“I was taking the medical exams and I had a heart attack,” he said. “I was unconscious for 25 seconds and almost went ‘to the other side’. I always had an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

“After that, I went to London and had several examinations and then they sent me back to Rome, where one of the finest doctors in Europe took care of me. After yet another load of exams, the doctors asked me to stay a few more months on the sidelines. Now I have to stay put until April, then I can return to the field. I want to play in the fourth division of the 2014 Paulista championship.

“I was really down for three months and had trouble sleeping. Anyone who’s gone through that knows what a horrible feeling it is. That time affected me deeply psychologically, but now I’m back to normal. It’s hard to talk about. You end up giving more value to life, to your family, your kids, you just want to stay close to your family. You stop and realize what are the really important things in life. “

Yet Doni had to concede defeat in his bid to return to football when he announced his retirement in August 2013. When confirming his decision, he said: “It’s sad that I have to quit, especially because my son wanted to see me play again. I would have liked to continue for him, but I can’t do anything about it. I’ve already died once. “

Making just four appearances during his 18 months with Liverpool, Doni’s Reds career was hardly the most spectacular. Sent off in his only win and without really keeping a clean sheet, he might have departed with a League Cup winner’s medal, but, for reasons beyond his control of him, he left the Reds without ever living up to initial expectations.

However, he has made a far bigger impact at Liverpool since hanging up his gloves with the goalkeeper playing a small role in his former club signing Alisson Becker in a £ 65m deal in 2018.

While his compatriot had already established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world at AS Roma prior to moving to Anfield, Alisson caught the eye of Doni when playing for Internacional in their native Brazil. And with the former Red boasting a close relationship Liverpool goalkeeping coach John Achterberg, he wasted no time in alerting his former club.

“Many years ago, it was Doni who told me that I should keep a close eye on a young keeper over in Brazil,” the Dutchman revealed. “So I tracked his career di lui and watched him a lot when he was in Serie A with Roma. When the club was searching for a new keeper, his name di lui came up. I’ve got no influence on our budgets and I can’t decide which keeper we will bring in, but I do offer advice when it comes to keepers. And, when the time was right, I was happy to pass on what I knew. “

“Yes, when I saw him play, I immediately recommended him to John and tried to get him signed,” Doni recalled to in 2019. “I explained to John that he was a very skilful player and that he would soon play for the national team. The first time I saw him playing for Inter, I knew he had what it takes to succeed in the Premier League. “

However, while Doni’s tip would be spot on, it would take a number of years for Liverpool to follow up on it and actually sign Alisson. With Roma able to act instantly, the Reds’ delay resulted in them having to break the record transfer fee for a goalkeeper when eventually signing the Brazilian.

“I referred Alisson to Liverpool before Roma bought him! ‘ Gifts told ESPN in 2020. ‘Liverpool had a chance to buy him a lot cheaper. I referred the club’s goalkeeper coach John Achterberg, but they decided not to sign. At the time, they told me they wanted a more concrete goalkeeper. Liverpool is not a betting player, as Roma bet on me and Alisson.

“When you take a goalkeeper out of Brazilian football and take him to Europe, he arrives surrounded by doubt. There were many more doubts in the past, it is true. In my day, even hiring Brazilian goalkeeper was seen as crazy, because it was not normal.

“The goalkeeper coach liked Alisson very much when I indicated, but whoever decides whether to hire or not is the board, along with the owners of the club. It is a methodology that is little based on consultations and is more direct. And it is very different from Rome, who has the system in which who decides whether to hire or not is the sporting director along with the coach. “

Due to his close relationship with Achterberg and interest in Alisson, Doni has a number of reasons to still follow the progress of his former club. And while his Anfield career di lui didn’t turn out as either he or the Reds will have hoped, he is proud to have played for Liverpool.

“I still speak with John, I think he is a great person and great professional and I will always follow his career and Liverpool,” he admitted. “It was short lived due to the issues I had, but it is a great club, a great city, and I am very grateful to have worn this amazing jersey. “


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