This weekend’s clash between Liverpool and Aston Villa will give fans a rare opportunity to see a goalkeeper other than Pepe Reina playing for the Merseyside giants.
That’s not a slight on the Spaniard, who has played 183-consecutive league matches for the Reds. Indeed, it’s Daniele Padelli who holds the honour of being the last goalkeeper to start a league match since Reina’s brilliant run.
However, that will go out the window this weekend, when Brazilian international Alexander Doni takes the reigns for the first time since his summer move from Roma.
The 32-year-old is yet to feature in any competitive fixture for the club thus far, a victim of Kenny Dalglish’s policy of playing his strongest side possible in all competitions – vindicated by winning the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup semi-final.
But Reina’s moment of madness at Newcastle on Sunday, gesturing a head butt in the direction of James Perch, will see him miss the next three matches – against Villa, Blackburn and Everton (in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley).
And, whilst Brad Jones has brief experience in the top flight with Middlesbrough, it’s the 10-cap Selecao international who has been on the bench all season and is set to step-up to the plate.
So what do we know of Doni? Born in Sao Paolo, the veteran began his career as a junior with Botafogo, before moving to Corinthians and getting his first senior chance.
After spells with Santos, Cruzeiro and Juventude in his homeland, the European chance finally arrived at Roma, who spent just $18,000 to bring the player to Italy. Doni spent four years as the No.1 stopper at the Stadio Olimpico, helping the Giallorossi to back-to-back Coppa Italia’s in 2007 and 2008.
A Champions League regular during his early years at the club, Doni is unfortunately best remembered for a night to forget at Old Trafford. A 7-1 quarter-final humiliation against Manchester United will have taken a few years to forget, although individually he wasn’t drastically to blame.
But after splitting duty in his final two seasons at the club, the Brazilian made the free transfer move to Anfield knowing that he’d play second fiddle to Reina.
Whether he thought he’d have to wait until April to feature is unlikely, but now Doni has a huge chance to adorn himself to the Reds faithful when times are tough at the club.
After losing six of the last seven, things couldn’t get much worse in the league at least for Liverpool, with all hope of a Champions League finish now over after Sunday’s defeat to Newcastle United.
The luckiest thing for Liverpool is that Doni now has two matches to get his feet under the table with the defence ahead of the huge clash Merseyside derby in the capital on April 14th – a day before the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsbrough disaster.
In what is sure to be a highly charged and emotional affair at the home of English football, Doni will need to use all his experience to rise to the occasion.
“I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to come to the Premier League, especially signing for Liverpool which is a huge club in Europe. When I am called upon I know I have to be ready,” said the stopper back in August.
That call is now, and Liverpool fans will have their fingers crossed that Doni can become an almost instant hero.