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Sunderland's Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet Wins North East Award

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He's our 'keeper, our Belgian 'keeper, Simon Mignolet...

Sang to the tune of the, er, classic song The Lion Sleeps Tonight, if there was an official chart for football songs then Sunderland fans' ode to their number one would certainly have been Christmas No. 1.

As it is, no such chart exists - yet, anyway - but the Belgian's brilliance this season has definitely been due national recognition.

The 24-year-old was recently named the North East Football Writers' Player of the Year, ahead of Newcastle duo Hatem Ben Arfa and Tim Krul, who finished second and third respectively.

It marks an incredible year for the Belgian, who, at the start of the 2011/12 season, was not even necessarily guaranteed to be his club's first choice. Now it's such an undisputed fact that there's every chance Keiren Westwood may need to leave in order to find any first team football.

Mignolet's reputation continues to grow, and the likes of Arsenal have reportedly shown an interest in procuring his services. That is no surprise, but what would be is if they did manage to prise him away from the Stadium of Light; his form, contract, fan-favourite status and happiness at the club all meaning it would take a very big offer to even tempt Martin O'Neill into selling.

He may not be mentioned in the same breath as the world's best, and nor should he be. But given he's only 24, there's every chance he could be one day.

He should, however, be mentioned as one of the Premier League's best. It's pretty much accepted that Joe Hart is the best in the league, and indeed he is the only 'keeper (with 17) to have kept more clean sheets in 2012 than the Belgian (15). Not a bad stat when you look at the fact that Mignolet plays behind a defence as secure as the US economy. The Sunderland man also made 140 saves in 2012, more than anybody else. That in part tells you all you need to know about Sunderland's defence, but it's also a testament to his wonderful shot-stopping ability.

He still has work to do, of course: he makes mistakes, as all goalkeepers do - most notably against West Brom in the 4-2 defeat this season. Some things, such as commanding his area, will only improve as he gets older and more experience. He's made a steady-start to his international career, but - playing in a Belgian side tipped for great things - is not fully established as their number one, vying for that jersey with Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois, currently on-loan at Atletico Madrid and already an Europa League winner at the age of 20.

Most of the tools are there, though: the aforementioned shot-stopping, his ability in one versus one situations, and his distribution are all generally excellent.

Most encouraging is that he is nowhere near his peak. When he is, you'd imagine that it won't only be Arsenal showing an interest. For now, Sunderland fans can just enjoy the fact that he's their 'keeper, their Belgian 'keeper...