Forgotten Arsenal ace who spent 15 years away from England before Liverpool move

To say Alex Manninger was surprised to receive a phone call from Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp back in 2016 is quite the understatement.

Back then the Austrian stopper was 39 years of age, unattached and on the cusp of retirement. Deemed surplus to requirements by Bundesliga outfit Augsburg, Manninger was in danger of seeing his colourful career come to a quiet end. Then his wildest dreams were realised.

"Honestly, it was a surprise," Manninger revealed after signing for Liverpool. "After these years, in Italy and the last four years in Germany, I hadn’t given up, I hadn’t said ‘that’s it’, I still waited for the phone call." And then that phone call came.

After being contacted by Klopp, the veteran goalkeeper's career took the most unexpected twist. In one phone call, Manninger had gone from unemployed to being on the books at Anfield.

"When Liverpool was on the phone, it was a great pleasure for me to take it on because it gives me what I was looking for," he added. "This is the moment I was waiting for until the end."

Remarkably, Manninger had returned to English shores 15 years after departing. The prospect of playing Premier League football was once again in the offing a decade and a half after the Salzburg-born stopper had last featured for Arsenal.

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Back in 1997, the Gunners snapped up Manninger as No.2 to a certain David Seaman. Despite playing second fiddle to the England goalkeeper during much of his time in North London, Manninger collected Premier League and FA Cup winners' medals during Arsenal's double-winning season of 1998 in addition to scooping a Premier League Player of the Month award after seizing his chance when Seaman was sidelined through injury.

However, well aware that he would never be able to oust the Arsenal No.1 between the Highbury sticks, the Austrian knew he had to depart in order to seek regular first-team football. After spending the 2001-02 season on loan at Fiorentina, Manninger left the Gunners for good to embark on a nomadic career, which saw the stopper spend time in Spain, back in his homeland and in Italy, most notably with Juventus, before settling down at Augsburg in 2012.

Four years in Germany in the twilight of his career looked set to bring the curtain down on Manninger's playing days, only for Klopp to call out of the blue. After arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2016, the 33-time Austrian stopper couldn't hide his excitement at joining Klopp's Reds revolution as he harboured hopes of pulling on the club's famous jersey and once again playing in the Premier League of all places.

"I’ve still got something left, for sure, but obviously it’s probably not the time for me to push for the next three or four years to get a place in the goal," he added. "Because time says it’s not possible to play 50 games a year.

"But if I’m called up, I’m definitely there for games, I will play. And I’ll definitely be in the changing room every game, giving my input; I hope, even if it’s only a couple of per cent, it will do the rest."

Sadly for Manninger, it wasn't to be. The veteran hung up his gloves come the end of the campaign – a campaign in which he failed to make a single Liverpool appearance.

"I feel good, I finished at a high level I never dreamed of. I’ve had one of the greatest experiences in my career here, but it is time," he admitted following his decision to retire in 2017. "Overall, I feel it was a reward. I viewed it as a reward.

"When Klopp phoned me up, I knew he wasn’t phoning to say, ‘Look, Alex, I need a goalkeeper who will play…’ I was fine, although of course it’s natural that I would have liked to have played a game.

"But, as I said before, the standard of quality here is so high that I will never look back and think I should have played."

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